Posted on Monday, 23 November 2015 10:00

Benin Country Profile 2015: Bashing Boni Yayi

By The Africa Report

altPresident Thomas Boni Yayi is entering the terminal stages of his second term in office, facing widespread strikes, endemic corruption and trouble organising elections.

His opponents are not yet convinced that he plans to retire and argue that he will try to change the constitution in order to run again. The government is planning a major infrastructure drive with the $11bn promised at a Paris roundtable in July 2014.

There has been a great deal of tension between Boni Yayi and the opposition. Fighting over the management of the electoral register, the Liste Electorale Permanente Informatisée (LEPI), has dragged on since 2011 and is set to continue.

Delayed municipal polls are supposed take place at the same time as the legislative vote planned for January 2015.

However, the opposition accuses the government of excluding voters from the register and LEPI officials said in October that the government had not provided the finance to correct the list.

Political impasse

Strikes throughout 2014 showed a widening gap between the government and workers. Teachers, healthcare workers and officials from the finance ministry variously participated in a general strike that lasted several months after a police crackdown on protests in December 2013.

The lack of dialogue with the unions is mirrored in the political impasse between Boni Yayi and Benin's opposition parties, which refuse any cooperation with the regime and harshly denounce its inertia.

The debate on constitutional revisions, which seek to introduce the position of an auditor general and strengthen anti-corruption measures, once again returned to parliament in October 2014. It is unlikely that legislators will rapidly agree on how to proceed as the debate has been ongoing for more than a year.

Politicians are already preparing themselves for the 2016 race. Likely candidates include Boni Yayi's former military cabinet director Général Robert Gbian, former prime minister Pascal Irénée Koupaki, 2011 presidential contender Abdoulaye Bio Tchané, Cotonou deputy mayor Léhady Vinagnon Soglo, national assembly president Mathurin Coffi Nago and oppositionist Eric Houndété.

altThe government has promised to fight corruption but not been able to do much against the scourge. It launched the Autorité Nationale de Lutte contre la Corruption in 2011 and most of its cases against former officials have collapsed.

The government has sacked a succession of directors of the port of Cotonou due to governance concerns. Given the strength of the informal sector, the government depends greatly on its customs revenue and the re-export trade to Nigeria. 

The government laid out the country's investment targets at the July 2014 donor roundtable and investment conference. Its main spending priorities until 2018 are in agriculture, energy, health, infrastructure – including ports, airports and the Cotonou-Niamey railroad – and tourism. The ambitious Route des Pêches (Fishing Route) tourism project covers 40km between Cotonou and Ouidah.

Business relations sour

The country's business council refused to participate in the investment summit due to what they describe as a poor business environment and weak rule of law. The case of businessman Patrice Talon is illustrative of their criticisms.

Talon was one of Boni Yayi's campaign financiers until the two fell out and Boni Yayi accused Talon of trying to assassinate him. The government then revoked contracts awarded to Talon's firms before the issue of a presidential pardon in May 2014.

The cotton sector is experiencing its typical ups and downs. The state has reclaimed its predominant role in the sector after breaking ties with Talon's agribusiness interests in 2012. The government expects production to hit 400,000tn for the 2014/2015 season. The 2012/2013 harvest was 240,000tn and 350,000tn in 2013/2014. The country has industrial capacity to process 600,000tn per year. 

The economy will be less dependent on agriculture in the years to come as Benin becomes an oil producer. Nigeria's South Atlantic Petroleum discovered 87m barrels of oil in its Seme field in October 2013 and is set to produce the first oil in early 2015 – a modest 7,500 barrels per day. The government is awaiting the results of drilling conducted by Royal Dutch Shell and Petrobras in 2014.

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