U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has congratulated the people of Benin for the country’s 50th independence anniversary observed Sunday.
Secretary Clinton said the United States will continue working with Benin to reduce poverty and promote broad economic growth.
Meanwhile, 10 African heads of state, along with other government leaders and representatives, were said to have attended Sunday’s official 50th independence anniversary ceremonies in Cotonou.
Sadikou Alao, president of GERDDES-Africa, a research group for the democratic, economic and social development of Africa said the Benin government needs to do more to eradicate poverty and promote good governance.
“As you know, the country is very poor. The majority of people are poor even if there is some sign of development in Cotonou which is the economic capital, and in Port Novo. The rest of the country is still very poor. And, as far as poverty is concerned, and good governance, I don’t think we have made a lot of progress,” he said.
In her statement, Secretary Clinton said Benin’s vibrant democracy and stability make the country an important U.S. ally in West Africa.
GERDDES-Africa President Alao said Benin’s democracy, seen through the eyes of Westerners, should suggest progress. But, he said it is another matter when seen through the eyes of an African.
“As far as democracy is concerned, I think we have made a lot of progress when one is seeing it with the Western eyes. But, when we look at it as Africans, I don’t think we have made a lot of progress because, when you refer to democracy, democracy means something profitable for the majority of the people of a country. But, our democratic system does not enable us to reach a level of development which can be profitable for the majority of our people. Our democracy is a democracy for only 10 percent of our people,” Alao said.
He said the majority of Benin’s population, about 90 percent, reside in rural areas and do not enjoy the same rights as those living in urban areas.
“They are not enjoying the same facilities, as far as development is concerned. If democracy does not lead to better governance, does not relieve the poverty of the people, it means that, really, we are not making progress. We need to make a lot of change before our democracy will look like our people. This is what we should plan for (in) the coming 50 years,” he said.
In her statement, Secretary Clinton praised Benin’s “positive role” in international mediation and peacekeeping.
Alao said West Africa has come a long way given the region’s history of military coups.
“Due to our region, where we were having a lot of coup d’états, I can say that we are making of lot of progress by which we have a positive change of government, let’s say acceptable elections, don’t call it free and fair because it’s only a minority who are leading these types of elections. That’s the reason why, in any of our places after a good election, you can have a coup d’état and nobody will just get up and defend the government because everybody knows that it is a government always of a majority of this 10 percent,” Alao said.