Benin is a geographically small country in West Africa, located between Nigeria and Togo. Since the 1990s Benin has earned a reputation as a strong and stable multiparty democracy, with multiple elections and peaceful transitions of power. The independent democracy watchdog group Freedom House had consistently given Benin high ratings as a free country.
However, that has all changed in recent years — and rather dramatically. Freedom House no longer gives Benin high marks as “free” country. The degradation is attributed to actions taken by the current president Patrice Talon. He was elected in 2016 and soon after used the power of the state to undermine Benin’s democratic institutions. Political opposition has been crushed and the constitution contravened as Talon consolidates power.
Elections are now scheduled for April 11, with no real opposition vying. What was once a nascent but flourishing democracy is now experiencing significant democratic backsliding.
On the line with me from Benin is Jose Biaou. He is the spokesperson for the Alliance Patriotic de Nouvelle Espoir, or the New Hope Patriotic Alliance. This is an umbrella group that includes members of the political opposition. It is lead by Jose Biaou’s father Rogatien Biaou, a former foreign minister of Benin. The group is advocating for a national dialogue to restore democratic norms to the country.
If you have 20 minutes and want to learn why democratic backsliding in Benin is of internationally significant concern, have a listen.