On my very first night in Benin, I was immediately introduced to the ever-joking nature of the Beninese. It happened when my colleague Anouk proposed to order ‘une Béninoise’ and I, not knowing what it was, hesitantly confirmed. Immediately, the national coordinator of the project, Egy Sossou, seized the opportunity and asked me: “la jupe ou la bouteille?”. I could tell from the overly amused look on his face, that my confused reaction was the desired one. I learned that this was the regularly used joke when ordering this Beninese beer and over the following weeks had the chance to witness it as a spectator several times. Hence, a pleasant start of what would become an equally pleasant and interesting month.
My internship in Benin followed a five-month internship with VNG International in The Hague, during which I became increasingly interested in learning more about the implementation of projects to gain a better and comprehensive understanding of what is happening at the level of the beneficiary local governments. The opportunity to join Anouk on a four-week mission to Benin to work for the ‘Projet d’appui à la gestion Foncière au niveau Local’ (PFL) was a great way to obtain this experience.
The project experiments with the practical application of the in 2012 adopted Land Code (Code Foncier et Domanial – CFD) in the two municipalities of Dogbo and Klouékanmè. As the new code completely changes the institutional and legal framework of land management in Benin, this involves informing local actors on the new dispositions of the code, establishing functional local land management organs, and developing and formalising land management tools and transactions. Whereas the two municipalities have achieved remarkable results over the past 2,5 years, on a nationwide basis the implementation of the new code remains difficult due to unclarified roles and responsibilities and many other municipalities being uninformed about its dispositions. Hence, in order to contribute to securing land rights for the entire Beninese population, it is important that the lessons learned and good practices of the project are shared with the other 75 municipalities of Benin as well as the national government to support the lobby for a land code that responds to local needs. My tasks focused on these last aspects by supporting the local technical assistance team in their communication strategy and capitalisation process.
A key partner in spreading and upscaling the results of the project is the local government association in Benin, ANCB (Association Nationale des Communes du Bénin). Pinning down the work of the ANCB for the project has revealed how the results of the project contributed to an understanding at the national level of the realities on the ground with regard to the implementation of the new code. It also showcases the importance of involving the LGA in the project for the sustainability of the project’s results, as this lobby has eventually resulted in a proposition for a modification of the Code that now awaits its vote at the general assembly.
Overall, immersing myself into the Beninese culture for a month and being part of a local team that is passionate about their work, have brought the project to life for me and have contributed to a better understanding of land management in Benin. In the end, you can read as many documents as you want, but the impact of a project can only be understood and valued when experienced and seen in reality by talking and listening to local actors. Put it slightly differently, it is only when you are welcomed by the mayor of N’Dali with a feast meal a few hours after informing him you will be in the area, that you understand what hospitality means to a Beninese mayor.