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Antoine Viallet’s road trip to Benin: discovery of a small country with big ambitions

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Travel diary ©AV

Thirty years ago, Antoine Viallet arrived in the South of France where he held various jobs: director of a shopping center, manager of large tertiary complexes, marketer, asset manager. Each of them was a source of enrichment and made him a demanding player in corporate real estate. He is now vice-president of the Marseillais de l’Immobilier en Afrique “MIA’s”, a group of real estate professionals. And, every winter, at Christmas time, he leaves to take the side roads to discover Africa. This year he was in Benin for a trip that was professional, friendly, touristic, artistic and gastronomic with the surprising Beninese New Year’s speciality.


Travelogue

“Raymond take me to the village”

For several years, I have been chasing my friend Raymond Aboki – whom I met in Marseilles and who today lives and works in Dakar with his family – saying to him: ” Raymond take me to the village “. The appointment is stopped for the end of year celebrations. I organize myself with the making of 6 professional appointments, the rental of a motorcycle and off we go for a Road trip of 780 kilometers in 15 days.

Discovery of Cotonou

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Ministerial city ©AV
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Sémé City © AV
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Abomey Calavi University Hospital ©AV
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University town located in the northwest outskirts of Cotonou ©AV

What a nice surprise… a city on a human scale where traffic is fluid, with little pollution, green spaces and a caring population. Immediately I felt at ease in this rapidly changing metropolis. In the Cadjehoun-Marina district, the ministerial city will be built on an area of ​​5 hectares and will house 20 ministries and will develop more than 70,000 m². This program is signed by Koffi and Diabaté, the archi-stars of Côte d’Ivoire. I also noticed the 4,500 m² Sèmè City incubator built with local ecological materials. The CHU of Abomey Calavi of more than 40,000 m m², university town located in the north-western outskirts of Cotonou is built by Bouygues.

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The beach in Cotonou ©AV
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Fishing route in Cotonou ©AV
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Bab’s Dock © AV

Nature is present to the south of the city with its 40 kilometers of seaside and wild or equipped beaches. Taking the Route des Pêches means discovering a panorama of an endless and clean beach and the Fidjrossè district … and it is also discovering the lagoon and the Bab’s dock spot and to the North, Lake Nokoué.

Tourism in Benin

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Fisheries road to Ouidah (Sogea Satom) ©AV

The 337,000 tourists before the pandemic came mainly from the sub-region. Benin has great ambitions in this economic sector and it is giving itself the means by carrying out development and asphalting works on the 2nd section in the locality of Adounko up to the Bouche du Roy in the commune of Grand-Popo in passing through the Gate of No Return in Ouidah in order to strengthen the tourist offer of the localities crossed. Sogea Satom, a subsidiary of Vinci, won the contract

I discovered a country that offers a very wide range of tourist offers:

seaside

On the edge of the Atlantic Ocean we discover tens of kilometers of wild beaches. Club Med made no mistake in setting up a future eco-resort in Avlékété with 330 rooms including 30 suites on a 25-hectare site located between the sea, the lagoon and a future golf course. Its construction should start at the end of 2022 for an opening at the end of 2024 / beginning of 2025.

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Grand Popo Beach © AV

The seaside resort of Grand Popo has magnificent beaches but its hotel offer is aging. I was surprised to see very few regional tourists there. On the other hand, I could not find an available room at the “Casa Del Pape” resort in Ouidah, which was overbooked by vacationers from Nigeria. This highlights the gap between demand and supply.

Eco-tourism

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Ganvié © AV

Between the Penjari National Park, the mangroves, the lakes, this country is full of places where nature is stunning. Discovering the lakeside city of Ganvié, known as the Venice of West Africa, or going up the mouth of the Mono remain unique moments.

Memorial tourism

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Ouidah © AV

Like Gorée Island in Dakar, which has become a real tourist destination with more than 1 million visitors per year, Ouidah aims to follow this example of tourism linked to the memory of slavery by highlighting the city ​​through various infrastructural projects, including the rehabilitation of the former slave route deported to the Gate of No Return. It is important to know that, of the eleven million Africans exiled by the Western slave trade, nearly two million left from the Bay of Benin, 60% of them from the two main ports to centralize the traffic, Ouidah and Lagos. The slaves were gathered in a square to be sold there.

Cultural tourism

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Zinzou Foundation © AV

Benin has an important precolonial architectural heritage, which essentially falls within the triangle Abomey-Ouidah-Porto-Novo, the historical museum of Abomey is a set of royal palaces, part of which contains one of the most prestigious Benin museums. The 47-hectare site of which it is part is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. And more recently the Zinzou Contemporary Art Foundation honors African artists

Religious tourism

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© AV

Very present in the daily life of many Beninese, particularly in the south of the country, the voodoo cult intrigues and fascinates the Western tourist. I missed by a few days the annual pilgrimage to Ouidah on January 10, during which followers and curious mingle with the descendants of slaves, especially from the United States, Brazil and the West Indies. Opposite the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception of Ouidah is the temple of the Pythons, built in 1863, one of the high places of the voodoo cult… in a small perimeter is summed up the religious richness of this country.

The young art scene

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Kifouli Mossou © AV
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Syl Loko- Mazoclet Diff © AV

I got into the habit of discovering local artists during my travels in Africa. I visit workshops and galleries. I saw Dominique Zinkpée again, whom I had discovered in Marseille in July 2018, and Kifouli Dossou at the Maison Rouge. I went to meet 5 young visual artists, the artist Mazoclef Diff was my guide. The idea of ​​creating a footbridge between Marseille and Cotonou is gaining ground… we’ll talk about it later.

My conclusions on Benin

The delay that this country had been able to take has become its chance because in less than 10 years, it has partly made up for it. Benin is the illustration of the famous “Leapfrog” or how an economic backwardness can turn into an advantage thanks, among other things, to digital. Tomorrow there is no doubt that Benin will position itself as a real alternative to Abidjan or Dakar. In the coming years, it could become the international hub for approaching Nigeria, the leading African economy. A regional solution will also have to be found for a single currency that would replace the CFA Franc, which penalizes businesses in West Africa.

In a globalized tourism market, Benin has many assets to stand out and it can meet the growing demand of consumers looking for nature and authenticity. It will also have to choose a marketing positioning to differentiate itself.

Back to town

Take me to the village of Tchaada

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Raymond at primary school in his village of Tchaada ©AV
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Raymond in front of the College students ©AV
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University of Porto Novo ©AV

Raymond is from Tchaada, a small region of some 10,000 inhabitants located in the extreme south-east of Benin, in the border town (with Nigeria) of Ifangni. What an emotion to see firsthand the path traveled by my friend Raymond from his nursery school in Tchaada, to listen to him talk about Suzanne his teacher, the improvised meeting with the students in a classroom of his General Education College in Davié or the Porto Novo University Center where he studied Geography before leaving for… Marseille.

Christmas in Cotonou

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Christmas in Cotonou ©AV

For several years, I have been spending Christmas Eve in a church in Africa, after Saint-Louis or Ziguinchor, and Dakar, this year I found myself at the Church of the Good Shepherd in an African atmosphere with an orchestra, percussion, choirs and above all a real moment of sharing and communion.

New Year’s lunch

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New Year’s lunch ©AV

Do you know the dish that Beninese families eat for lunch on January 1st… Doyiwé, take a look… it’s the cousin of cassoulet! for a moment I thought I was in Castelnaudary.

Benin and its neighbors




- Nigeria 1st economy in Africa 213 million inhabitants – Lagos is 120 kilometers from Cotonou.

- Niger: 24 million inhabitants

- Burkina Faso: 21 million inhabitants

- Togo : 8,5 millions

Population PIB

The country has 12.5 million inhabitants, the urban areas of Cotonou (+ 2,500,000 inhabitants, Porto Novo (+ 950,000 inhabitants)) are the most populated with the large northern city Parakou (+ 250,000 inhabitants).

From a health point of view, Benin seems to have fared better than many other countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the economic repercussions have been significant for a country considered among the best performers in Africa. Real GDP growth in Benin slowed to 2.3% in 2020, from 6.9% in 2019 and 6.7% in 2018 (source AfDB).

Benin digital

Already, 2,000 km of optical fiber have been deployed, covering more than 80% of the territory. The government will also continue to install community digital points (connected to broadband, 50 Mbps) in several urban centres. It is also continuing to set up digital rooms in educational establishments. The two telephone operators are present: MTN Benin (subsidiary of the South African group) and Moov Africa Benin (subsidiary of the Maroc Telecom Group) develops the mobile network including 4 G which is available in the country… and 5G in Cotonou.

Creating your company online in less than 3 hours is possible thanks to monentreprise.bj, the online business creation and formalization platform in Benin.

Special Economic Zone

The Special Economic Zone in Glo-Djigbé, a town located about forty kilometers northwest of Cotonou, covers an area of ​​1,414 hectares out of the 10,000 declared to be of public utility in the locality.

The operator is the Arise group, a company owned by Olam International and Africa Finance Corporation. I met an Indian group which has just signed the establishment of a ceramics factory. 500 jobs are planned in the 1st phase and 1,200 in the 2nd phase.


the MIA’s

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The MIA’s © DR

Les Marseillais de l’Immobilier en Afrique is a group of real estate professionals (architect, design office, property managers and trustee, asset manager, marketer and promoters) who support real estate projects in French-speaking Africa. They establish partnership relations with local entrepreneurs on the basis of partnership and reciprocity. Several projects are underway at:

- Cameroon for the establishment of an EDD and co-ownership regulations for 500 housing units.

- Côte Ivoire in the design of a complex of hotel residences, offices and shops.

- Senegal on the Petite Côte as part of a mission to promote a real estate asset.

Antoine VIALLET

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