Opponents imprisoned or in exile, repression of the opposition, institutional coup d'état ... For several years, the Benin of Patrice Talon has been in the process of becoming an authoritarian state.
On April 28, 2019, Benin permanently lost its image as a democratic country. It all started in 2016. So a simple presidential candidate, Patrice Talon promises he will only serve one five-year term. He then dreams of being "carried in triumph" by the Beninese. Barely elected, when he said he wanted to include in the Constitution of his country the single term of five, Patrice Talon tries for the first time to modify the texts. He tries in particular to include the single mandate ... of seven years. Then a second time, without success.
But at the start of 2019, Patrice Talon shows a whole different face. The president is a thousand miles from candidate Talon. The Head of State, in January, takes control of the Constitutional Court, of which he appoints the members. And he succeeded in a tour de force by banning opposition parties from presenting candidates in parliamentary elections.
From then on, the image of Patrice Talon was embellished. As the legislative elections loomed, the African Court of Human Rights (ACHPR) considers the voting rules illegal. The Front of National Organizations Against Corruption estimates that “democracy risks turning into a dictatorship”. But the elections do take place.
From a single mandate to life presidency?
In 2020, while he had promised to retire, Patrice Talon decides to run again for the supreme office scheduled for the following year. But once again, the outgoing president sets the rules to his advantage. The opponents are, one by one, dismissed by the Constitutional Court. Some of them are arrested and imprisoned. Others are forced into exile.
On December 4, 2020, the ACHPR is seized concerning human rights violations in Benin and concerning the constitutional reforms undertaken by Patrice Talon. The Court then writes that “Benin has violated the right to life, the right not to be subjected to torture and the right to respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. In total, the ACHPR denounces nine human rights violations.
Among the grievances made to President Talon, the ACHPR deplores the violence and “live ammunition” which began after the April 2019 elections. The Court also denounces the lack of “guarantee of independence of the judiciary” in Benin . At the time, Patrice Talon had the right to strike suppressed, and the ACHPR demanded its reinstatement.
If in 2020, the Beninese president laid the foundations for the dictatorship, it took him barely six months to implement his new policy. On the one hand, the African Court of Human Rights considers that if Patrice Talon is re-elected, “his election will be illegal internationally”. But the ACHPR has no coercive means to force the signatory states to comply with its decisions.
The convictions of Aïvo and Madougou worry the United States
As the presidential election looms, only three candidatures are validated, including that of Patrice Talon. In February 2021 began a series of arrests. Opponents Joël Aïvo and Reckya Madougou are arrested before being sentenced to 10 and 20 years' imprisonment respectively.
A month after the trials of the two opponents, the international community seems silent. France and ECOWAS, in particular. A former judge of the Court for the repression of economic offenses and terrorism (Criet), Essowé Batamoussi, however tried to alert international opinion to the bias of the Court and the pressures exerted by the authorities.
However, one country has decided to raise its voice. The United States, at the time of the trials of opponents, deplored the pressure from the authorities on the criminal justice system. Washington decided in mid-December to take concrete measures and announced a reduction in aid granted to Benin via the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the agency of the US Congress.
The MCC criticizes the "general decline over several years in Benin's commitment to the MCC's eligibility criteria, and the principles of democratic governance". Consequence: the agency announces that it wants to "significantly reduce the country's share in regional investment".
"We are alarmed by the continued erosion of the space for dissent, the overall increase in restrictions on participatory autonomy and freedom of expression, and the systematic targeting of opposition politicians," said one American press release.