Cotonou - ©Dr.Blofeld,

Urban development strategy for the Cotonou agglomeration

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Main actors

City Government, National Government, NGO / Philanthropy

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Project area

Metropolitan Area

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Ongoing since 2011/01

The strategy aims at defining priorities and giving institutions for the development of Cotonou’s urban agglomeration.

Cotonou, Abomey-Calavi, and Sèmè Podji are three coastal cities in South Benin and form the most important urban area in the country. The territory is characterised by a high rate of population growth, causing a range of socio-spatial related problems. In spite of existing similarities and interdependencies between cities concerning their development, no institutional organisation for their cooperation had been put in place so far.

The Urban Development Strategy is a joint initiative of the three cities, and is supported by the state and an international organisation. A first step in its development was to conduct a diagnostic based both on documentation review and field investigation. The strategy itself was then developed by thematic working groups, focusing for example on the institutionalisation of intercity cooperation. These groups played a determinant role defining priorities. It enabled the identification of six general objectives, further detailed and included in eight operational programs.

The strategy was conceived as a forward-looking document, both giving a vision for territorial development and a technical action program. Transversal approach to development, creation of intercity institutions and concrete tools directly given in the strategy for the objective’s achievement make of it a good practise example.

Sustainable Development Goals

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Cotonou, Benin

Size and population development
2011: 924,000; 1990: 504,000; 2025: 1,517,000; 2010-2015: +4.17% / year

Main functions
political and economic centre, transport hub

Main industries / business
cement, textiles, palm oil

Political structure
Mayor and City Council

Administrative structure
13 arrondissements and 144 boroughs

The Cotonou Agglomeration is composed of the cities of Cotonou, Abomey-Calavi and Sèmè Podji, Benin’s largest urban area. Economic activities taking place in this area contribute to about one third to the national GDP. It is characterised by spatial functional specialisation: Cotonou is Benin’s capital city and an economic and administrative centre; Sèmè Podji is an industrial centre and serves as exchange hub; Abomey-Calavi is the academic centre of the area. Different kinds of exchanges are already taking place between these cities and play a determinant role in their development. Despite this, no urban development strategy had been put in place so far. Rapid population growth will worsen actual difficulties concerning urban sprawl, spatial disparities, infrastructures’ insufficiency, insecurity, and pollution if no measure is taken.

The strategy is based on a joint initiative of the three communes, and aimed to establish a technical and financial support with the Cities Alliance Partnership ( on the one side and Benin’s national state on the other. In terms of objectives one can distinguish the objectives followed in the course of the strategy’s development from the objectives concerning urban development.

The strategy development process aimed at implementing following principles:

  • The development of a discussion platform with the public, aiming at identifying their needs and concerns in terms of urban development.
  • Reaching all population segments during the survey (in particular the least integrated part of the population). Adapting the strategy to the results of the survey.
  • Elevating poverty reduction and urban development to a priority range in the objectives.
  • Orienting efforts and finding appropriate institutional arrangements for the development of an inter-municipal structure.

Objectives formulated in the strategy correspond to the six principal needs in terms of urban development which have been identified:

  • Establishment of inter-municipal institutions to better coordinate issues of urban development between the three cities.
  • Emergence of a competitive environment for economic development
  • Improvement of urban services offer
  • Better governance of spatial and housing development
  • Fight against insecurity
  • Financing local development

The plan was developed in two phases, corresponding first to the conduction of a diagnostic and second to the definition of principles of action.

Main figures of the diagnostic were identified through public participation. Key elements then determined the vision for the conurbation’s development and made up six strategic priorities. These priorities were further detailed in objectivesand formed the Action Plan. In order to operationalise it, eight programmeswith concrete priority measures were developed. The six general strategic priorities, which derive from the diagnostic conclusions, are found in those programs.

The diagnostic contains actual facts and figures about the socio-economic profile of the three cities and gives further development tendencies. In a first period, the diagnostic was based on information available in a documentary data base. Documents were synthesised in order to have a first overview about the situation in the urban area. From these first assessments about the territory and its population, the second part of the diagnostic aimed at actualising and detailing figures. It happened during an investigative period based on interviews with the population and professional resource persons, as well as field observation. The investigation covered a large field of tendencies and practices, in terms of mobility, living and economic activities. A particular attention was put to the identification of existing poverty pockets. This process helped defining an integrated development strategy. Moreover the organisation of nine focus groups, each composed of about 10 people with the same economic and social backgrounds, helped clarification during discussions and complete information individually obtained.

The diagnostic results were classified into thematic fields of action, such as economic development and detailed through on a SWOT-model analysis basis (Strengths, Weeknesses, Opportunities and Threats). The six strategic priorities, from which the overall strategy derives, have been identified during this period.

The strategy is organised in a “funnel-like”way. Strategic priorities are general and cover a large range of issues. For example the strategic priority number 2 concerns the establishment of a competitive environment likely to foster economic development and investment. This priority will be implemented in the frame of the particular program concerning intercity economic development. This program is detailed in the strategy and contains concrete measures of action. It makes recommendations for the creation of economic development poles, the promotion of local agriculture, vocational training for project developers (in particular for women and young people), creation of a micro-loans program and a conducting a study about public-private partnership as an opportunity for financing local investments.

Priorities and programs related to the strategy are transversal insofar as they target many aspects of local development. Moreover, strategic priorities are not detailed into a unique action program: on the contrary they are achieved through the combination of different transversal measures. For example, even if economic development has a program dedicated to it, other programs such as spatial planning or fight against insecurity will also participate with it (for much detailed information about the strategy and the programs, please consider the link below to find the entire strategy).

Among the eight programmes, one concerns the implementation of the strategy itself, including setting up a technical unit, as well as one for the monitoring and evaluation. Some objectives have been identified as priority, such as the agreement for the establishment of intercity institutions. This objective is indeed the starting point for the implementation and realization of other objectives. In this way, the final document is expected to have a high degree of operationalization.

The strategy followed to finance the plan’s implementation and is based on the willingness to empower the three cities and make them financially more independent. They should no longer depend (as far as possible) on outside contributors to finance their development. To reach this objective the three cities (and the future conurbation) have to increase their own financial resources (double the amount) by making citizens contribute to a higher degree to the public budget.

Regarding poor financial situation of most of the citizens, the financing strategy had to be completed (at least in the beginning) through the strengthening of others financial supports. So the financing strategy also aims at increasing national financial transfers and improving the capacity of the three cities to raise other types of funds, such as loans and access to the financial market.

Considering the expected effects of the strategy’s implementation, among others reducing poverty, the share of own resources is likely to increase with time, making cities more autonomous in their development. 

Since the beginning of the strategy’s implementation, no evaluation was conducted, so it is not currently possible to know the results of the strategy.

Nevertheless the method used to achieve the diagnostic of the strategy (SWOT- analysis) contributed to better identify direct and indirect effects and though minimize negative effects and maximize positive ones.

Two main potential barriers constraining the implementation of the strategy have been identified. It is the financing of the strategy and the necessary full commitment of all political authorities. These two potentials barriers have been anticipated and overcome.Considering poor financial resources on the side of the three communes, a partnership with the national state and with the Cities Alliance Organization aided in financing. This financial partnership will be carried on to help launching the partnership and implementing first measures.

Participation of the public, creation of working groups, and institutional partnerships mobilised actors to the purpose of the strategy’s development. The involvement of the same actors will be necessary for the implementation of the strategy. Their early inclusion helped create a sense of necessity for the implementation of the objectives and was a way for the actors to learn to work together.

The strategy was launched by the three cities. It was a first path toward the institutionalisation of their partnership in the frame of an inter-municipal structure. So the strategy can be considered as a first cooperation experience for the three cities. It was formalized in the end in a document with shared vision.

The elaboration of the strategy happened in two distinct phases: first a diagnostic was established and only in a second period the strategy itself had been developed. The diagnostic period was characterized by a large survey among the population. From the beginning, the operationalization of the strategy was anticipated. More precisely the implementation of priorities and objectives could happen easier through action measures given in the strategy. The co-development of a strategy with concrete action measures contributes to its appropriation by actors who have direct possibilities to implement it.

Even if the strategy aims at a growing financial independence for the three cities, their initial partnership with the state and an international organization was determinant to co-finance the strategy’s development.

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Camille Toggenburger
Berlin, Germany

Camille Toggenburger

Individual | Community and Content Manager | urban sustainability exchange

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