Benin – Africa’s shining sliver

Benin Ambassador H.E. Tairou Aboudou Kabassi

“Since assuming office as my country’s first ambassador to the State of Kuwait in November 2007, bilateral relations between our two nations have turned a new phase,” stated H.E. Tairou Aboudou Kabassi, the Ambassador of the Republic of Benin to Kuwait, at the beginning of an exclusive interview with The Times.

The ambassador, who initially expressed his limited fluency in English language and had brought along the embassy’s interpreter, Djibrila Boni Bassarouz, to act as a go-between, was soon articulating with ease in English. With three grown-up sons and a daughter back in Benin, Ambassador Kabassi is accompanied by only his wife in Kuwait. “This is my first posting as an ambassador; I was serving as Director of commercial operations in Benin’s textile industry, when I was approached by the government for this diplomatic posting,” revealed the ambassador. He added, “Strong bonds of friendship and collaboration that existed for many years between leadership of the two countries, led to the opening of Benin’s embassy in Kuwait in 2002. Though the embassy opened ten years ago, and was headed by a Charge d’Affaires, it was only in 2007, following my appointment as ambassador that the embassy began operating as a full-fledged diplomatic mission.”

Having headed his country’s mission for a relatively long period of five years, the ambassador was well-versed in the political nuances of the region. “Today, in addition to my role as resident ambassador in Kuwait, I am also the non-resident ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Syrian Arab Republic. The mandate over a wide area has given me broad exposure to, and experience of, the political complexities and regional issues specific to this region. This local knowledge has helped our embassy to initiate policies designed to strengthen cooperation and mutual relations between Benin and countries in the area; especially with Kuwait, both on the government to government level and between people of the two nations,” said the ambassador.

Describing relations between Benin and Kuwait as excellent, the ambassador added, “Over the years, the strong mutual relations between our two countries were further enhanced by the visits of leaders of both countries. His Excellency Dr. Thomas Boni Yayi the President of Benin, first visited Kuwait in 2008; this was followed by a visit to Benin, in 2009, by the then Premier of Kuwait Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah. During these reciprocal visits several accords for cooperation and coordination in the political, social, cultural, technical and educational sectors, as well as in the domains of economy, investment and manpower were signed between the two countries. President Boni’s latest visit to Kuwait was in July 2012, following his election as Chairperson of the African Union, when he met with His Highness the Amir and discussed issues of mutual interest.

Shedding light on the growing cooperation in the fields of investments, trade and development, the ambassador continued, ”Promotion of economic ties between the two countries has been further bolstered by the inauguration, in February 2012, of the Embassy of Kuwait in Benin and the appointment of H.E. Fayez Mishari Al-Jassim as the first resident ambassador there. There has been continuous and constructive dialogue between officials of the two countries on trade and investment in Benin; recently talks were held to explore the possibilities of oil explorations in the Gulf of Guinea, and a Memorandum of Understanding on this matter is expected to be signed in the immediate future.”

The ambassador continued, “In 2009, Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry signed a cooperation protocol with Benin and, in September 2011, our Minister of Commerce visited Kuwait heading a large trade delegation to promote investment projects in our country. And, we are looking forward to the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce visiting Benin in the immediate future. In addition to these trade and commercial ties, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has been a long-time generous investor in the growth and development of Benin. The Fund has granted loans worth millions of dinars for infrastructure projects in the transport, communication and industrial sectors in Benin and continues to fund new development projects each year.”

Expressing his optimism on the potential for improving tourism and trade, especially in niche food products, the ambassador elaborated, “Benin welcomes tourists from all over. We have some of the finest beaches on the Gulf of Guinea coast that attract a large number of tourists each year. Also, in the south of the country, several tourism projects designed to promote tourism are coming up in and around the capital Porto-Novo and in our commercial capital of Cotonou. Moving northwards, we have large national parks and game reserves that afford plenty of opportunity for investing in safaris and eco-tourism in the country. The embassy is looking to promote and popularize package tours and safari trips to Benin in the near future. Travel to and from Benin is easy and convenient; visas are readily available to people residing in Kuwait and travel time from this country to Benin, with a short stopover in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, takes around eight hours.”

Clarifying that in addition to tourism there was plenty of scope for importing niche food products like cashew and pineapple from his country, Ambassador Kabassi added, “From this year, we hope to start import of the famous Benin pineapple called ‘Sugarloaf’ to Kuwait. The sweet and delicious quality of Benin pineapple, which originally arrived in Benin from Brazil more than two hundred years ago, is simply supreme. And air freighting the product to Kuwait will ensure it retains its freshness and sweetness when it arrives here. We are looking at major food importers to partner in this project.”

Elaborating on the investor-friendly climate in Benin, the ambassador invited businessmen and investors in Kuwait to visit Benin, saying, “Besides being one of the safest countries in the region, Benin is also a fully democratic country that is based on a strong constitution, rule of law and free media. Moreover, as a member of the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the eight-member West African Economic and Monetary Union, as well as a signatory to various international protocols and agreements, investments in Benin have the backing of the government and the protection of laws and regulations. The government has also implemented several policies designed to attract investors, including reducing taxes and streamlining the processes involved in starting and operating businesses. Currently we have several businesses and investors participating in infrastructure, food processing, tourism and textile projects. Businesses from Lebanon, India, China and many European countries have invested in the growth and development potential of Benin.”

“We have a small community of Beninese in Kuwait, including students and business people, as well as private security personnel and teaching staff employed by the Ministry of Education,” revealed the ambassador, adding in conclusion, “On behalf of the Republic of Benin, I would like to express my appreciation to the government and leadership of Kuwait, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for providing all assistance and support to the embassy and the Beninese people working and living peacefully in Kuwait.”

Country facts:

With a population of 9.6 million, as per 2012 census, Benin is a relatively small country on the west coast of Africa along the Bight of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea. Facing the Atlantic Ocean along a narrow stretch of coast in the south, the country is wedged along its inland length by Nigeria to the east and Togo to the west. Having a total area of 112,622km2 the country is separated from Niger in the north by the Rier Niger and is bordered to the north-west by Burkina Faso. During its long history the country has gone through several name changes, from the Kingdom of Dahomey in the 15th century to French Dahomey during French rule in 1899; from the Republic of Dahomey at the time of its independence in 1960 to the People’s Republic of Benin during its experiment with Marxism from 1975 to 1990 when the country abandoned communism and changed to its current name of Republic of Benin.