1 May 1958, Ouidah, Atlantique Department, Benin
Patrice Guillaume Athanase Talon (born 1 May 1958) is a Beninese politician and businessman who has been President of Benin since 6 April 2016.
Early life and career
Talon is of Fon origins and was born in Ouidah. He descends from slave traders. His father was from Ouidah while his mother came from a Guédégbé family in Abomey. He obtained a baccalaureate in Dakar, Senegal. After obtaining a “C” grade in his bachelor’s degree in science studies at the University of Dakar, he was transferred to the National School of Civil Aviation in Paris. With dreams of becoming a pilot, Talon failed a medical test and this dream became an impossibility.
In 1983, he became involved in trade of packaging and agricultural inputs activities. In 1985, he returned to Benin and established the Intercontinental Distribution Company (Société Distribution Intercontinentale; SDI), which supplies agricultural inputs to cotton producers. Although in 1990, following recommendations by the World Bank to liberalize economies in West Africa countries, in which Benin was called upon to withdraw from the cotton production chain. He then won the chance to establish three cotton ginning factories in the country. He was also known as the “King of Cotton” for his involvement in the cotton industry, Talon built his empire due to connections with the Beninese political class.
He was one of the chief financial backers of President Thomas Boni Yayi, financing his campaigns for the 2006 and 2011 elections. His company, Benin Control acquired two nationally owned enterprises, Sodeco in 2009 and PVI in 2011. In 2011, Talon received management of Cotonou’s imports at the Port of Cotonou. In 2012, he fled to France after he was accused of embezzling more than 18 million euros in taxes. He fell out with Boni Yayi and was accused of involvement in a plot to kill him. He was subsequently pardoned in 2014. In 2015, US magazine Forbes listed him as the 15th richest person in sub-Saharan Africa with wealth valued at approximately US$400 million.
Talon ran as an independent candidate in the March 2016 presidential election. Although he finished second to Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou of the Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin in the first round of voting, he won the second round with 65% of the vote. His opponent, outgoing Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou recognized his defeat the night of the election. Speaking on 25 March 2016, Talon said that he would “first and foremost tackle constitutional reform”, discussing his plan to limit presidents to a single term of five years in order to combat “complacency”. He also said that he planned to slash the size of the government from 28 to 16 members.
He was sworn in on 6 April 2016. The composition of his government was announced later in the day. There was no prime minister, and two defeated presidential candidates who had backed Talon in the second round, Pascal Koupaki and Abdoulaye Bio-Tchane, were appointed to key posts; Koupaki as Secretary-General of the Presidency and Bio-Tchane as Minister of State for Planning and Development. Talon pledged to increase the fortunes of Benin in five years and improve its relationship with France. Some of his policy goals are reducing the power of the executive and reducing presidents to single terms of five years, an unheard of suggestion in Africa.
On 4 April 2017, the National Assembly failed to pass a bill that would have led to a referendum on Talon’s proposal to limit presidents to a single six-year term. 63 votes in the 83-member National Assembly were required for passage, and the bill fell just short, with 60 votes. Talon said a few days later that he would not pursue the matter any further. He said that he was saddened by the outcome of the vote but that he respected it because of his commitment to democracy. He declined to say whether, in light of the failure of his single-term proposal, he would stand for re-election in 2021.
He is married to Claudine Gbènagnon from Porto-Novo and has two children.