Nigeria-Benin siamese relations will reach new heights when I become president, says Edah
Nigeria’s western neighbour, the Republic of Benin, is gradually standing out as one of Africa’s most stable democracies. With an array of well-organised political parties and a vibrant civil society, a robust contest is expected at the country’s presidential elections holding on the 28th of this month. Among those positioning to take over from the incumbent President, Boni Yayi is the founder and Presidential candidate of Mouvement pour la Prospérité Solidaire (Movement for Solidarity and Prosperity), Daniel Edah. In this chat, 43-year old Edah, former international civil servant at the International Organization of La Francophonie (the equivalent of Commonwealth for francophone countries), who has Honors Degree in Sociology-Anthropology, Certificate in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a Master Degree in Project Management and who is also a youth development expert, speaks on his plans to take development in Benin, especially her trade relations with Nigeria, to a new level if he wins the elections.
Vision for Benin
I believe that nation development is like a building site which is never completed and on which each generation has its responsibility to assume in its own time and with its solutions. Although we still need to be grateful to all Benin former and current leaders for their contribution towards the development of our country, I believe we need a more economically prosperous and socially stable Benin. This is why I have decided to mobilize my compatriots around this vision that has guided my aspiration. I know it will not be easy, as politicians without vision who literally pay for people to attend their rallies or to vote for them have messed up Benin politics. Fortunately, seeing the excitement of my followers, mainly youth and women, I have faith that with more effort and perseverance, the triumph of the vision of economically prosperous and socially stable Benin during the March 2016 Presidential elections is achievable.
Measures to tackle poverty
It’s really unfortunate that with the great potentials of Benin, we are still ranked among the poorest countries in the world. Women remain more vulnerable and continue to suffer from a lack of economic opportunities. They are underrepresented in high-level decision-making positions. As president, I will ensure more equity in the geographical distribution of resources and greater effectiveness and efficiency in the management of the education and health sectors. I will enforce inclusive governance, engage in a total fight against corruption and illicit wealth, stimulate economic growth, trade and investment; focusing on agriculture and agro-business, promote opportunities and development for all, and ensure that peace and security are strengthened. As expected, with results in five years, Benin will progressively change its consuming economy to a productive economy and will be able to create decent and sufficient jobs for the youth and women.
Yes, it is true that cross-border trade with Nigeria makes huge impact on Benin’s economy. This is why I will take our economic relationship with Nigeria to a new level when I become president.
I would ensure intimate business relationship between Nigeria and my country by increasing trade volumes for the goods of both countries. I will also create a regulatory framework to attract robust public-private partnerships with Nigerian firms to boost trade and investments.
Unemployment in West Africa and Islamist militant groups
Youth unemployment is a time bomb across the African Continent not just West Africa or Benin. If we can tackle it, we will remarkably influence the settling of this lingering issue of terrorism in West Africa. It is quite unfortunate that these heartless militants recruit young people, give them petty cash, have them carry bombs and weapons, and tell them that when they die they will go to paradise.
Although Benin is a bit more fortunate than countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria as we have not experienced much of Boko Haram’s deadly incursions like the rest, but we cannot sit idle and watch this threat expand within the sub-region. I commend the involvement of about 800 Benin soldiers in the regional force trying to end the insurgency. But, I will take stronger interest in this issue when I am elected President. We share neighbouring border with Nigeria, and we must be more concerned. We will share information and intelligence more frequently and we will educate and monitor our young people to prevent negative indoctrination. All economic activities will be geared towards job creation to reduce poverty and prevent the idle ones from falling into the hands of these promoters of insurgency.
Agriculture in West Africa and food imports
West Africa’s economic stability will always depend on us improving our ability to feed ourselves instead of remaining at the bottom of the value chain as raw material exporters. If each country can look beyond her borders, we will see that we have a largely untapped and underserved West African market of more than 300 million people. As President, I will focus on working very hard to improve production not just for us but also for the entire West African sub-region. Processed versions of various raw materials we can produce are in demand throughout the region. As President, I will target at least 30% of the population in West Africa to create that motivation to expand production in Benin. This will help us to go beyond our current status as a trading post. If we also expand our electricity production, we can sell to several of our neighbours.
These are some of the advantages I will push as President. I will also look at ways of attracting foreign investment. I will build up my country’s ailing infrastructure and position our country as the natural place to do business among the 15 nations that make up ECOWAS. This will cement our position as the location you can process various products to service various markets throughout the West African region. I believe it will be a huge success because for now, West Africa is depending on costly food imports from Asia and Europe – from rice, flour to vegetable oil, chicken, chocolate and even biscuit.
Our country remains a reference for democracy with strings of successive elections and the kind of peaceful transitions that are elusive in most African countries. If the current President Yayi Boni leaves peacefully as expected, this will reinforce the serene image we need to establish in the minds of all investors. I will intensify our engagement in the sub-regional and regional matters, as I will be seeking investments not just from Europe, America and Asia but from other African countries as well. I will spare no effort when it comes to marketing Benin, and our country’s potentials. I will encourage Trade Missions from all the continents of the world to come to Benin and facilitate contacts and meetings between foreign Investors and the business community and agencies in Benin.
As President, I will expand the investment climate in Benin, which is already very friendly. It is very easy to set up a business here, our tax code is simplified and goods can be cleared from our ports with effortless ease. And our business laws and values are of global standard so what is left is that intensive and well-coordinated campaign to show the global business community that their investments will thrive in Benin especially in sectors like agriculture, energy and infrastructure. Indeed, the experiences I have garnered in international relations are assets that will facilitate this job of marketing Benin. Our embassies will operate an open door policy and visa services would be structured to ensure easy access for genuine investors. Our Foreign services staff would be trained regularly to set good examples and standard that will always make their country proud and meet the expectations of the people back home.
Chances at the polls
Although the political game in the next election is pretty open since the President in office is not allowed to stand for a third term, the main challenge for me is to face both the ruling party and opposition members who seem to be more motivated by personal quarrels and interests than the country’s interests. After analyzing the evolution of Benin politics since 1991, I have refused to take side in the ongoing personal/business quarrels between the current President and his former supporters because this gang has kept the country’s economy backward and they are even threatening the unity of the Nation. I am standing out to appeal more to the peaceful people of Benin.
Besides my past and consistent contributions, without consideration of political or religious barriers in community development, projects or initiatives in various sectors such as education, health, culture, women empowerment, water and sports will touch the hearts of our people. Very few Benin politicians can do these things if it is not an election period. They do them in their quest of votes. Mine was purely humanitarian long before my aspirations came alive. It was important for me, to assist our local communities in having access to key things like clean water.
Benin stable democracy
I think the era of our former President, General Mathieu Kerekou played the greatest role for Benin as a stable democracy in Africa. After calling and accepting the resolutions of the national conference, which put an end to his Marxist-Leninist regime in 1990, he accepted the results of the first democratic presidential elections in 1991 when he lost against President Nicéphore D. Soglo. Back to power in 1996, Kerekou left after his second and last constitutional term in 2006 without changing the constitution. Those selfless actions provided the platform for a thriving democracy in Benin.
As an international civil servant, my main accomplishment was the facilitation of youth participation through youth organizations’, capacity building and the creation/restructuration of national youth councils and assimilated bodies in many francophone countries, including Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Togo.
After resigning from La Francophonie and going back to Benin, the main accomplishment in my political career so far is the creation of the political party – Mouvement pour la Prospérité Solidaire (Movement for Solidarity and Prosperity) in March 2014 to promote and defend the vision of an economically prosperous and socially stable Benin.
Fat emoluments for political office holders
High political salaries are unacceptable considering the state of depressed economies in Africa. They ultimately make democracy look unattractive, which should not be. Africa must deliberately cut the cost of running government so that we can have the resources to boost the economy and to develop people. We have to work harder to transform our current consuming economies into productive economies. This cannot succeed if we spend huge percentages of our budgets on overheads. We cannot afford to have leaders who use their positions to expropriate others, using public authority to deny people their legitimate rights.
Believe in social justice
Social justice, loyalty, and perseverance are values I have cherished over the years. I do not know if it’s due to my social background or personal history. I hate injustice and any abuse of vulnerable people. My compassion for the weak is the main motivation of my quest for social justice in Benin Republic.
Loyalty is a virtue cherished as well. Loyalty should exist in friendship, in partnership, to the family, your community and country. Indeed, loyalty is needed in all corners of life for a sustainable success. That sense of loyalty is the foundation of my patriotism and I am prepared to serve Benin Republic being loyal to its Constitution and to our partners without compromising national interest. As Head of State, if my compatriots give me the opportunity to serve our Nation, I will enforce inclusive and responsible governance.
Perseverance is another key value I cherish remarkably. Without perseverance no achievement or success is possible. My goals as President will include a successful fight against corruption and illicit wealth, the alleviation of poverty, the creation of decent and sufficient jobs for youth and women. Real inclusive economic growth will become a reality in Benin only if we persevere, despite the current threats and betrayals. I know that it will not be easy to address the current economic challenges Benin is facing. But I am prepared to persevere and lead the country to the path of greater economic growth and development. We need to boost the economy and develop our people with a vision of a more prosperous and socially stable Benin.
I am inspired by the courage of Rosa Parks and the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. from the United States of America. Fortunately on African soil, I have seen the combination of the courage of these two great individuals in the greatest African leader of all times – President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. May his soul rest in perfect peace. I am aiming to walk in the footprints of President Nelson Mandela, with great perseverance. I would like to serve Benin Republic by addressing pressing developmental issues and preparing next generations of leaders to build on our efforts, with the right vision, I can help to build an economically prosperous and socially stable Benin.