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Bettering Benin: Improving the Tourism Sector

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Pendjari National Park – Benin

Benin received a $50 million International Development Association credit to invest in its tourism sector that will, hopefully, add an additional 30,000 jobs.

In March 2016, The World Bank approved a $50 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to Benin to invest in its tourism sector. The IDA provides grants and zero-interest loans, via the World Bank, to the world’s poorest countries to increase business opportunities and, ultimately, reduce poverty and improve standards of living by improving various industries. The tourism industry is Benin’s second largest source of foreign exchange currencies and third largest employer behind agriculture and commerce. The investment is intended to reduce the vulnerability of Benin’s economy, given its high dependency on informal trade with Nigeria, and its reliance upon the cotton sector.

The five year project, Benin Cross Border Tourism and Competitiveness Project (CBTCP), is a part of longer-term 2013-2021 tourism plan. The overarching aims of the World Bank’s funding are to increase and improve the current touristic sites including the physical infrastructure, such as accommodation; to improve the skills of tourist-industry personnel; to effectively promote tourism through branding and targeted marketing schemes; and to improve the management of existing sites by reinforcing leadership frameworks. This project is slowly moving from conception to implementation: in mid-July, the government approved a decree that will establish the creation of the National Agency of Heritage and Tourism. The aim of this project, and its corresponding agency, is twofold. By increasing cross-border tourism and private sector investment, the World Bank hopes to move towards its goals of poverty reduction while boosting “shared prosperity.”

Benin capitalizes upon the ecotourism industry

Visitors to a cultural festival in Benin

Visitors to a cultural festival in Benin

Investment will occur in the country’s key tourist destinations, mainly Abomey-Calavi, Cotonou and Ouidah, and hopes to help more than 1,000 existing tourist firms. More than 20% of these firms are led by female entrepreneurs, a point which both the World Bank and government of Benin are emphasizing as part of a gender inclusive initiative. It is hoped that, by investing in these firms, more jobs will become available for both unemployed Beninese people, and for citizens currently working in less secure industries, such as the cotton industry.

Benin is poised to capitalize upon the ecotourism industry if it can appropriately monetize its natural resources into well-kept tourist destinations. In order to do so, however, Benin will have to make a concerted effort to appropriately allocate World Bank funds. The first step is to clean up the existing potential tourist attractions: Benin’s coastline has been damaged from decades of open defecation, lack of waste removal systems and failure of sanitation infrastructure to remove both human and manufactured detritus. It seems that, hypothetically, the newly created National Agency of Heritage and Tourism may be able create jobs for people both working directly in the tourism sector, and for people working on clean-up projects.

30,000 additional jobs

In fact, according to the World Bank Country Director for Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Togo, “if efforts are made to meet [Benin’s] potential, tourism’s direct contribution to the country’s GDP will be increased by up to 30%, and could generate an estimated 30,000 additional jobs.” Thus far, the tourism industry has failed to develop as rapidly as that of other West African nations, due in part to the inability of private tourism operators to apply for loans. As capital has become less concentrated with the proliferation of tourism providers, individual businesses have been unable to meet the minimum requirements in order to receive loans from local banks, let alone international financial institutions.

The CBTCP will encourage private commercial banks to extend loans to businesses that fall in the “micro, small and medium sized” enterprise (MSME) category. The CBTCP will use World Bank funding to mitigate creditor risks through “first-loss cover,” thereby shouldering some of the risk that banks have been unwilling to absorb.

The National Agency of Tourism and Heritage directly looked after by Patrice Talon

The biggest fear of both Beninese citizens and outside observers is that the funds will be inappropriately allocated without direct oversight: the National Agency of Tourism and Heritage is not, as one would expect, overseen by the Ministry of Tourism, but is directly looked after by the President, Patrice Talon. The government has not issued an explanation of why this is, but hopefully it will not cause any confusion in the allotment of resources.

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Beninese doctor honored for “green” anti-malaria drug

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

Valentin Agon

Valentin Agon wins $100,000 innovation prize for an effective and inexpensive treatment made from a plant extract.

A Beninese doctor has won a top innovation prize of $100,000 for an anti-malaria drug he developed from a natural plant extract.

Valentin Agon received the Innovation Prize of Africa in June for his creation of the drug, Api-Palu, which is already being marketed in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Central African Republic.

The drug is significantly less expensive to produce than other anti-malarial drugs and is more effective.

“Api-Palu is a remarkable product that (has) affordability, a good safety profile, and a fast rate of malaria parasite clearance from the blood following short-term treatment at relatively lower doses,’’ innovation prize officials said.

Nearly 1,000 contestants

Agon won first place in the competition among 10 finalists chosen from nearly 1,000 applicants.

Imogen Wright of South Africa took 2nd place for Exatype, software that helps health care workers determine whether HIV patients are responding to drug treatments. Eddy Agbo of Nigeria received the Special Prize for Social Impact for Urine Test for Malaria, a medical device that can diagnose malaria in less than a half hour. Wright and Agbo each received $25,000.

Innovation Prize for Africa 2016

Innovation Prize for Africa 2016

The awards program, a project of the Africa Innovation Fund, rewards healthcare solutions that address Africa’s malaria and HIV/AIDS problems.

Jean Claude Bastos de Morais, founder of the innovation competition, said the project had amassed a database of more than 6,000 innovators and made cash investments of $1 million since it began five years ago.

He said the award to Agon for his anti-malaria drug was particularly gratifying.

“A product for malaria coming from Africa for Africans, this is my dream. My dream comes true. Finding a solution based on a natural product is what I have dreamed about,” de Morais said.

Green medicine researchers

Educated in Canada and Cuba, Agon has researched green medicines for 25 years and has spent 16 years developing the drug. He plans to use the prize money to increase production and hopes to distribute the drug in every country in Africa by 2017.

His discovery is cheaper because it is extracted from a plant that is abundantly available on the continent. It is also more effective than other anti-malarial drugs because it inhibits 3D7 strains of Plasmodium falciparum, which cause malaria, and can act against the disease within a few hours, the innovation judges said in awarding him the top prize. It is available in the form of tablets, capsules or syrup.

An estimated three billion people are at risk for malaria worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 88% of all cases of malaria and 90% of reported deaths.

Costly treatment

“Some African governments spend up to 40% of their public health budgets treating malaria,” the innovation contest said. “In this context, Api-Palu, can be considered a significant contribution in the fight against malaria.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Africa is highly vulnerable to malaria because the predominant species, Plasmodium falciparum, is most likely to cause death, and the climate allows transmission to occur year round.

In other areas of the world, such South Asia and Latin America, malaria is less likely to cause death but can still result in severe illness and incapacitation, according to the CDC.

The disease continues to be a serious problem, but eradication efforts are showing results.

Since 2000, malaria death rates globally have fallen by 60%, and new cases have dropped by more than a third, according to the World Health Organization. In Africa, death rates dropped by more than two-thirds.

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King of Soto: Benin’s answer to Caribbean rum?

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king of soto

Entrepreneur Mabel Adekambi creates King of Soto, a new take on a traditional liquor that is growing in popularity.

Inspired by a tradition of fine palm wine produced in her native Benin, entrepreneur Mabel Adekambi in 2014 launched King of Soto, a high quality rum produced entirely with local ingredients.

“When we say ‘rum’ all over the world, we know it comes from the Caribbean. Why not have a proper product in Benin?” Adekambi asked.

Adekambi’s product comes in 10 different flavors including pineapple, orange, mango, papaya, strawberry and passion fruit. King of Soto only uses natural ingredients and no chemical additives.

Rum production begins with the harvest of sap from palm trees. Rich in yeast, it quickly ferments juice called palm wine. Then the wine is distilled to produce a liquor the Beninese call sodabi, or soto for short.

The nickname inspired the name King of Soto, rum produced from sodabi, spices and fruit.

Process takes 6-12 months

Typically, rum-makers use wooden or aluminum barrels like those used in wine making. However, Adekambi found those were not available in country and would be very expensive to order. Instead she uses 20-liter gasoline cans.

The fruit, spices and sodabi are mixed together and stored cans for six to 12 months before the rum is ready for bottling.

Because sodabi is a seasonal product, it is difficult to produce large volumes of rum. King of Soto uses sodobi that has been distilled several times in order to achieve a refined liqueur.

Adekambi learned about rum production as a student in France.

Studies in entrepreneurship

After studying entrepreneurship, communication and tourism in France, she returned to Benin to work as a manager at Residences Celine Hotel in Cotonou.

King of Soto has become popular, mostly by word of mouth. Production rose from 10 bottles a month to 100 bottles within the first year of operation. The rum is sold in super markets for less than $2.

Sodabi is common liquor in West Africa, although it goes by different names in different countries: koutoukou in Ivory Coast, Akpeteshie in Ghana or Ogogoro in Nigeria.

Each region has secret methods for extracting the palm wine, which creates a variety of tastes and styles.

In Benin, the name sodabi derives from the name of its inventor, who learned distilling techniques from Europeans about 100 years ago.

king of soto bottles

A staple of celebrations in Benin

Benin, especially the region of Adja, is well known for its expertise in producing sodabi, according to Professor Koblévi Aziadomé, former minister and director of the Benin agricultural research center.

Often sold in plastic bottles, the popular beverage is consumed at celebrations and festivals.

Some people add plants, spices or fruits in their sodabi to give it medicinal properties or special tastes.

Negative image

In the past, producers have failed to adequately ferment or distill the sodabi, giving it dangerous levels of methanol and creating a negative image. Both Benin and Ivory Coast have at times banned its production.

But Adekambi seeks high quality, well distilled sodabi to create rum that customers can safely enjoy.

Adekambi believes King of Soto will only grow as the quality and flavor of her product becomes more widely known.

She sees King of Soto as both a business and a patriotic effort as it grows into an export product and employs more people. “For the moment, it is not profitable. But it will become profitable and hundreds of families in Benin will benefit.”

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African Super Sunday: 5 votes in 5 countries

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics

March 20th marked a large shift in African politics, as 5 countries on the continent voted on key issues.

Citizens of Benin, Niger, Cape Verde, Zanzibar, Senegal, and The Republic of Congo all had the chance to head to the polls last weekend. While some results were as expected, some showed progress towards improved electoral processes.

In Benin, a presidential run-off took place between Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, and businessman Patrice Talon. Both were seeking to replace the incumbent President Yayi Boni, whose second term in office ends on April 6th. Events progressed well from the first round of the campaign in which there were 33 candidates. Benin has shown great progress in electoral process, and was the first country in sub-Saharan African to transition to a multi-party democracy. After the polls, Lionel Zinsou conceded defeat to Patrice Talon. The victory of the businessman shows a push for change in how the people of Benin wish to be governed.

Denis Sassou Nguesso was elected to his third term in office

In the Republic of Congo, Presidential elections were held under the new constitution which removed both age and term limits for those serving as President. Before the polls, opposition parties had denounced the lack of transparency in the electoral process. Adding to the irregularity, the country experienced a government-initiated communications blackout during the voting. The official statement was in order to avoid illegal leaking of election results. As predicted, the incumbent President Denis Sassou Nguesso was elected to his third term in office. President Nguesso has already served in office for over 30 years.

In Niger, a Presidential run-off took place between the incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou, and Hama Amadou. Tensions were high before the run-off with the opposition party rejecting the results before the election was even held, and the COPA withdrawing from the campaign stating a lack of transparency in the process. Hama Amadou was arrested earlier in the year on charges of baby trafficking, and had been flown to France recently for medical treatment as it was stated that his health rapidly deteriorated while in prison. President Mahamadou took more than 92 percent of the vote.

Zanzibar was set for a re-run of its elections which were held in October 2015. At the time the Civic United Front claimed victory even before the results had come out, however the election was invalidated by Jecha Salim Jecha (the president of the local Electoral Commission) due to what was claimed as massive fraud. The Civic United Front however, claimed that this was a ploy by Chama Cha Mapinduzi to deny it victory. For these reasons, the main opposition party decided to boycott the elections only 2 days before the polls were held. The incumbent President Ali Mohamed Shein of Chama Cha Mapinduzi was re-elected.

Senegal: Yes or No referendum

In Senegal, voters were called to vote on a yes or no referendum. Among the issues the referendum addressed was reducing the term limit for presidential office from seven years to five years. This was seen as a bold move by President Macky Sall, as other African leaders seek to find ways to extend their term limits. The referendum would also afford official recognition to the opposition leader in the constitution, local councils would be give more power, and new rights would be afforded to citizens regarding the environment and land ownership.

Meanwhile on Cape Verde, parliamentary elections were held which saw the Movement for Democracy win an absolute majority. They will replace the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde which had been in the majority for over 15 years.

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Businessman Patrice Talon elected President of Benin

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics

Benin’s two-round Presidential election concluded on March 20th with the election of businessman Patrice Talon.

The West-African nation of Benin concluded a peaceful, democratic two-round election on March 20th. Outgoing President Thomas Boni Yayi handpicked his successor, Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, to run against a former ally turned nemesis, Patrice Talon. This election is notable for several reasons: unlike other African leaders, Boni Yayi did not alter Benin’s constitution in order to remain in power past the two-term limit; Zinsou conceded defeat to Patrice Talon on March 20th after winning the March 6th first-round election, and the election was free from violent protests and uprisings.

Benin’s Landscape

A former French colony, Benin has not followed an easy path to democracy. Despite the challenges of post-colonialism (including a decade-long-stint as a Marxist state, interspersed with bouts of intense unrest and violence), Benin has managed to rise above its neighbors, proving that it is committed to free and fair elections. The fact that President Boni Yayi left power at the end of his two-term appointment is in itself remarkable: many of Benin’s neighbors have struggled to depose rulers who are desperate to cling to power past their time.

Perhaps even more impressive than President Boni Yayi’s peaceful exit is the concession by his chosen successor, Lionel Zinsou. The ruling party candidate and current Prime Minister, Lionel Zinsou faced challenges in his candidacy. Having spent the majority of his life outside of Benin, Zinsou struggled to overcome the perception that he was an outsider in his own country, and that his lack of experience on-the-ground in Benin would hinder his ability to make informed choices for the country. It seemed as though he had proved his worth as a Beninese on March 6th, when he won the first round of elections, but Talon ultimately prevailed.

The Gloves Came Off

Between the first election cycle and the second, Benin’s first-ever presidential debate took place. Talon used this opportunity to outline his vision for Benin, and to launch a litany of personal attacks against Zinsou’s lack of experience in Benin and the likelihood that Zinsou would only continue his predecessor’s policies that had “created a banana republic…[and] become the laughing stock of the world.”

Talon’s platform was centered around his rise to fame and fortune despite his small beginnings. Born in the small coastal town of Ouidah, Talon rose to become a key figure in Beninese business, even bankrolling Boni Yayi’s successful 2006 and 2011 campaigns. Talon’s fortune came through his agricultural business investments, primarily in cotton. After completing his university education in Senegal, Talon moved to France to pursue a career in international business. In 1985, he founded the Inter-Continental Distribution Company (SDI), which provides agricultural inputs like fertilizers and herbicides, to cotton farmers in Benin, Burkina Faso, Togo and other West African nations. Talon profited handsomely from the World Bank driven economic liberalization of the 1990s, winning production and manufacturing licenses for cotton ginning within the country.

A Man Made Through Cotton

It was through cotton that Talon made himself known in politics. Talon formed a relationship with the then-communist-government-owned sugar company, SAVE. Through this connection, communist politicians recognized his potential value as a business ally, and when the country moved to a multi-party state in the 1990s, Talon was able to preserve his friendships within the new government. In 2008, then-President Boni Yayi awarded Talon rights to a total of 15 out Benin’s total 18 cotton ginneries, making the cotton industry a near monopoly.

Boni Yayi

Boni Yayi

Once a close friend an ally of President Boni Yayi, Talon lost favor with the President after being accused of plotting a coup and, later, masterminding a plot to poison the President. Talon fled to France in exile before a Presidential pardon in October, when he returned to Benin, ostensibly in preparation for the election.

The Challenges Ahead

The election of President-elect Talon marks the third truly democratic election in the nation’s turbulent history. Having fought against the odds and being elected to the highest office in the country, Talon has even bigger challenges to face as President.

With his experience in the agricultural and cotton industry, it seems logical that Talon would focus on making these industries sustainable while working to diversify the economy–40% of Benin’s GDP is dependent upon cotton. Talon knows that he has a tough job ahead: he has already voiced his desire to tackle youth unemployment, reduce corruption in politics and business, and improve the health and education for the 10.6 million citizens he now represents.

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Record 48 candidates to enter presidential elections in Benin

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Benin Presidential Candidates

An unprecedented 48 candidates have applied to compete for the presidency in Benin’s upcoming February elections.

In a record turnout, 48 candidates have applied to run for presidency in the West African country of Benin in February this year. According to their electoral agency, although 52 nomination papers were received, only 48 forms were correctly completed and accepted.

Political analyst Agapit Napoleon reported this is the highest turn out Benin has ever witnessed in a presidential election since military rule ended in 1990 and multi-party politics commenced.

President Thomas Boni Yayi has held office since 2006 but is barred under the constitution from running for a third term. Thus the elections are wide open to new leadership and the nominations have been flooding in.

“I dream of a Benin that smiles and that’s why I invite us to turn resolutely toward a clear future,” said president Yayi to a crowd of 35,000 at Mathieu Kerekou stadium after he assured the nation he would not change the constitution to run again.

Current Prime Minister strong contender

A front runner is expected to be current Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou who has been selected as the ruling party FCBE (Cowrie Forces for an Emerging Benin) main candidate. Zinsou announced at a business conference in London that he was committed to the electoral race and honored that his party had ratified his candidacy.

Zinsou said his manifesto will concentrate on helping informal workers gain full employment and financial support for agriculture. He argued agriculture needs to be made a priority as it accounts for 23% of Benin’s gross domestic product but only 2% of the banking industry’s profits.

Should he be voted in, he claimed a priority policy would be to finance agriculture in Benin, making sure that families don’t have to carry the burden of borrowing money to finance agricultural activities. Zinsou highlighted the poverty trap farmers often got stuck in when only having access to high-interest loans within Benin, a small cotton-producing nation.

Zinsou’s agricultural policies will particularly focus on developing agricultural banks with an emphasis on ensuring credit is available for farmers. In his policy announcement Zinsou stated that building agricultural credit was the cornerstone of building economic success for the vast proportion of farmers in the country.

Critics accuse Zinsou of colonial collaboration

Speculation from critics claim Zinsou, a French-Beninese investment banker has been implanted by the former colonial power France to safeguard economic benefits for the current president Bony Yayi.

However, Zinsou insists he has the backing of other major political parties including Adrien Houngbedji, a PRD lawyer and current head of Benin’s parliament, who came second in the 2011 election. The government has also publically defended Zinsou, emphasizing his full citizenship and criticizing his opponents for utilizing racist tactics to undermine his candidacy.

Big business in the race

Sebastien Ajavon

Sebastien Ajavon







Two of the most influential and wealthy businessmen in Benin have also announced their candidacy to run against each other. Sebastien Ajavon, who acquired a significant fortune in the food industry, is set to run against fellow tycoon Patrice Talon, a cotton mogul. Talon is regarded as the main opponent to President Boni Yayi’s FCBE party.

Ajavon announced to a large crowd of supporters at Mathieu Kerekou stadium on Sunday, January 3rd that he would run as a candidate for all Beninese. He made particular mention that regardless of religion, gender, geographical region or political preferences he would stand for all citizens.

In the past Ajavon has stayed in the background of politics, funding various political parties. In a similar vein Talon has previously offered financial support to president Yayi’s ruling party before switching allegiance to the opposition.

Political analyst Francois Alladji stated that with Ajavon announcing his candidacy it, “pits the two most powerful traders” in Benin directly running against each other.

Opposition coalition split

The opposition coalition named “Unity Makes the Nation” remained split and could not reach a consensus as to their choice of a main candidate. Subsequently Eric Houndele, who acts as vice president in parliament, also dropped his nomination as an independent candidate.

Despite the strong candidacy of Prime Minister Zinsou, seven other members of the current ruling FCBE party have also applied to run against each other.

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