Benin’s President Calls on African Leaders to Respect Citizens’ Choices, Rule of Law

By Kemi Osukoya

September 2015

The road to a functioning, inclusive, secure, and prosperous Africa is for African leaders to respect the leadership choices of their citizens,, encourage peaceful public debates among citizens, civil society and the government so a democratic society, one that is based on equality, justice, and economic growth, each one autonomous yet working together toward the common goal of the society can be achieved, said Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi.

The Honorable President Yayi told audience at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC during a recent visit that Africans and African countries share the same values for a peaceful, stable, secure and prosperous democratic society just as developed nations do, and that these values will be underscored when the leadership choices of Africans majority prevail over dictatorships across continent.

“The wind of democracy is blowing [through] the continent and in my country [Benin], it is the choice of the people as a whole. There have been many debates, but it is through debates that we find the truth and we need a democracy that can guarantee the stability, peace, security and prosperity we need to create a world where we govern based on partnership,” President Yayi said.

The comment couldn’t have been said at a more crucial moment as the continent as a whole faces a transient crossroad in terms of instituting democratic leaderships and societies across Africa.

Though many African countries and leaders have made progress toward better governance, democratic nations and are addressing issues of corruption and transparency to bring about the economic growth and infrastructure developments that Africans need, some African leaders are selectively adapting their nation’s constitution to suit their own selfish agenda, ambitions, refusing to give up power, and overstaying their presidential terms at much woes to their nation’s population.

The president said he doesn’t plan to overstay his welcome and plans to relinquish power to the next elected Benin’s president once his 10-year presidential term ends next year, according to the nation’s constitution.

President Yayi, who was on a short visit to the United States for the signing of a $357 million Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact Agreement between Benin and the U.S., which will help spur economic growth as well as provide access to renewable energy for the people of Benin, said the signing of the second MCC compact agreement will allow the country to build upon the progress it has made both in terms of economic growth and in building democratic institution.

The  signing ceremony, which took place at the Treaty Room at the White House, and was oversaw by Vice President Joe Biden, was orchestrated through MCC and was the second agreement that have been signed between the two countries.

The first MCC compact agreement was signed in 2006. However, the country failed in 2012 to meet the necessary requirements on the MCC’s indicator scorecard it needed for the signing of the second agreement.

The MCC indicators scorecard, which has been foundational to the organization’s business model are arranged to reflect MCC’s mission. The indicators are not based on U.S. government rules, but are designed by third party- World Bank, IFC, and Transparency International. The indicators, for example, are clustered into three groups: economic freedom and economic progress;  governance; and education rate — which measures the degree to which the country itself invests in its people such as immunization rate, education, healthcare and so on and so fourth,-  and are used to measure a country’s performance as well as are meant to incentive countries to take a hard look at the canopy of issues such as ineffectual governance that are contributing to the country’s stagnation.

To pass the scorecard, countries are compared against cohost of  other countries, for example, low income countries against each other globally, and lower income countries against each other. To fulfill the scorecard, a country will have to pass 10 indicators on the scorecard in the upward 50 percentile in addition to the hard hurdles, which are corruption and democracy, the must do.

By using the indicator scorecard to measure performance, it has allowed low income and lower income countries like Benin to follow and track how well it is progressing in key areas.

For instance, when the MCC team reviewed Benin and found it ineligible for the second compact agreement due to a canopy of issues, including governance and corruption, the administration had to pinpoint the basic issues affecting peace and stability, and establish basis for prosperity.

The administration took ownership and focused on cleaning house- targeting immorality and ethics across its government and businesses, strengthened the nation’s justice system by putting in place reforms and supervisory frameworks for capacity building to ensure that issues such as illegal land ownership, bribery, improper tariff and custom duty are dealt with and those who are responsible for perpetrating such actions are punished.

Benin then embarked on necessary trade and policy reforms, for example, ensuring the country’s economy integrated with other regional nations, including Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Niger, through its ports, to spur economic growth.

“I think in taking stock, the first compact agreement has prepared us for the second compact,” President Yayi said of the second review process.

“The port of Cotonou was not a market, today it is thriving because we took ownership of the reforms. MCC is a tool that truly matches the transformation needs, social and political of Benin,” said President Yayi. “We could have signed same time as Ghana, we were in third position for [the signing of the] compact [agreement], but given that the corruption indicator was critical, and a determinant, we had problems and stumbled in area on corruption. It was a great disappointment for the team which has worked greatly.”

The Benin’s compact deal represents MCC’s largest investment to-date in solar power and also represents the U.S. government’s investment up to date in off grid electrification- $46 million will go towards off grid electrification. The investment will expand Benin’s energy capacity with the aim to generate more than 78 MW of electricity with a particular focus on solar energy.

The lack of access to power is the impediment to economic growth in most of African countries. In Benin, like much of sub saharan Africa, only one-third of the population have access to electricity and for those who do, there are frequent outages. For every hour without power, there is no water for at least four hours, and without electricity, vaccines that need refrigeration will spoil, students cannot study and mothers spend time and money searching for alternatives, so also do hospitals as well as the rest of the functioning’s in the society.

To address these issues, the MCC takes a comprehensive approach to reducing poverty in low and lower income countries by finding solutions to some of those basic necessities that a functioning country needs to meet the demand of its population, such as developing sustainable renewable power sector in Benin.

Through the compact deal, the MCC plans to invest in solutions such as off grid electrification and a distribution network that will get electricity to more people in Benin. More importantly, the compact will invest in the policies and institutions that are needed to bring both of those pieces together, MCC Chief Executive Officer Dana J. Hyde told the audience.

“We know the electric generation is often the first step because most people [on the continent] aren’t connected, and that is really an important part of this element. The policy part of this, which the MCC worked on, which is oriented at putting in place key components such as independent regulators, making sure that the tariff structure is cost effective and sustainable as well as focusing much on the utility and strengthening the utility as well. Those are the keys components of what we are doing there. This is typical of many of the second generation,” said Ms. Hyde.

The signing ceremony, which the President Yayi said was an emotional occasion for him and a victory for the people of Benin as a result of public-private partnership between his administration, civil society leaders, and business leaders working together to improve the country’s performance by instituting new policies and reforms to address corruption and transparency, issues affecting the country’s peace, security and economic progress, which were identified during the MCC’s performance review.

“I told the country that the best way for the government to ensure transparency is to make sure
if I found corruption among my minister, they face legal and justice ramification. We have to have ability to punish even the leaders,” he said. “We took ownership of the reforms. We talk about it in cabinet meetings. I’m not saying there’s no longer corruption [in the country], but I know we will succeed, we will get there. Those implementations allowed Benin to reach eligibility in 2012.”

“The fight against corruption is a journey, you never reach a destination,” he stated.

“No country has ever said it has succeeded [against] corruption and has reached its destination but as a poor country, we [have to] move quicker to put an end to poverty so when we learned Benin has been pushed back, I spent many sleepless nights, along with my team, to come up with the solution to implement a program to fight against corruption,” he said.

He acknowledged that Benin, like most African countries, needs capacity building based on a justice system that is worthwhile to “suitably sustains this democracy which we all wish for.”

He also noted its justice system, which is essential to weeding out corruption and enforcing law in the country, needs to be overhauled.

“You can’t conceive a democratic society without rule of laws and you have no rule of law without a solid justice system and if you do not have solid justice, you don’t a rule of law and without rule of law, you can’t solve issues of impunity and you can’t put [an] end to corruption. You can’t have results-based system culture, accountability culture and transparency. That’s the fundamental pillar. Justice will build Africa,” he said.

He underscored that “the court can’t work if the legal systems doesn’t function well. We need to ensure the legal system is modern to ensure it works effectively, which will require capital and financial.”

He urged African leaders to work hand-in-hand with citizens, the civil society and the private sector to build a strong institution based on three pillars: justice, economy growth and infrastructure development, each one autonomous yet working together toward the common goal of the society.

He noted that most African financial institutions and banking systems need to be overhauled to encourage increase savings among citizens, ensure investments so those who have saving can invest and enjoy in the prosperity of the continent as well as encourage foreign investments.

He called on foreign investors and Africans in the Diaspora to contribute to the continent progress. “We need to work with the banking securities. We need investment in energy, we need regional strategy to put in common our resources and we need also to improve the micro economic in our economies.

The President also addressed terrorism in the region, underscoring the security challenges and concerns Benin as well as other countries in its sub region now face as a result of Boko Haram’s terrorist attacks. His country, geographically located near Nigeria, Niger and Chad borders, is caught in the middle of the fight against the Boko Haram terrorist group.

“Terrorism has become a challenge for Benin and the sub region. We need to put an end to international terrorism. We need to find solution to Boko Haram, otherwise, we would have no true democracy and wont be able to promote democracy. Without security, we wont be able to create wealth,” said President Yayi.

Concluding his speech to the audience, he urged African leaders to open their doors to foreign investments to help spur economic growth across Africa. He called on investors and Africans in the Diaspora to invest in education, health, energy, road, ports, airport, telecommunications and other infrastructure developments that are needed across the continent to help close the huge gap of wealth disparities among population, improve education, develop job skills among its youth, and improve food security across the continent.

“We need hospital and international clinics, for example, the economic devastations caused by Ebola in Liberia,” he said. “Democracy needs to feed, cloth, and feed the population. That is true democracy and that’s God.”

MCC’s CEO, who just returned from the AGOA conference that took place in Gabon in late August, said the organization shares the same optimisms and hope for Benin and Africa as a whole, of what can be achieved and the sense of urgency for executing those actions.

Ms. Hyde said the conversation at the AGOA meeting was on how to promote infrastructure around regional integration to commence and encourage regional integration in the region to build markets and economy potentials across the continent.

“Much of the conversations in Gabon was around how do we promote infrastructure around regional integration, so that’s an area that the MCC is looking to get into as we move forward,” Ms. Hyde said.

“We know for a fact that people, goods and services don’t stop at the boarder. The theory of the case of creating an economy of scale to support markets on the continent is strong. MCC thus far has worked on bilateral basis but when u look at MMC’s portfolio over the decade, 65 percent, roughly over $1billion, have been invested on the continent, 70 percent of that have been in infrastructure such as road, ports, boarder crossing and agriculture, we see opportunity to connect borders and help bring markets together.”

This past year, as part of the president’s budget request, the MCC sought the authority from Congress to undertake regional compact to be able to cross borders in Africa.

“We do need the authority to maximize. African Union and African leaders are focus on how to support infrastructure in Africa.”

Ms. Hyde said MCC continues to “work and look holistically at what are the impediments to investment in the sector so that would drive not just MMC’s investments but other private sector investments as well. And what has been discovered what we have seen increasingly is that the infrastructure in itself often needs to be upgraded and that’s something to focus on but that the regulatory structure around that framework is what is holding things back, deals. There’s a lot of private capitals looking to come into energy sector and countries across Africa but because some present core fundamental challenges, sometimes relating to transparency in procurements, often leaves deals on the side.”

The MCC currently has six compact deal agreements in line, including for Tanzania, Morocco Niger, and Liberia.

The second compact is not automatic and is not guaranteed, she said. The board of directors have set a higher standard to attainord