Patrice Talon, President of Benin, is visiting Paris today to address MEDEF International’s France-West Africa Business Council. President Talon will address an audience of France’s business leaders and no doubt hopes to keep the focus on business and investment for Benin. However concerns over human rights and democratic backsliding in Benin will be unavoidable, with international NGOs speaking put over what has taken place in Benin since 2016. Their concerns the imprisonment political opponents, police violence that has resulted in the deaths of protestors and the creation of the CRIET court to target the opposition.
On the eve of President Talon’s visit to Paris, the Brussels-based organisation Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) published an open letter to President Talon’s hosts MEDEF International. The letter addresses the detention of opposition leaders Reckya Madougou and Joël Aivo and calls upon MEDEF and the business community of France to demand the release of these political opponents. HRWF also request that French businesses do not engage in the Programme d’Actions du Gouvernement (PAG) unless President Talon releases Ms Magoudou and Mr Aivo.
Rogatien Biaou, Benin’s former Foreign Minister and the President of the Alliance Patriotique Nouvel Espoir, a coalition of political parties, fronts and movements, said: “President Talon and his governmental team must face international pressure over their actions in Benin. They have eliminated the possibility of any real opposition in Benin. The unjust detention of Reckya Madougou and Joël Aivo must also be seen in the context of other authoritarian actions, including protestors killed by police, the detention of people who post critically about the regime on social media, the imprisonment of journalists and the closure of prominent media. It is urgent to organise inclusive “Assises Nationales” before December 2022 to build a new republic and state.”
Freedom House, a leading Washington DC-based human rights and pro-democracy organisation, also expressed concerns that Benin has deteriorated rapidly since 2016, having previously been among the most stable democracies in sub-Saharan Africa. The Freedom House Benin report describes how political opponents have been attacked since President Benin took office in 2016, including the introduction of new electoral rules and a crackdown political opponents. According to Freedom House this is how President Talon consolidated his power in the 2021 presidential elections, having previously said he would only stand for one term. Freedom House make particular reference to deadly police violence at political protests and arrests of activists.
Amnesty International is among several organisations submitting a statement to the UN’s the Universal Periodic Review of Benin scheduled to be held on 26 January 2023. In the document, Amnesty assesses “the national human rights framework in particular the adoption of new laws which have restrained civil and political rights, and fostered impunity.” They also raise concern about excessive use of force, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and the right to a fair trial.
International media have also been watching the situation in Benin with concern. The Economist tackled Benin’s democratic backsliding in their article Benin’s democratic beacon dims.
This is the second time this summer that Benin has been under scrutiny, with the first being during President Macron’s visit to the country. It is to be hoped that France’s business leaders will keep up the pressure to get Benin back to being that democratic beacon it once was.