Democracy and rights
Abbreviated as BEN by Abbreviationfinder, Benin has been emphasized since the 1990s as a democratic example for other countries in Africa. But the events surrounding the parliamentary elections in April 2019 got judges to warn of the authoritarian tendencies of President Patrice Talon.
The election was conducted despite all opposition parties being rejected by the electoral authority. It was the first time since democracy was restored in 1991 that Benin held a parliamentary election without opposition. After the election, violent protests erupted in Cotonou, which police met with violence. At least four people were killed. Amnesty International warned that the wave of arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters and journalists, as well as the crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, had reached an alarmingly high level.
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Otherwise, democracy is considered to have gained a stronger hold in Benin since the military dictatorship ceased. Multiparty systems prevail, as does free party formation. There are a large number of parties in the country. It was new stricter administrative demands on political parties that allowed only two Talon-friendly parties to stand for election in the 2019 elections.
Freedom of assembly and association applies and is generally respected. However, both President Boni Yayi and current President Talon have used the security forces to stave off peaceful government-critical demonstrations and social unrest on numerous occasions. Civil society organizations are allowed to work freely in the country.
Corruption is a major problem in the judiciary and police, but also in society as a whole. A series of corruption scandals helped Yayi lose the 2016 election against businessman Talon. In 2019, Transparency International ranked Benin as 80 of 180 countries in its index of corruption in the world (see the full list here). It was five investments better than the year before.
Freedom of expression and media
Since the transition to democracy, the media in Benin can operate relatively freely. Freedom of the press and opinion are included in the constitution and are respected for the most part. Criticism against holders of power is common in newspapers and in private ethereal media. Benin has one of the region’s more vibrant media climates.
The task of a special media authority (HAAC) is to monitor the media and ensure that they comply with prevailing press laws, but also that freedom of the press is not compromised.
However, there are shortcomings and the trend for media freedom is declining. Journalists can be prosecuted for slander, for example, for insulting the president, which causes many to practice self-censorship. Contempt by the head of state can no longer provide imprisonment since 2015, but the authorities have continued to withdraw or otherwise punish newspapers that have published “offensive” material.
Reporters Without Borders placed Benin in number 113 in 180 countries in its press freedom index in 2020. It was 17 investments worse than the year before and 38 investments worse than 2014 (the whole list is here). State-owned media has given less and less room to the opposition’s activities since Talon came to power in 2016. The government exerts more control over the media, in particular the state television which is the only nationwide TV channel.
Benin was one of the first West African countries to have access to the Internet and the authorities generally do not try to limit it. However, the Internet and social media were blocked during parts of the election day in April 2019.
Judicial system and legal security
The judiciary’s independent position is protected in the Constitution, but in practice political influence will appear. The president appoints the country’s judges.
In rural areas, traditional African law enforcement dominates. There is also so-called mob justice, where groups take the law into their own hands against a suspected criminal, often without any legal sanction. This means that legal certainty is low for many Beninis.
The inefficiency in the justice system is great and many prisoners have to wait a long time for trial. Arbitrary arrests occur as well as mistreatment of suspected criminals. The situation in the prisons is very flawed with overload and poor sanitation. The death penalty was abolished in 2012, but no execution had been carried out for nearly 25 years.
March against the corruption
President Yayi leads thousands of supporters in a march against corruption. The fight against widespread corruption in the country was one of Yayi’s main election promises for the 2006 presidential election.
Yayi’s party wins the parliamentary elections
In the parliamentary elections, President Yayi’s support party becomes the Cauri forces for a prominent Benin (FCBE) largest with 35 of the 83 seats. The Alliance for Democratic Dynamics (ADD), which includes President Nicéphore Soglo’s party Benin’s rebirth party (RB), wins 20 seats. Adrien Houngbédji’s party PRD gets 10 seats. Another nine parties / electoral unions are represented in Parliament, where FCBE, with the support of a few small parties, can secure a majority.