Cotonou, Benin. On October 10-11, AWEPA launched a new cooperation programme with the National Assembly of Benin, in partnership with the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD). The programme, which will run from 2012 to 2015, aims at supporting and strengthening the role and capacity of political parties and the parliament in Benin, with a view to consolidate and reinforce the democratic process.
AWEPA has a long history of partnership and cooperation with the parliament of Benin that dates back to the early 2000s and was formalised in 2007 in a Memorandum of Understanding. During this time, it has worked to strengthen the core functions of parliament of representation, legislation and oversight and has supported MPs in addressing priority development issues for Benin, such as agriculture climate change and sustainable development. As part of the partnership agreement signed between AWEPA and NIMD in 2011, aimed at strengthening the relations and functioning of both political parties and parliaments, a new cooperation programme is being developed in Benin.
The launch workshop held in Cotonou brought together key stakeholders, members of parliaments, political party officials, parliamentary staff, governance experts and high representatives of AWEPA and NIMD. In her opening speech, Minister of State and President of AWEPA, Ms. Miet Smet, reaffirmed AWEPA’s commitment to the strengthening of African legislatures, stating that “strong parliaments lie at the heart of Africa’s development and prosperity” and that “to support parliaments is to support democracy”. Former Dutch Minister and NIMD Supervisory Council Member, Mr. van Middelkoop, highlighted the importance of trust in politics and stated that “there is no ideal model of democracy” but rather democracies share some “key ingredients” and must be founded on values such as mutual trust and the alternation of power. The works of the conference were officially opened by the national Assembly’s first vice-President, Hon. Justin Sagui Yotto, who welcomed the new programme and the relevance of its joint objective to support parliament and Benin’s highly polarised party system.
One of the major outcomes of the meeting was the establishment of a Steering Committee (Comité de pilotage) composed of 15 members, parliamentarians and political party cadres, reflecting party groups and the composition of the parliament, as well as a representative of parliamentary staff. The Committee was constituted to ensure national ownership to the programme and will thus oversee and coordinate the development and overall direction of the programme, serving as direct counterpart for AWEPA and NIMD’s joint cooperation in Benin.
Participants discussed the broad objectives of the programme, in light of key governance challenges the country faces, relating to the role of political parties and the parliament. In relation to multiparty dialogue and exchange, one participant noted that on-going workshop represented a success in itself as it was one of the few times that majority and opposition leaders gathered to discussed common issues of concern, alongside the regular functioning of the parliament. The broad orientations of the programme were presented and debated, in the light of preliminary the findings of the previous consultation missions conducted. Broad areas of intervention were proposed, including the favouring of multiparty dialogue on priority development themes and institutional reforms, strengthening ties between elected officials, party members and citizens, reinforcing the intellectual and technical capacity of parties and parliaments and a cross-cutting gender component. In a working group session on the second day, specific actions were envisaged, within each of the intervention areas, in relation to strengthening both parliament and political parties. On this basis, an activity plan for the coming period will be developed and agreed upon with the newly established Steering Committee.