Hollande praises France-friendly Benin on whistle-stop Africa tour

French President François Hollande arrived in Benin at half-past midnight on Wednesday to start a whistle-stop tour that will also take him to Angola and Cameroon. In a message to other African leaders, notably Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza, he praised Benin's President Thomas Boni Yaya for hs recent announcement that he would not be seeking a third term in office. 

Benin's President Thomas Yayi welcomes François Hollande to Cotonou on Wednesday night
Benin's President Thomas Yayi welcomes François Hollande to Cotonou on Wednesday night Reuters/Charles Placide Tossou

The French president was to address MPs and other leading Beninois Thursday, before visiting a leprosy research centre and a solar-powered business and community centre, built by French company Bolloré.

His advisers stress that the visit was organised well before the appointment of Lionel Zinsou as prime minister, hoping to fend off criticism that Zinsou, a former speechwriter for Fabius, is too close to France.

Zinsou himself is also keen to dispel that impression.

"I am Beninese. My children and my peers live in Benin," he said recently. "We are very active in that country. I set up a company. I set up a foundation. I’ve been to all corners of Benin. There is no need for France to appoint me to any post."

The people who represented Françafrique, France's influence over its former colonies, are all dead now, he declared.

Zinsou could be in the running to replace Yayi, whose decision not to stand again next year is being held up as an example by the French to other African leaders, such as Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza.

"You are a country of reference when it comes to democracy," he told MPs. "If I am here it is to underscore that examples can be set. Benin has succeeded – not merely its transition but succeeded in fully democratising its institutions. The stability of a country is the stability of its institutions. To respect a constitution is to respect citizens. Accepting the rule of the ballot box is a proof of maturity for those in office."

Hollande was expected to arrive in the Angolan capital Luanda on Thursday afternoon for a visit where he will try to spread France's economic involvement beyond the oil sector.

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