On the re-opening of SLPP Office … “We would never encourage violence” John Benjamin...

Sierra Leone News: Africa Notebook

The runoff in Benin’s presidential election will take place in two days’ time; the Constitutional Court has ordered the coming Thursday after the March 6 polls when the two winners that emerged will be on the centre stage,
The first round was due to have been held on February 8 but was rescheduled because of delays in the production of voting materials, particularly the distribution of voter cards.
It was the most populous presidential election in Africa’s governance history as 33 contestants took part in the first round but what was admirable was that it went off peacefully, most election monitors conclude.
One of the candidates, Patrice Talou campaigned from prisons where he has been detained since November last year, accused of being a prime suspect of a baby trafficking case, a charge his supporters dismissed as politically motivated to get him off the contestant chart.
The runoff itself will be closely watched by many regional leaders, notably by Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma whose close friendship with outgoing President Yaya Boni is widely known. Boni did not run as his two term presidency is up and the constitution barred him from running.
Also, the ever smiling Boni is no stranger to Sierra Leoneans who are constantly reminded by his daily handshake with President Koroma at the beginning of the 9 p.m. national television news.
Observers are looking forward to another beginning of pint-sized Benin but it will not be easy picking for the winner as quiet as it seems, Benin has many shaky problems to contend with.
Boni, on the other hand, will move into quieter pastures to become a pastor, giving the impression that Benin needs prayers for its survival.
In years passed when Cotonou, its capital, was the umbrella body of the Unesco sponsored West African News Agency  Development (WANAD) project , it was my frequent destination, sometimes flying to Accra, Ghana and then hit the road to the Togolese border at Aflao . Getting through Togo’s hinterland was dicey with dozens of pay-as-you go checkpoints where your passport is the last thing the security guards will ask for.
And when that comes, you were expected to encase a five dollar note to get through after alighting from the vehicle. They would feign a close scrutiny of your passport pages and on reaching the five dollar note broke into a cattish smile and give you a salute and hurry you on ahead of the queue. It doesn’t matter whether your passport is ordinary or service, there they follow the dollar.
”This is how we live,” one guard smiled sheepishly after watching my astonishment for a few minutes, ”the government pays us on a six month basis and say it is up to us to keep body and soul together. Here in Benin, one way to give up to temptation is to give in to it.”
Things were bad and it was only foreign money brought in by UN agencies and other international bodies that kept the country afloat. Hotels and other lively places were frequently short of foreign currencies and cashiers run parallel exchange bureau, asking guests as to whether they want to change at the official exchange rate or their own.
“I can offer you five times higher if you change at my rate and it is done only because I like you,” they would chant but whatever the case, if in case any security asks you why we were holding such a long conversation, just tell him that I have been to your country and we were just thinking of the past”
Beyond who ultimately wins a 1.1 billion dollar international railway looms to link Benin with Niger and later stretch on to Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso.  Also, to be addressed will be the advice of the IMF for the cutback of Benin’s banks to the private sector on financial lending because of bad repayment mechanisms.
Despite its dwarf size, Benin is working to gain height as a trading hub to take in surplus transshipment goods from Ghanaian and Nigerians seaports.
Listed in 165th position out of 187 countries in the International Human Development Index, and with its key export, cotton, Benin can earn a pass mark in the economic trade to outsmart neighbouring countries.
Many skyscrapers lie in ruins, engulfed in uncut savannah grasses, its owners thinking that they have been bewitched or infested by the vodoo culture. For years, the state palace where former President Mathieu Kerekou once lived until he lost power was left idle with succeeding presidents constructing their own State Houses from state funds.
The outcome is predicted to be a photo finish with outgoing prime minister, Lionel Zinsou, who draws support from Boni and the main opposition, the Democratic Renewal Party  has promised that if elected  he would restructure the country’s economy  and small businesses, improve access to microcredit and put the country on its two feet as if, as one politician sneered, the country is on wobble legs.
Poor Telou, he cannot say much at this time as he believes that indeed one sparrow can herald the coming of summer. Initially, he was dismissed as a cold herring but even behind bars he has delivered a stinging bite by making it to the runoff at least. He still has a great chance to make it to State House barring any inclement weather.
By Rod Mac-Johnson
Tuesday March 15, 2016

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