Patrice Talon: “The recipe for development can be summed up in three words: will, seriousness, hard work.”

an interview – Benin’s president justifies his “power” to carry out “structural reforms and relentlessly fight corruption”.

Interview with Renault Gerrard,

Patrice Talon, a former cotton king, was re-elected in 2021 as President of Benin. A month after Emmanuel Macron’s visit to his country, the guest of honor of Medef arrived in France.

Le Figaro: France returned the treasures of Abomey to Benin. What is the impact of major artwork restorations on the continent?

Patrice Talon. – It establishes a new relational order between the former colonies and the former occupiers. Current moral values ​​want some of the injustices of the past not to pollute the present. It was about putting an end to the frustrations of having some very symbolic works in Western museums, such as the thrones of the ancient Kings of Dahomey. Recoveries should not relate to all old works but only those that have strong historical and memorial value. Come to Cotonou, you will see what consideration we have for these restored works!

What are the security problems in the Gulf of Guinea today? Are you equipped to answer it?

We have succeeded in eliminating piracy in the waters of Benin. As for Islamic terrorism on our northern border, we are establishing a sub-regional dynamic through the Accra Initiative. Its purpose is to standardize counter-terrorism strategies in this sector in southern Burkina Faso. We are able to control the situation. Benin has become an oasis in West Africa.

Do you want France to be your privileged partner in the defense of your country?

France is a reliable and important partner, without being the only one. This partner has the experience and the technical and operational means to support us in our strategy.

According to the World Bank, Benin has changed its classification to become a middle-income country. What is your recipe for development?

The recipe for development can be summed up in three words: will, seriousness and hard work. You failed us. We can no longer be satisfied with the exceptional nature that God has given us. The idea of ​​”working hard” should become our daily life. If we implement it, we can start from nothing and grow. I come from a humble background. I was strict in what I did and that allowed me to climb the ladder. Until now, in Benin, we are used to the opposite. People expected to promote political patronage rather than their own merit. The people of Benin must hear it: our backwardness is not the fault of others, but the fault of our own shortcomings.

A similar democratic expression between a built state and a country under construction is a snare.

You are in Paris to speak at the REF (French Entrepreneurs Meeting) in Medef. What is the place of French investors in Benin?

French investors, like investors from other parts of the world, are expected and sought after in Cotonou. With France, we have a common past, culture and language, which makes things easier. I go to Medef for this reason.

What guarantee are you willing to give for their investment?

We provide them with the resources to protect their investment. For example, if you want to withdraw from the state after an initial period, the state is able to take over your investment. Each of them will, at his request, receive support from the State of Benin.

How do you respond to the African demographic challenge?

Benin, and Africa in general, is facing very high demographic growth. This is a punitive factor for our development. As much as the size and youth of the population can be an advantage, the very rapid increase is a hindrance to their development. Indeed, when the demand for education, training, health, and employment grows much faster than investment and supply in these three areas, the country becomes poorer.

why ?

Not many understood that the means available to states would never be able to meet the demands of an exponentially growing population. Traditionally, the family home provides the means when you get older. But things have changed a lot. All of this can be put into a birth control policy, with education and incentive measures. From 2023 we are launching a major birth control program in Benin. You have to have the courage to do so.

How do we fight illegal immigration networks?

It requires courageous cooperation between nations. African governments should be more involved, at source, against smuggling networks. They find it difficult to do so because they fear the political consequences in their country. There is also, on the part of European governments, a lot of lax control of clandestine flows.

You are accused of being authoritarian, of silencing your opposition, after you democratically came to power.

Democracy in Benin has always been a facade that allows power to be passed from hand to hand, without ambition or a development program. We must preserve the democratic model, without putting it at the service of fun-seekers and thugs. I make this observation as I carry out structural reforms at all levels, with a relentless fight against corruption. In a short time the country changed and the results appeared. Requires grip.

To the extent of reversing some democratic achievements, such as the right to strike?

This is the difficult subject to understand democratic expression in a backward country. In France, yellow jackets were a means of democratic expression. The French may have elected a president, but they wanted every decision to go in their direction. It’s a mess! But it is not so dangerous when the state is being built, when the administration is strong and the schools are there. But the country in which everything has to be built requires a lot of regulations and respect for the rules. Diligence and discipline must be demonstrated in a permanent manner. To demand a similar democratic expression in a built country and a country under construction, is an illusion.

What your ancestors did in France, to make your country very rich, was hard work. This is what Benin must do now. And they started!

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