COTONOU (Reuters) - A prominent Benin businessman, Sebestien Ajavon, announced on Sunday he would run for president in an election scheduled for February in the tiny West African state that borders Nigeria.
President Thomas Boni Yayi has led the cotton-producing country since 2006. He is barred under the country’s constitution from standing for a third term and the election is considered wide open.
“I dream of a Benin that smiles and that’s why I invite us to turn resolutely toward a clear future,” he told a rally at Mathieu Kerekou stadium, which holds 35,000 and was nearly filled to capacity.
Ajavon, who made his fortune through a food product company, will run as an independent supported by various political parties. He called for a reduction in youth unemployment, improved access to energy and less corruption.
Leaders in Congo Republic, Rwanda and Burundi have all secured the right to run for third terms in the last year through constitutional changes, in moves that opponents have criticized as stifling democracy.
Benin’s President Yayi has not sought to change the constitution to allow him to run and Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou said in December he would seek election on behalf of the ruling party, though he has not yet officially launched his candidacy.
A former investment banker and economist, Zinsou has said his presidency would focus on reducing poverty and getting more workers into the economy’s formal sector. He was named to head a government in June that aimed to boost the economy.
The International Monetary Fund said Benin’s GDP growth will be 5.5 percent this year but has been affected by a slowdown in neighbor and major trading partner Nigeria.
Reporting by Allegresse Sasse; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Susan Fenton