In this report of a research mission to West Africa, the authors describe (potential) tensions between religious denominations in the West African region, with a specific focus on Benin and Ghana. The report is based on extensive interviews during October 2015 that were conducted in Cotonou, Porto Novo, Accra and Tamale with labour unions, students, journalists, border policemen, Western and regional embassies, political and traditional leaders, and religious groups of all affiliations. The research mission’s rationale was the assumption that causes for the divisions that are relevant to the tensions prevalent in Nigeria, Mali and Niger could also be identified in other West African societies because of their shared history and similarities in societal and political fabric.
The report examines potential societal divisions, or the factors that may create ingredients for conflict, but also looks at the societal actors that may engage in identity politics and seek to sharpen divides, rather than ease them. Societies develop systems to manage divisions and conflicts, so the existing conflict-management tools also receive attention in this report.
The research mission looked into the specific ways in which Ghanaian and Beninese actors are dealing with politics, identity and societal stress. The report gives a preliminary answer to the underlying question of whether these endogenous mechanisms are strong enough to keep the emerging identity related to societal divisions under control. It also identifies the influence of external actors, both from the region and beyond, and the potential spill-over of nearby conflicts. The authors come to the conclusion that several issues, including border porosity, the absence of a regional strategic approach to counter terrorism, youths’ frustration about the elders’ political and economic monopoly, rural and urban disparities and rampant illiteracy, are some of the regional aggravating factors that are conducive to the spread of extremist ideology and dividing behaviours.
The report concludes that the combination of all of the factors mentioned, and the presence of infiltrators and local charismatic religious leaders, on both the Christian and Muslim sides, makes today’s situation highly volatile, with non-negligible risks of inter-generational or inter- and intra-religious tensions. On the other hand, there are institutional and functional balances in both countries that play a catalysing role in fostering national dialogues and guaranteeing peace. The report describes some of these stability-seeking mechanisms and highlights their highly valuable impact for West African stability. The report therefore concludes with a set of recommendations that encourages early action as a follow-up to the early warning included in this report.