Independent candidate Patrice Talon has been elected President of Benin. He secured 65% of the votes in a second round run-off election with incumbent; Lionel Zinsou received only 35% of the vote. His victory interestingly comes after he was narrowly defeated by his rival in the first round.
Who is Patrice Talon?
Patrice was born May 1, 1958 to a native railway man father from the Atlantic port town and ex-slave trading post of Ouidah and a mother from the Guedegbe family of Abomey. He grew up in Degue-Gare in Porto-Novo, where his family owned a house. Talon is a Fon, one of Benin’s main ethnic and linguistic groups and some believe this has helped his businesses and political career. After high school he studied at the University of Dakar before attempting to transfer to Paris’ National School of Civil Aviation (ENAC). He won an airline pilot contest sponsored by Air Afrique and despite passing the entrance exams; he failed a medical test and forced to abandon his dream of becoming a pilot.
Patrice Talon is married to Claudine, a native woman of Porto-Novo and he has two children.
In 1983, Patrice Talon started his first major business of packaging agricultural inputs and in 1985 created the Inter-Continental Distribution Company (SDI), which provides agricultural inputs to cotton farmers. Following the recommendations of the World Bank in 1990, Benin was advised to withdraw from cotton production and Talon won then the bid for three cotton ginning factories in Benin. They soon became the leading cotton businesses in the country because of little competition from other disorganized businesses. Talon’s companies are known for their modern management style and above average salaries. He has been criticized for trying to create a monopoly of the cotton production chain (inputs, cotton ginning, import, export and even the production of derivatives). His business empire stretches through several West African countries, including Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.
In 2006 and 2011, he sponsored the first election of Yayi Boni, a banking expert who has made a career in regional organizations in West Africa and led the West African Development Bank. Critics allege that because of this support he was rewarded with a 2008 tender for the privatization of the cotton division Sonapra, the national Company for agricultural promotion in a country where the cotton sector is responsible for 45% of tax revenues of the state and 80% of export earnings. Critics note that Talon’s businesses which were already involved in the importing of fertilizer are now able to control the whole chain of the main resource of Benin which creates a monopoly.
Two months before the re-election of Yayi Boni, Talon won another tender allowing him to manage the tariffs of the port of Cotonou, which has annual revenues of about 2 billion (1.5 billion euros) per year, equivalent to the government state budget. After Yayi’s reelection he fell out of favor with him and accused of involvement in a plot to kill him but fled to France in 2012 and was eventually pardoned in 2014. After his pardon he returned to Benin to run as an independent candidate in the Presidential election.
Despite narrowly losing in the first round by about 100, 000 votes, Patrice received the support of 24 of the 32 candidates from the first round, including fellow businessman Sebastien Ajavon, Abdoulaye Bio-Tchane and Pascal Irenee Koupaki.
Observers note that his success in business attracted many of the young Beninese voters, who believe in his ability to create jobs and wealth on a national scale. He pledged to decentralize Presidential powers and to introduce a five-year term limit, which would compel leaders to step aside after just one term.