Patrice Talon, President of Benin, is visiting Paris to address MEDEF International’s France-West Africa Business Council tomorrow on Tuesday 30 August 2022. President Talon hopes to have an economic focus to his visit. However NGOs and human rights groups are voicing concerns over the regression that has taken place in Benin since 2016 in terms of human rights and democracy, with political opponents imprisoned, deadly police violence against protestors and the creation of the CRIET court to target the opposition.
The Brussels-based organisation Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) has published an open letter to President Talon’s hosts MEDEF International. The letter highlights the plight of opposition leaders Reycka Madougou and Joël Aivo, respectively sentenced to 20 years and 10 years in prison. HRWF calls upon MEDEF and the business community of France to demand the release of these political opponents and to not engage in the Programme d’Actions du Gouvernement (PAG) unless President Talon releases them.
The open letter from HRWF follows concerns voiced by Freedom House that Benin, having been among the most stable democracies in sub-Saharan Africa has under President Talon seen the justice system used to attack his political opponents after he took office 2016. Freedom House outlined how new electoral rules and a crackdown on his political opponents have enabled President Talon to consolidate his power in 2021. Deadly police violence at political protests, arrests of activists, and other restrictions on civil liberties have become increasingly problematic in recent years.
“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.”Rogatien Biaou
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: “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.”
The New York Centre for Foreign Policy Affairs (NYCFPA) has published a report recommending the nomination of President Talon and his supporting associates for sanctions for human rights abuses under the Global Magnitsky Act. The NYCFPA report stated: “Once a beacon of democracy in Africa, Benin has experienced a backsliding of the democratic process under Patrice Talon. Despite initially proposing a plan to limit individuals to a single presidential term, he has since undermined the democratic process to ensure his own ongoing position as president. The 2021 report of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral 3 Assistance noted that Benin is no longer a democratic country and has now moved to a hybrid system which combines authoritarianism and oligarchy with questionable democratic practices.”
The report noted President Talon’s control of the judiciary and the formation of the CRIET (Cour de Repression des Infractions Economiques et du Terrorisme) court which has been used primarily to prosecute political opponents of President Talon. The report also highlighted President Talon’s unlawful modification of the electoral rules resulting in the exclusion of all the main opposition parties, as well as the use of police violence against protestors. NYCFPA also assert that President Talon has “moved to illicitly protect and advance his own financial interests by installing his personal accountant, Romuald Kossi Wadagni, as the Minister of Finance of Benin. This appointment further enabled the privatization of sectors of the economy to the explicit benefit of Talon owned companies.”
The spotlight was on Benin for a brief moment when President Macron of France visited earlier in the summer. President Talon’s visit to Paris is likely to be another occasion where he will face scrutiny and demands to return Benin to its previous democratic path.