Benin’s understated democracy
BY SOUMANOU SALIFOU
Despite several shortcomings, Benin’s democracy is among the most striving in Africa.
Sure enough, in Benin, there are dozens of political parties that usually evolve around the founder. Party affiliation is a rather murky notion here, with money being an important motivating factor. Many influential politicians who served under the defunct regime of President Yayi Boni are now closely involved with the administration of Patrice Talon despite the latter firmly distancing himself from Yayi by calling his regime the “regime of breaking.” In a recent interview on Beninwebtv, former Justice Miniser and former presidential candidate, Victor Topanou, justified his retirement from politics by saying that “the Benin system is characterized by the promotion of mediocrity, the influence of money. […] On the field, I’m told that I only talk, that I am stingy. But I am not prepared to contribute money to that system.”
Parties here are definitely not driven by ideologies, contrary to what some misleading rhetoric claims. In an interview aired by Soleil FM, a local radio that broadcasts from Cotonou, Adrien Houngbédji, founder and president of one of the leading parties, said before the 2016 presidential in which two entrepreneurs, Patrice Talon and Sébastien Ajavon, ran, that his party could never support the candidacy of an entrepreneur. Houngbedji listed the conflicts of interests such a president would face during his tenure, and the resulting abuses of power. Houngbédji, who then was—and still is—the speaker of the parliament, backed another candidate. Yet, he is now among the strongest supporters of one of the two entrepreneurs who became president.
No member of a political party has been elected president since Benin embraced democracy in 1990. One may wonder, therefore, what these parties are worth? The answer lies in the powerful role they plan in parliament, for, the above shortcomings notwithstanding, Benin’s democracy has remained among the most thriving in Africa, with a decent—yet corruptible—media doing its job.
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