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Benin: Romuald Wadagni promises free schooling, access to water and jobs

By Matthieu Millecamps
Posted on Monday, 26 April 2021 12:26

Romuald Wadagni, in October 2018. © E.Ahounou/AID for Jeune Afrique

At 44, Romuald Wadagni is one of Benin’s youngest ministers. He has played a central role in President Patrice Talon’s team since the beginning of his term and has toured international markets in search of financing for the Programme d’Actions du Gouvernement.

The double shock of the Covid-19 crisis and Nigeria’s border closure have been major obstacles to overcome.

TAR: 2020 was an extremely rough year. How long will it take Benin to recover?

Romuald Wadagni: 2020 was difficult for the whole world, but it has also allowed our country to show its resilience. The pace of reforms has not slowed down at all. In 2016, we launched a number of investments to enable us to digitise and improve our revenue collection. These have borne fruit.

Despite the difficult conditions, Benin has exceeded its pre-crisis domestic revenue forecasts. We have a positive growth rate, the second-best in sub-Saharan Africa. And, as of this year, we will return to the strong growth path we were on before the crisis.

You are projecting 6% growth in 2021. Isn’t that a bit optimistic?

No, not at all. First of all, there is a catch-up effect. The economy was on a 7% growth path before the crisis. Coming out of this difficult period generally corresponds to a rebound. Also, 2021 will see the maturity of several major reforms, particularly in the agricultural sector. Major investment projects that slowed down due to the pandemic have all resumed, and some major projects are expected to start this year.

The budget increased by 285bn CFA francs ($518m) to 2.5trn CFA francs in 2021. How much of that is allocated to social spending?

The budget faces the double challenge of keeping our economy resilient and helping it recover from the internal and external shocks it has suffered. Overall, the collective social fabric will be strengthened in 2021 with more than 350bn CFA francs for priority social spending and more than 760bnCFA francs for socially sensitive spending.

The most important projects are free schooling, the issuance of birth certificates to more than two million Beninese, accelerating the plan for universal access to water by 2021, the introduction of a new employment programme and, finally, subsidies and other financial support for households.

Benin has moved into middle-­income status. Does this mean that inequalities have declined?

The increase in Benin’s gross domestic product and its new middle-­income classification are the crowning achievements of the state’s actions since 2016. Without this, nothing can be shared. However, the state remains concerned about the equitable sharing of the wealth created. It has always systematically exceeded priority social spending forecasts. The state also implements large-scale social programmes, including the Assurance pour le Renforcement du Capital Humain, which offers microfinance, training, health insurance, retirement savings, etc., to poor and extremely poor people.

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