Benin's Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou said Tuesday he would run for president on behalf of the ruling party in an election next year, burying fears that President Thomas Boni Yayi will defy constitutional term limits and seek a third term.
Moves by African leaders to extend their terms of office have triggered unrest in other African states, such as Burundi and Burkina Faso.
Zinsou said he would focus his presidency on supporting the poorest and most vulnerable, bringing more workers into the formal sector and establishing banking systems for agriculture in the tiny cotton-producing nation.
Boni Yayi's ruling party, the Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE), lost seats in an April parliamentary poll, weakening his ability to push through constitutional reforms that opposition figures had claimed were part of an attempt to seek another mandate next year.
Following the April defeat, Boni Yayi named the Franco-Beninese economist and former investment banker Zinsou as prime minister of a new government in June in a bid to boost the West African nation's growth, which has been hit by a slowdown in Nigeria, a neighbor and main trading partner.
"When you have submitted your candidacy to your party, and when your party has been kind enough to decide that you are the preferred choice, you have to [run]," Zinsou said on the sidelines of an investment summit in London.
Emphasis on banking services
If he were to win February's election, one of his priorities would be to establish banking services for the agricultural sector, he said, adding that agriculture accounted for 23 percent of Benin's gross domestic product, but only for 2 percent on the banks' balance sheets.
"We do not finance agriculture in Africa — the families have to self-finance, and as a consequence we miss part of our potential," Zinsou said, adding that many farmers were caught in a poverty trap of having access only to high-interest loans.
"Then we cry and shout because we don't create jobs in the formal areas, but we don't finance it ... so I think financing agriculture, building agricultural banks, building agricultural credit, preferably mutuals [is key]."
Another priority was to bring people from the informal sector into the formal sector, which would ensure some degree of training, protection and insurance for workers, as well as tax receipts for the government.