“Benin is a calm and secure country with stunning surroundings”
By Reaven D’Souza
Since his arrival in January 2017, Ambassador of Benin H.E. Moudjaidou Soumanou Issoufou has been spearheading the drive to further strengthen bilateral relations between his country and Kuwait in all domains. In particular, he has been keen to increase Kuwaiti investments, both from state entities and individual investors, in the numerous lucrative sectors of Benin’s economy.
His zeal for pushing the interests of his country above all else was evident even as we began this interview; when requested to tell us a little bit about himself, the ambassador demurred and said he would much rather talk about Benin and its attractions, so as to give readers an introduction to his country. ”My country is beautiful with stunning surroundings, a storied history and very welcoming and kind people. Benin is located in West Africa, with an area of 114,763 km2 and a population of approximately 13 millions, the vast majority of whom are young Beninese.
“The country is bordered by Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north-west and north-east respectively, Nigeria to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. Benin, through its port, is the main gateway to non-coastal countries of West Africa, namely Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and also for Nigeria despite it being a democratic coastal country. This makes my country a crossroads for West African countries. I would also like to add that like Kuwait, Benin is a calm and very secure country.
“On a personal level, having previously held several positions of responsibility, namely that of Minister, General Manager of a Company, Special Advisor to the President, Technical Director, Commercial Director and other posts, the challenges I had to face are multiple and multifaceted. Unfortunately, we cannot talk about it in this interview; however, I would like to emphasize that these challenges were an important source of experiences that serve me today in my position.
“I arrived in Kuwait on 17 January, 2017 and my impressions of both activities and relations with authorities at various levels of Government are good. I have very good ties with the departments with which I collaborate the most, especially the Protocol Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As far as the Kuwaiti people are concerned, they are very friendly and social, especially during my visits to the ‘diwaniyahs’ and also to the mosques where I pray regularly. I feel a friendship and also, it would be remiss of me if I did not thank them for their various humanitarian actions and support, through NGOs, for populations affected by natural disasters and difficulties throughout the world. May Allah reward them.”
Speaking on the aspect of bilateral relations between Benin and Kuwait in various fields since the opening of embassies in both countries, the ambassador said: “Benin and Kuwait have maintained very good relations since 1978 and this facilitated the opening of embassies in both countries. Bilateral relations were augmented after the installation of our embassy here in Kuwait, and Kuwait was the first Gulf Cooperation Council country to open its embassy in my country. Currently, following the reforms undertaken by the Government of Benin, several of our embassies have been closed, but the embassy in Kuwait is kept open and is among only twelve Benin Embassies operating around the world now.
“Results of our bilateral cooperation are especially perceptible in the fields of agriculture, infrastructure and drinking water supply. All of this testifies and proves how solid the existing relations between our two countries are. We work tirelessly to further strengthen and consolidate them.
“However, the main area in which the Embassy is currently focused on is that of promoting Kuwaiti investment in Benin, where there are several promising niches for businessmen. The other area is that of promoting the supply of qualified and diversified Beninese labor to Kuwaiti companies.”
Elaborating on Kuwaiti investments in Benin, the ambassador stressed that Kuwaiti investments were slowly coming up in Benin. “There are several Kuwaitis who have expressed their intention to invest in Benin. We are also working to attract and encourage more Kuwaiti investments, especially when we know that the time has come to diversify investments in several sectors, especially in our agro-industry, mining, animal and plant production, and others.
“Among the many sectors in which Kuwaiti businessmen can invest are: Agriculture; Tourism; Agro-industry; and Mines, as we have abundant supplies of marble, granites, gneiss, quartz and many other ornamental stones which can be used in the construction sector in Kuwait.
“We call on Kuwaiti investors to approach the Embassy in order to benefit from all the information and facilities within the framework of several investment opportunities in Benin.”
Turning to his country’s tourism attractions and potential for investments, Ambassador Issoufou noted: “Beninese tourism is one of the best and most attractive in West Africa, and the Government has made it a priority sector for development and investment. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Benin is a very safe and calm country, enjoying natural and cultural potential, beautiful landscapes, rivers, waterfalls, large forests and Safari.
“As far as places of interest are concerned, there are: Nature reserves, zoos and mangroves; An attractive national park which offers hunting tourism and vision tourism to tourists wishing to see elephants, lions, antelopes, hippopotamuses, monkeys, and other animals; and we also have several historical and cultural museums. Obviously, we are working to attract the greatest number of Kuwaitis to visit Benin and even to invest in this area.”
Speaking about the Beninese community in Kuwait and cultural exchanges between the two countries, the envoy said: “Beninese who are living in Kuwait are not all registered at the Embassy. But I can tell you that there are more than 2,000 according to the entry statistics we regularly get through the Consular Affairs Department of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As I mentioned earlier, there are labor exchange agreements between our two countries, but the one specific to domestic workers has not yet been concluded, and we are working on it.
“On the cultural front there we hope to bring from Benin, two music groups, one modern and the other traditional, to show to the Kuwaiti public a little part of the cultural potential of Benin.”