Better public services in fourteen of Benin’s communes

Project completed
A woman and a man shake hands in front of a sign with Switzerland's logo and the names of the two towns involved in building the bridge.
Inauguration of a paved bridge linking two communes in northern Benin. This means that traffic can still pass even during high flooding. © SDC © SDC

Efforts to decentralise public services in Benin are paying off. The SDC is focusing on two of the country’s departments. Since 2008, when the first support programme was launched, significant progress has been seen on the ground.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Rule of Law - Democracy - Human rights
Infectious desease
Public sector policy
Legal and judicial development
01.01.2017 - 30.06.2022
CHF  8’700’000

There are processes where improvements can only be measured over several years, even decades. And decentralising public services is one of them. Since 2008, the SDC has been diligently supporting the efforts of one of Benin's 12 departments, Borgou, to set up structures to make decisions and take action at the local level.

Because of the positive results on the ground, the SDC extended its programme to support local governance and decentralisation in January 2017 and is now working in another department, Alibori, which is also in the north of the country.

In so doing, the SDC is helping the Benin government in its efforts to devolve more responsibility to the communal authorities.

Local democracy and women’s participation in politics

A banner with the words “Enough! No more people drowning in floods, or obstacles to hospital care, farming and trade during flooding.”
The SDC’s programme to support decentralisation actively encourages inter-communal cooperation. © SDC

Providing access to good quality decentralised public services depends on several factors. First, setting the wheels of local democracy in motion ensures that local authorities are accountable for their actions.

Based on this approach, the SDC has supported the creation of ‘civic engagement cells’, which are authorised to monitor commune-level council discussions. In the run-up to local elections in Benin in June 2015, the SDC also helped organise open debates on local radio stations. In addition, the SDC’s targeted support for women candidates paid off – one woman is the mayor of a commune, three are first deputy mayors and six are heads of districts.

Financial resources

Second, mobilising local financial resources is key. In Benin, the share of the national budget allocated to communes has increased only slightly (2.08% in 2013, 3.21% in 2015). That is why the SDC has helped draw up and implement a strategy for harnessing local resources in the eight communes making up Borgou department.

Specifically, 150 companies that used to operate in the informal sector have been officially registered and now also pay taxes, thereby contributing to local development. For their part, these enterprises can now take part in invitations to tender that have become more transparent.

Between 2012 and 2016, communes in Borgou saw their own resources go up by 35% on average. During this period, the Association des Communes du Bénin (Local Government Association, ANCB) also continued to push for a 15% increase in the resources directly allocated to the communes from the national budget.

Capacity building

Third, capacity building for local decision-making structures is vital so that the village inhabitants benefit directly from concrete actions. In practice, certain communes continue to prioritise political actions to the detriment of local social and economic development. That is why it is so important to create spaces for dialogue where local communities can make their needs heard.

In addition to its work with the communal authorities, the SDC is developing a close partnership with communal associations in the Borgou and Alibori departments, which are responsible for projects that have been set up at the inter-communal level. Giving these associations a key role in planning and carrying out the activities helps ensure long-term success.

To date, the SDC’s programme has helped rehabilitate and equip 42 classrooms and 23 health centres. Several bridges and new sections of pathways have also been built. At the request of the local authorities, the SDC will continue to support efforts to professionalise Benin’s civil registration services by 2020.

In terms of land-use planning, the SDC is also planning to help communes draw up master plans and implement urban planning. This is expected to attract business ventures that create jobs as well. With the help of better planning tools, the fourteen communes in Borgou and Alibori should also be better placed to face demographic and climate-related constraints affecting the region. In concrete terms, there are several measures that can be taken to mitigate the impact of recurring natural disasters such as flooding, prolonged drought and insect infestations.