To date, eLearning Africa has been held in Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Accra, Dakar, Lusaka and Dar es Salaam. United by the common goal of sharing knowledge about how best to integrate ICTs into education and training activities in Africa, the host countries have each offered a unique backdrop to the event on account of their social, cultural, and economic distinctions – distinctions which define the Continent’s diversity. It is Cotonou’s turn to host the conference and exhibition in 2012, and Benin’s strides towards implementing sound strategies for the widespread use of ICTs make it the ideal place to convene.
The Republic of Benin is bounded by Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and, to the south, the Bight of Benin along the country’s 120km long coastline. The coastal regions have long been the most populous areas, dating back even into the country’s colourful Dahomean past. The Kingdom of Dahomey, which was established around 1600, was for centuries a powerful force in West Africa but declined in time and was abolished by the French in 1900 after a series of wars of colonisation. Independence eventually came in 1960, but there were some turbulent years to come. A military coup of 1972 ultimately ushered in a Marxist regime from 1975 to 1990, before a new constitution and the adoption of democratic forms of government gave Benin a fresh lease on life in 1991.
Head of State: President Yayi Boni
Head of Government:
Prime Minister Pascal Irenée Koukpaki
1 August 1960
Central African Franc (XOF)
Source: African Union[/callout]
Economy & infrastructure: A work in progress
Benin is a developing economy where pockets of burgeoning wealth are offset by areas of want. IMF figures indicate that in 2010, total investment was roughly 16% of GDP, and inflation hovered around the 2% mark. Benin’s mainstay is subsistence agriculture and cotton farming, and thus the global recession and low commodity prices have hurt the country’s fledgling economy. In spite of this dire picture, the UNDP’s 2010 Human Development Report lists Benin amongst the top 25 countries where the Human Development Index (HDI) has increased. The HDI is a composite measure of a population’s life expectancy, income, and schooling, and Benin is inching its way upwards on all fronts. Increased foreign direct investment, better fiscal discipline, trade liberalisation and the adoption of democratic principles are helping to steer the country towards prosperity. Membership of the CFA Franc Zone and ECOWAS brings a support system and access to ready markets within the trading bloc. There are therefore already urban areas where people have full access to 21st century amenities, although sanitation, health and education remain areas of concern.
National: 9 644 000
Cotonou 815 000
(2010; IMF / 2009; CIA World Factbook)
Total: US$ 6.571 billion
Per capita: US$ 681.71
Life expectancy at birth
Women: 61.14 years
Men: 58.61 years
(2011 estimate; CIA World Factbook)
Land lines: 127 100
Mobile: 5 033 000
(2009; CIA World Factbook)
(2009,2010; CIA World Factbook)[/callout]
Education: The Reformation
Benin’s educational outlook has improved tremendously since the implementation of the reforms of 2007. Literacy levels extracted from the 2002 census raise alarm: 47.9% for men, and a paltry 23.3% for women. According to UNESCO estimates, in 2005, the school life expectancy for primary to tertiary schooling was a mere nine years with many students falling by the wayside without having gained any formal qualifications. Crippling fees meant that few parents could afford to keep their children in school, and those students who did manage to attend contended with a high student/teacher ratio and a dearth of textbooks and other school supplies. The CIA World Factbook indicates that by 2007, the educational expenditure was 3.5% of GDP; it was time to address the escalating problem. According to Christophe Dangnihin, First Secretary of the Embassy of Benin in Berlin, one of the most meaningful outcomes of the 2007 reforms was the abolishment of school fees for the first five years of primary school. He says, “The educational reforms were a government decision taken in an effort to redress the problem of school drop outs, and thus far we are confident that more and more people are gaining access to much-needed education.”
Benin is now allocating more resources to its schools, improving the infrastructure, training more teachers and delivering up-to-date teaching materials. Increasingly, these teaching materials are starting to include ICTs in selected urban schools, though, as Osei Tutu Agyeman writes in a 2007 report for infoDev, the acquisition and upkeep costs of ICTs is beyond what most schools can afford. There are, however, a few donors and NGOs helping to facilitate progress. The non-governmental agency CyberSonghai (named after an ancient West African Islamic empire) is running low-cost internet cafés; and the ICT training organisation ORIDEV (named after the Yoruba word for “cross roads”) also has a presence in Benin. This slow pace of development is somewhat surprising considering that in 1995, Benin became the first West African country to connect to the Internet!
ICT policy: Onwards & upwards
A comprehensive study conducted by Augustin Chabossou between 2009 and 2010 and published by Research ICT Africa reviews the current state of affairs of ICT use in Benin, and it also considers future progress. Benin’s current ICT policy came into effect on 31 December 2008 with the adoption of the Sector Policy Statement (SPS). The plan is to bring the country fully into the digital age by attracting foreign direct investment in order to grow the telephony and ICT sector. Max Ahouèkè, Benin’s Minister of Information and New technology, is overseeing the E-Benin project which entails overhauling and modernising the telecoms sector, seeing the government transition fully to digital technology by 2015, and making Benin the digital capital of Africa. To achieve these goals, there has to be a balance between two developmental areas or pillars: e-government and e-business. E-government in the public sector involves using ICTs to bring transparency and open access to the administrative framework. The government plans to adopt ICTs more widely within the administration, in particular, extending to presently disadvantaged areas. The e-business pillar is centred on the ICT developments needed for the private sector. Increasing competition and providing better access for operators, service providers and end users will stimulate growth not only in the ICT field, but in the national economy as a whole. There are already a number of government agencies dedicated to the realisation of the SPS ideals. The Fond de Dévéloppement Universel des ICT (FDUTIC) (ICT Universal Development Fund), which is in part funded by telecommunication operators, is just one of the measures in place to help extend telephony and ICT to regions with little or no coverage. The Agency for the Management of New Communication Technologies (AGeNTIC), on the other hand, works closely with representatives of the private sector. There remains much work to be done to overhaul the system. To date, there is little in the way of adequate legislation and regulation for ICTs, with even the allocation of radio frequencies being fraught with difficulties. All the same, the SPS charts a way forward.
Augustin Chabossou – Benin ICT Sector Performance review 2009/2010
ICT infrastructure: The bigger picture
Operational since 2001, the South Atlantic 3/West Africa Submarine Cable (SAT-3/WASC) runs from Spain and Portugal to South Africa and has a landing point in eight West African cities including Cotonou. The connection to this fibre optic lifeline means that in Benin the bandwidth is 155 megabytes per second. In the country’s urban areas, the use of ICTs in general has been growing following much investment into this sector of the economy. The impact on the economy has largely been favourable – not only for the Internet service providers, but for many others down the distribution chain: Internet cafés, phone shops, and even vendors of pre-paid cards. These developments of the ICT sector have thus had many tangible outcomes, increasing people’s access to knowledge and giving them more economic empowerment.
eLA 2012: Coming to Benin
Thus, as a hotbed of development, Benin is a quintessential eLA host country. Christophe Dangnihin says, “We are certainly looking forward to welcoming participants from Africa and the rest of the world. We are friendly, hospitable people, and our current strides to improve the use of ICTs in education and society as a whole mean that we are well-placed to host the dialogue. We are very pleased to be hosting eLearning Africa 2012.”