Enhancing Real Democracy And Peace In Africa: Evidence From Benin Republic

Many years have gone by since the Republic of Benin obtained its independence from its colonial master, the French, on August 1, 1960. The Republic of Benin shares a direct boundary with Togo in the west, Nigeria to the east, and Niger and Burkina Faso to the north. Today, among others, Benin has decided to join hands with other countries in fighting terrorism. At the same time, they also joined hands with a close ally, the multinational joint task force, whose mission is to prepare a major military operation against the Islamist sect, Boko Haram. The Republic of Benin, unlike other neighbouring countries, has seen their incumbent president modify their constitution, such as by increasing presidential term limit all in the name of collective interest for the people they serve. This has resulted in transforming this president to elect monarchs, thereby enhancing violence, civil unrest, and perpetual civil wars. This also led to the loss of lives and properties. Some of these presidents, who secure constitutional amendments that allowed them to stay in power and stand for a third term in office are Paul Biya from Cameroon, the late Omar Bongo of Gabon, Idriss Deby Itno of Chad, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Lansana Conte of Guinea, and Sam Nujoma of Namibia, just to name a few. Even Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who has been in power for 27 years, ironically explains in his book that the longer a president is in office, the harder it is to remove him democratically and hence stipulated that “no African head of a state should be in power for more than 10 years.”

Over time, it has been learnt that perpetual rulers often use underhand tactics, such as murder, violence, and the abuse of the law to exclude competitors, which pollutes healthy political competition. However, a country like Benin has decided to turn the page over this system of rule and move on to a non-violation of the constitution.As such, they are moving on to a free and fair election process, though the 1960’s ethnic strife contributed to a period of turbulence where there were several coups and regime changes.

With a population of approximately 10,879,829 inhabitants today, the people of the Benin Republic have decided to go to the polls to vote for their new president after President Boni Yayi had stayed in office for two consecutive terms. Following the constitutional process in Benin, incumbent President Thomas Boni Yayi was constitutionally barred from running for a third time. Among the 48 candidates that filed on the 13 of January 2016, by the Autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA) to the constitutional court, there are top politicians and businessmen. For example, there is Mohamed Atao Hinnouho of the Résoatao Party, Lionel Zinsou of the Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin, which is the same party as President Boni Yayi, as well as independent candidates, such as businessmen Patrice Talon and Sebastien Adjavon.

Subsequently, the court cleared 36 candidates and dropped 11 candidates for not providing sufficient evidence for the required standards and later on, three of the 36 candidates dropped out prior to the allocated campaign period. During the first round of the election, Lionel Zinsou kept the lead with 28.4%, followed by Patrice Talon 24.8% and Sebastien Ajavon 23.03%. Therefore, according to the constitution, Patrice Talon and Lionel Zinsou would go in for the second round of voting. However, due to the eloquent and charismatic personality of Patrice Talon he was able to secure the support of 24 out of 32 of the defeated candidates. During the second round, which was held on March 20, 2016, Talon’s victory became glaring and Zinsou quickly conceded defeat and congratulated Talon. The constitutional court then validated the result on the 25th of March and later on, on April 6, 2016, swore in the new president of the Republic of Benin without any major violence, bloodshed, or chaos. Patrice Talon defeated Lionel Zinsou with 65.37% of the votes while his counterpart had 34.63%. A few days later the Former President Boni Yayi relocated back to his village for a long and deserving rest. Immediately after his victory, Talon promised to slash the size of the government from 28 to 16 members and also talked about “constitutional reform” when discussing his plan to limit the presidential term to a single term of five years in order to fight complacency.

Furthermore, the Beninese presidential election has set the pace for a free and fair election in Africa that can be void of violence, disrespect of constitutional and institutional, murder, civil unrest, and dictatorship. Apart from the Benin Republic, many African heads-of-state still believe that staying in power by manipulating the decision and votes of their citizens is a way to serve them. A very big round of applause has to be given to Boni Yayi for his effort in maintaining peace and stability in his country during the election and the post-election period. The same goes for his handling of the banner of the first man in the country to his successor, Patrice Talon just the way Mathieu Kérékou peacefully handed him the control of the state.

In review, transition of power is an indispensable tool to foster democratic governance and a peaceful hand-over. Around the world, it is the belief that African states are not yet ready for democracy and transitions of power, but today, with the peaceful election that took place in Benin Republic, Africans have come to realise that the possibility of their heads-of-state to relinquish power is not completely void. Peaceful transition is the key to sustainable development, freedom of speech, and respecting human rights. The Republic of Benin, under its former heads-of-state and its people, are a good example of enhancing real democracy and peace in the world in general and in Africa, in particular. The seat of leadership is now handled by President Talon, who for the next five years will have to reckon with several challenges, especially in maintaining peace and stability in his country, for there is no development without peace. In a nutshell, Benin has set the pace for a confident judiciary system of government in Africa.

Adewale Daniel Omojowo
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