The last days of my last mission to Benin, within the framework of the Local Government Capacity Programme, are here. After 7 missions to Benin in 2,5 years I can say that I have developed a love-hate relationship with the country. Hate, because Salmonella, Shigella and Campylobacter all managed to affect my intestines over here, which makes that I now only eat vegan when in Benin. Other things which will not be missed: the rather extreme heat, the risk of getting malaria, the dusty roads, the slow or non-existing internet and the crazy traffic in Cotonou.
However, most of it is love. It will be especially difficult to, for now, leave our partners behind: our Resident Programme Manager Hervé Dossoumou, experts Josiane, Claude, Camille, Sabirou, the focal points in the three departments in which we worked and of course our sister association, the ‘Association Nationale des Communes du Bénin’. In the past 5 years (of which I was involved in three) this team has worked on supporting 21 municipalities in the departments Atacora, Alibori and Couffo in the field of Local Economic Development and food security. Support was provided through various modalities: coaching (by Beninese coaches and experts from Dutch municipalities Oude Ijsselstreek, Ridderkerk and Alphen-Chaam), grant agreements, trainings and through the organization of three benchmarking cycles and subsequent intermunicipal visits.
Throughout the years, the 21 municipalities gained a lot of knowledge on their role in LED, food security and agricultural development. They have learned from each other’s’ (good) practices, concerning public-private partnerships, a one-stop shop, promotion of tomato and palm oil sectors, as well as land management and registry – in line with the new code foncier. Mayors participated in interactive workshops on effective leadership and when new Mayors were installed after the often postponed local elections in June 2015, the new Mayors showed renewed commitment for LGCP and thus received similar support.
In this last year of LGCP, the ANCB took on its role as central coordinator and partner in Benin. The association has been strengthened in its lobby and advocacy work and has worked hard on creating and maintaining a good relationship with its members. The ‘Etude des besoins’ carried out in 2013 amongst all 77 municipalities has clearly paid off. The ANCB now plans to repeat this study next year; it has already been put in the workplan for 2017. Also, the time management and project management trainings by our Dutch experts were of high value to the staff – of all which mentioned this as one of the most valuable trainings they had, during the evaluation talks I had this week.
There is much more to say about the programme, about its results and about the remaining challenges. But for now I will conclude that I have seen a lot of progress within LGCP Benin and that our partners have learned and matured in the past years. So maybe it is indeed time to say goodbye for now, so that they can stand on their own feet. Nonetheless, I feel like there would still be a lot more to gain and to strive for in this beautiful but nonetheless still poor country.
Luckily, VNG International will continue to carry out its ‘Projet Foncier Local’ in the next years, managed by my colleagues Felix and Anouk, and there are other opportunities on the horizon. But for me, for now, this is a (bittersweet) goodbye.