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France and Benin

Political relations

Cooperation between France and Benin is governed by the General Agreement of 1975 and specific agreements signed the same year. These agreements have a vast scope, ranging from cultural cooperation to military cooperation. To replace the France-Benin General Partnership Framework 2018-2021, the French Embassy in Cotonou drew up, in close collaboration with civil society and the Beninese authorities, a “country strategy”, as provided for by the Programming Act on inclusive development and combating global inequalities. This strategy is based on the priorities of PAG II (government action programme) and targets three main objectives: (i) support the strengthening of democracy, the rule of law and good governance; (ii) assist human development and structural transformation of certain key economic sectors; (iii) help sustainably improve the social well-being of populations.

The European Union allotted €372 million to Benin under the eleventh European Development Fund (2014-2020). These funds are dedicated to governance (€184 million), agricultural development (€80 million), access to energy (€80 million), and civil society support (€18 million). On 17 September 2018, the fifth session of political dialogue took place under Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement between the European Union and Benin, the outcome of which was highlighted as positive. The amounts allocated to Benin under the new EU Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) are not yet known.

The relationship between the EU and Benin has however deteriorated since the legislative elections in 2019: the head of the European Union delegation to Cotonou was asked to leave the country. A few months later, the EU withdrew its accreditation of the Beninese Ambassador to the EU. Relations between the EU and Benin have since improved, and a new Head of Delegation, Ms Sylvia Hartleif, has been posted to Cotonou.

French presence

Website of the French Embassy: http://www.ambafrance-bj.org
Institut Français: Cotonou and Parakou satellite office (https://if-benin.com)
French community: 3,900 registered. An estimated 1,100 French nationals are not registered.

Visits

President Talon, who made an official visit to France in April 2016, returned in March 2018. During that visit, the French President and his counterpart set the five priorities for the bilateral relationship: health cooperation, fighting climate change and developing sustainable cities, tourism, education and training, and heritage cooperation.

The French Culture Minister Franck Riester was received in Benin on 15 and 16 December 2019 and raised the issue of the return of cultural goods with President Talon and his counterpart Jean-Michel Abimbola. The latter later visited Paris, accompanied by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Aurélien Agbénonci, on 21 February 2020.

President Talon travelled to France in November 2021 on an official visit for the return of 26 pieces of artwork from the Palaces of Abomey. The intergovernmental agreement enacting the return was signed at the Élysée by the French and Beninese Ministers of Culture, in the presence of both Presidents.

Economic relations

Trade between France and Benin is characterized by very limited French imports (€2.4 million in 2018 and €2.1 million in 2019), made up essentially of a few agricultural and agrifood products, such as tropical fruit and fruit juice. French exports to Benin totalled €162.8 million in 2019, down 26.9% on the previous year (€222.7 million). The strong results in 2018 were due to the exceptional delivery of electric turbines for the Maria Gléta II power plant, worth €32 million. The 2019 results were also affected by the continued drop in sales of frozen poultry for re-export to Nigeria (€14.7 million compared to €21.6 million the previous year), and an even greater drop was expected in 2020. Our traditional exports of medicines, our main export to Benin, levelled off at €34.8 million.

Some 40 French businesses are present in the country. They are concentrated in the agrifood, logistics, construction and banking sectors and directly employ some 8,000 people.

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

French cooperation operates in a large variety of fields in Benin. France is Benin’s second-largest bilateral donor, behind the United States. Official development assistance to Benin reached €63.58 million in 2018. Between 2010 and 2021, total AFD commitments reached €530 million, €130 million of which were subsidies. The agency’s main areas of action are energy (€175m) and urban development (€146m). The AFD is increasingly requested by the Beninese party to conduct projects in the professional training sector. In 2021, it launched a pilot project dedicated to agricultural education in the Alibori Department in north-east Benin. The French Embassy’s Cooperation and Cultural Action Service carries out an FSPI (Solidarity Fund for Innovative Projects) project focusing on heritage and heritage professions (“sites and museums for the development of regions”) and is expected to launch a project to develop female sport in 2022. The National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), which is represented in the regions, and the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) carry out scientific cooperation. Decentralized cooperation is implemented through 30 partnership agreements between French and Beninese local governments.

The return of 26 artworks that were taken during the conquest of the Dahomey kingdom was a flagship project of cultural cooperation with Benin in recent years. Under the Act of 24 December 2020, the works were returned to Benin on 9 November 2021 by an intergovernmental agreement. This agreement was signed in Paris by both Ministers of Culture, in the presence of the French and Beninese presidents. The works were on show at the Beninese presidential palace (Palais de la Marina) from 18 February, for a mixed exhibition (displaying the works from Abomey and contemporary pieces), inaugurated in the presence of the Minister of Culture, Ms Bachelot-Narquin. They will then move to Ouidah, where they will be on display at the Portuguese fort. Furthermore, the AFD supports the Beninese project to build the Musée de l’Epopée des Amazones et des Rois du Dahomey (MEARD), on the site of the Royal Palaces of Abomey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The construction of the museum may commence when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee approves the project. Ultimately, this museum should house the returned works.

In Benin, France is also continuing its efforts to foster cultural diversity, francophonie and artistic creation. The Benin Institut Français is a leader in cultural cooperation and French language teaching. The Campus France office, hosted by the Institut Français, processes requests applications for study in France by Beninese students. France issues around 1,000 long-stay visas to Beninese students each year. The Montaigne school, supervised by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE), has more than 1,000 pupils, of French, Beninese and other nationalities. Two other agencies of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs are also active: the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and the National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), which has health as a research focus in Benin. The work of agencies is guided by the Embassy Cooperation and Cultural Action Service, which also manages several projects financed through the Ministry’s Solidarity Fund for Innovative Projects (FSPI).

Other cooperation

French security and defence cooperation is active in Benin. The French forces in Senegal (EFS) provide training, in particular in the fight against terrorism. French cooperation officers are also present at the reference centre for training in mine clearance (CPADD), a regionally-oriented national school (ENVR).

Updated: August 2022