- Boni Yayi, the former banker and political novice who will be sworn in as Benin’s new president this week following a landslide election victory, has promised sweeping change for the small West African nation “with the blessing of God.”
The high-flying 54-year-old economist who takes over 6 April from outgoing President Mathieu Kerekou is a devout evangelist who publicly thanked God after heading a field of 26 candidates in the first round of the vote -- his maiden political run. ”God builds and blesses all destinies,” he said in a victory statement entitled “My prayer for economic renewal.”
In the second run-off round, the political debutante who had no party backing and ran with support from a coalition of small groups, went on to secure a whopping 1,979,305 votes against 637,937 for challenger Adrien Houngbedji, a veteran politician who heads the Democratic Renewal Party, one of the country’s main parties.
Commentators said Yayi’s seemingly miraculous 74.51 percent win reflected the country’s deep desire for change rather than divine intervention. “Boni Yayi is not a messiah! But he is the man of the hour,” said the daily newspaper Nokoue. In the 15 years since the introduction of multi-party democracy, Benin’s political leaders had failed popular expectations, the paper said. “Benin today is a misery,” agreed Dobou Dine Prudencio, a computer specialist. “President Boni Yayi is the hope of all Benin, especially the youth.”
After resigning this year from his job of 12 years as president of the West African Development Bank (BOAD), Yayi launched his run for political office under the slogan “With Boni Yayi it can change, it must change, it will change.” Disappointed Beninese signed up by the droves to the vision of this technocrat, who after completing a PhD in Economics in 1991 worked for two years as advisor on monetary and banking affairs to then president Nicephore Soglo before going on to BOAD in 1994.
After being officially proclaimed winner of the election by the Constitutional Court last week, Yayi said. “The people want prosperity. I am convinced that together we will succeed in changing to create a new Benin.”
Hit by plunging cotton sales, a spiralling oil bill, rising food prices and corruption, Benin’s 7.5 million people appear to have found hope for the future in the president-to-be’s wide-ranging programme to pump new life into the economy by beating corruption and mismanagement, while providing fresh political direction and moral impetus. “We expect the new president to ease our suffering and bring better welfare with a new team. We are waiting to see the result of these comings and goings,” said Akim Ossnu, a security guard.
Benin is rated among the world’s 20 poorest countries by the United Nations. Life expectancy is 54 and a third of the population is illiterate and lives below the poverty line.
During his 12 years at the helm of the BOAD, Yayi reorganized and cleaned up management, increased activities and spending, and brought in new shareholders and funds. During his campaign for the presidency he pledged that if elected, one of the top priorities of his five-year mandate would be to end corruption and economic crime and reinstate ethical values and respect for the state. “Our working method will leave no place for impunity,” he said.
Yayi has pledged to develop Benin’s traditional economic role in the region as a provider of shipping and services for its landlocked northern neighbours, Burkina Faso and Niger, while developing ties with the giant on its doorstep, Nigeria. “I will seek to set up a strategic partnership with this brother nation,” he said.
On the domestic front, Yayi said he would battle attempts to whip up ethnic trouble, pay out unpaid salaries to civil servants, provide civic instruction in schools, create a better investment climate and promote peace.
Demonstrating his aim to harness aid from all sides, one of his first visits after being proclaimed winner of the poll was to contender Houngbedji, whom he praised for his fair play. “Noone will be left aside,” he told reporters. “We need to rebuild the country.”
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