President Talon sets on the ‘miraculous’ task of transforming Benin

Benin’s President Patrice Talon has promised to turn the fortunes of his country around by the end of his five-year term in office. He made the declaration in Paris recently during his first official visit to Europe since his election in March.

Talon said leaders must improve the lot of their citizens.

“Those who govern have the responsibility to eradicate poverty. Benin is really a poor country. I am confident that I will bring a miraculous change in five years,” he said during a press briefing in the French capital on 26 April.

Speaking after his inauguration in March, 57-year-old Talon had said that he would “first and foremost tackle constitutional reform”, discussing his plan to limit presidents to a single term of five years in order to combat “complacency”. He also planned to slash the size of the government from 28 cabinet members to 16.

To carry out his transformation project, he has established a national technical committee responsible for policy and institutional reforms. Talon explained that the political reforms would help to consolidate democracy and the rule of law in Benin.

Talon is advocating the modification of the operation of certain institutions of the state, such as the Benin’s Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the public broadcasting body. The new president said the courts should be headed by a member of the institution rather than by a presidential appointee.

Talon is also considering a change in the composition of the governing body in charge of public broadcasting, proposing that only one of the members should be proposed by the Head of State, two by the Parliament and six by media professionals, and that the head of the body be elected by its members and not appointed.

Even though there is press freedom in Benin, the opposition has had limited access to state media, giving the ruling party an undue advantage during elections.

Analysts also say that Talon, who had been critical of the previous administration’s economic policies, now has the task of diversifying Benin’s economy which largely depends on external support and subsistence agriculture, with cotton the main export.

Owing to its geographical location, services such as trade, transportation and transit tourism activities with its neighbouring states contribute the largest part of its GDP.

The other major challenges for the president will be tackling high youth unemployment and corruption, and improving health and education in the country of 10.6 million people, say observers.

With a GDP of US$21.16 billion and a 5.5 per cent annual growth rate (2015 est.), the country is ranked 31st in the world in terms of annual growth, above the African average of 4.5 per cent.
Talon won more than 65 per cent of votes cast in the second round of the presidential election on 20 March.

The election further enhanced the country’s democratic credentials as Patrice Talon, the opposition candidate, defeated the flagbearer of the ruling party and incumbent Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou. Even before official results were published, Zinsou had called Talon to congratulate him and to wish him good luck for his tenure.

Talon, a successful businessman, succeeded Thomas Boni Yayi, who bowed out after serving a maximum two five-year terms, marking him out from many African leaders who have changed their country’s constitution to stay in power.

Peaceful change of power is not new in Benin, as there have been such transitions three times in the past, making the West African country a role model in the continent. In 1991, Benin held its first free elections since 1972 that were won by Nicephore Soglo, marking the first successful transfer of power from a military dictatorship to a democracy in Africa.

Sesan Adeola

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