Benin – Important Political Juncture

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Accusations of corruption are increasingly levied against the West African nation in a period of important democratic elections.

On April 26th parliamentary elections took place in Benin with President Thomas Boni Yayi‘s ruling Cowrie Forces for an Emergent Benin (FCBE) gaining a narrow victory of 33 out of 83 seats at the National Assembly, a drop of 8 seats from the previously held parliament.

The FCBE were followed by the Unite the Nation party at 13 seats, the Democratic Renewal Party (PRD) at 10 seats, the Alliance of the Benin-Renaissance and Revival Party (RB-PR) at 7 seats, alongside many other smaller parties.

As voting went under-way President Yayi insisted that he would leave after his mandate expires next year and he has completed his second term, although opponents have alleged a secret attempt to reform the constitution and remove presidential term limits, report Reuters. In 2008, Yayi appointed a technical committee to review the country’s 1990 constitution and presented the Constitutional Amendment Bill to parliament for debate one year later.

The president claims that the amendment will “restore the rule of law, reinforce Benin’s democracy, and solidify the country’s economic development” while opponents claim that it is part of his bid to break the presidential term limits, reported Xinhua news service.

A survey carried out by the AfroBarometer Research Network postulated that three out of four Benin nationals were opposed to the proposed constitutional amendments, showing that the majority (90%) of the public felt the review should not touch on presidential terms and age, but should rather strengthen parliament’s role to check the executive.

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(CC US Department of Agriculture 18/5/2012)

According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Benin is currently in an important political period, with parliamentary elections already held, upcoming local, municipal and communal elections, and  presidential elections scheduled for 2016.

However the postponement of municipal, communal and local elections has been extended to June 28th, originally scheduled for May 31st after a lengthy delay since 2013. According to President of the National Electoral Commission Emmanuel Tiando,  this was in order to correct some irregularities in the April 26th parliamentary elections.

Following independence Benin, then called Dahomey, experienced a unstable period of military Marxist rule between 1972-1990 until in 1990 a ‘Democratic Renewal’ process was put into place and a constitution was established. An ISS report on Benin identified some issues hanging over the elections, such as the postponement of local and municipal elections from 2013, socio-political tensions and President’s Yayi’s possible bid for a third term.

Other recent events have added to the pressure and scrutiny mounted on President Yayi in recent months; on May 14th Benin’s Minister for Energy and Water, Bethelemy Kassa, resigned over an ongoing corruption scandal involving millions of dollars of Dutch financial aid going missing, leading to the suspension of aid by the Netherlands.

Dutch Ambassador Jos Van Aggelen said that “the Dutch government is aware of the consequences that this decision will have on the population in Benin given the progress made in recent years…but we cannot tolerate resources being made available to Benin being managed in this way”, reported Reuters.

Money has also been spent on projects that were not part of the agreement; the Netherlands government stated that they “would like to offer the people of Benin a better future by carrying out effective programmes…but if it transpires that government institutions are seriously failing, then we have to take steps” quoted Dutch News.

Meanwhile, on May 6th Benin security forces surrounded the Canal 3 television station in Cotonou, the commercial capital, as opposition members including Candide Azannai, a prominant critic of President Yayi, tried to deliver televised statements, according to Bloomberg Business.

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Benin is often held as an example of democratic progress in Africa and in 2014 the World Bank cited a “robust” growth rate of 5.5% in 2014, largely due to the efficiency of Cotonou port and a rise in crop production.

During the 2014/15 season cotton output rose by 28% to 393,000 tonnes and it is forecast to reach 500,000 tonnes next season. Cotton is one of Benin’s top exports, employs around 70% of its 10 million population, and has contributed some CFA Francs 200 billion to state revenue according to Agriculture Minister Issa El Hadj Azizou, cited by Reuters.

However despite this the World Bank claims poverty levels have not decreased significantly and there are risks of protest and violence in the wake to the proposed  constitutional arrangements.

In  a relevant comparison, Blaise Compaoré, ex-President of Burkina Faso, called for a presidential term limit referendum in 2014, spurring protesters onto the streets. Before the vote on October 30th 2014 protesters stormed the National Assembly and called for Compaoré’s resignation, who subsequently fled to Cote D’Ivoire, and protesters refused to leave the streets until a civilian leader was installed.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Benin: Coup Arrests
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.50, Issue.3, Pp.19633A-19633C

Benin: Cabinet Dismissed
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.50, Issue.8, Pp.19805A-19806B

Benin: Presidential Poll
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.43, Issue.3, Pp.16570A-16571C

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