July 16, 2024

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Promoting Benin’s Heritage & Tourism: the Biggest Cultural Project Ever Financed by AFD | AFD

3 min read

It’s the biggest cultural project ever financed by AFD. To build the Epic of the Amazons and Kings of Dahomey museum in Abomey, on the site of the Royal Palaces of Abomey (Benin), which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Beninese Government and AFD have pulled out all the stops: €35 million of financing through a grant and a loan.


Further reading: Abomey Museum: Promoting Historical and Cultural Heritage in Benin


And it’s Alain Godonou, Benin’s very own “Mr. Heritage”, who is at the helm. 

“We’re building a new and ambitious museum and restoring the royal palaces. We’ll install an exhibit including 26 treasures that have been returned to Benin by France, as well as part of the royal collection,” says Godonou, Director of the Museums Program of the National Agency for Heritage Promotion and Tourism Development (ANPT).

Creation of the School of African Heritage 

After studies in the conservation and restoration of cultural property in Paris, then in Rome at the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, Alain Godonou returned to Benin in 1988 where he became the first curator of the Honmè Museum in Porto-Novo. 

But his sights were set much higher. In 1998, he founded the School of African Heritage, which now stands as an international reference. He managed it until 2010, prior to joining UNESCO as Director of Cultural Programs.

“But I didn’t feel comfortable in offices,” he says. “I went to work away from the headquarters so that I could be closer to what happens on the ground.” He initially went to Gabon in Central Africa, then to Samoa in the Pacific, before returning to Benin. In September 2018, he was appointed Director of the ANPT, with the crucial task of managing the country’s aim of boosting tourism via the wealth of its heritage.


Further reading: Slam Poetry and Self-Fulfillment 


“The country called me and I answered the call,” adds Godonou. “I was born for culture and it’s always been my crusade. I’ve put all my energy, hopes and commitment into it for nearly 40 years now. And the Beninese authorities, and namely the Head of State, Patrice Talon, have really embraced this issue.”

Culture is now the second pillar of Benin’s economy after agriculture. With museums like the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Cotonou, the International Vodun Museum in Porto-Novo, and the International Museum of Memory and Slavery, located in the ancient Portuguese fort of Ouidah, the Government has firmly focused on Cultural and Creative Industries.

Culture creates wealth and employment, but it also acts as a catalyst for building identity and citizenship. “It serves to reinforce and write the national narrative, so that we can build a common identity where Beninese people can see themselves as one nation and present themselves to the world,” says Alain Godonou.

“The Government and AFD have the same objectives”

“With AFD, we have the same objectives and I’d say that we have an exceptional relationship, because we’ve managed to establish a relationship of trust in our work,” says the man who thought he would “never live to see this type of project.”
The museum is expected to open in late 2025. 

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