Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!
More on politics & human rights |
economy & development |
peace & security |
Print this page
Benin: Democratic Succession
Apr 9, 2006 (060409)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"The constitution favors the change of power and the change of
heads of state. These fundamental prescriptions of our constitution
of 11 December 1990 must resist all opportunistic revisionism,
short-term interests and subjectivism." - Outgoing Benin President
Mathieu Kerekou, who turned over the presidency on April 6 to his
elected successor Yayi Boni, a strong critic of Kerekou's record.
Both Kerekou and his predecessor Nicephore Soglo were ineligible to
run under the constitution, which prohibits candidates over 70
The transition in Benin, commented This Day of neighboring Nigeria,
demonstrated a "high level of political development" and a level of
respect for the democratic process which "should humble betterendowed
African countries. ... Until one elected president hands
over the reins of power to another elected president in a free and
fair election, then democracy cannot be said to be taking root in
any country." (
Benin, which led the way in the wave of democracy movements in West
Africa in the early 1990s, has again set an example for political
transition. As noted in the articles below, the voters hope that
the political example will be matched by changes in the difficult
economic situation facing the country.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two articles from the UN's
Integrated Regional Information Networks summarizing recent
developments in Benin, and an analysis of earlier trends in
Benin from the Nordic Africa Institute.
For additional background, the Benin news portal
http://www.sonangnon.net has a wide range of articles from Beninois
newspapers and other sources. The Benin government website is at
http://www.gouv.bj, the website of the incoming president is at
http://www.yayiboni.com, and there are background articles and a
transcript of the segment on Benin from the film Hopes on the
Horizon, at http://www.pbs.org/hopes/benin.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Benin: President Mathieu Kerekou leaves after 29 years
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
[The material from IRIN may not necessarily reflect the views of
the United Nations or its agencies.]
Cotonou, 7 Apr 2006 (IRIN) - Bucking a regional trend towards
constitutional revision and chaotic political successions, Benin's
long-serving ruler Mathieu Kerekou at midnight on Wednesday
observed the constitutional age limit and ceded the presidency to
Boni Yayi, in a bow to democracy.
Since first seizing power in a military coup in 1972, Mathieu
amassed 29 years as ruler of Benin. He converted first his military
dictatorship into a one-party Leninist-Marxist state in 1975, but
in 1990 pulled off Africa's first successful transition from
dictatorship to democracy.
After losing an election and standing down in 1991, he won a free
and fair presidential ballot in 1996, and was awarded a second term
Fittingly for a man who ran his country through different
ideologies, Kerekou's motto was "the stick cannot break in the arms
of a chameleon". His trademark swagger stick was emblazoned with a
Kerekou's adherence to the constitution and his successful
engineering of a peaceful succession is made all the more
remarkable given the often less than democratic norm in the region.
"General Kerekou has not given in to temptation, which is
remarkable in Africa," said a Cameroonian newspaper, referring to
the fact that he actually stood down. "This action has planted
Benin firmly in the club of democracies and also opened the voice
of political rejuvenation and perhaps even the style of
In neighbouring Burkina Faso, President Blaise Compaore reassumed
power in November 2005 after 18 years. Neighbouring Togo has been
ruled by the Gnassingbe dynasty for over 38 years and the last
election was hotly criticised.
Elsewhere in the region Omar Bongo in Gabon is currently Africa's
longest-serving leader and was also re-elected for another seven
years in December 2005. Chadian President Idriss Deby has recently
changed the constitution to allow himself to run again.
Benin, Ghana and Senegal are the only West Africa countries deemed
"free" by the U.S. political rights and civil liberties monitoring
NGO Freedom House. However during a state visit to Senegal, Libyan
dictator Muammar Gaddafi this week suggested 82-year-old Senegalese
President Abdoulaye Wade should change the constitution to stand
Throughout his ten-year reign, Kerekou followed a liberal economic
path, and improved Benin's international standing. Benin has taken
part in several United Nations peacekeeping missions elsewhere in
In his message to the nation in July 2005 Independence Day
celebrations, Kerekou celebrated Benin's constitution. "After 15
years of democratic experience, our country lives in peace. The
institutions of the republic function properly, Benin's people
enjoy all their fundamental liberties. Freedom of the press is
guaranteed. The legal environment is cleaned up.
"The constitution favours the change of power and the change of
heads of state. These fundamental prescriptions of our constitution
of 11 December 1990 must resist all opportunistic revisionism,
short-term interests and subjectivism. The constitution was made as
a basic reference and the test of authenticity of the new
democratic culture is whether the political actors from now on
stick to it responsibly."
Kerekou was born in 1933. He attended schools in Senegal, Mali and
France and served in the French army before returning to Benin with
the rank of lieutenant. In 1965 he served as aide de camp of
Benin's first post-independence president Hubert Maga.
Benin: President-to-be pledges change "with God's blessing"
Cotonou, 3 Apr 2006 (IRIN) - Boni Yayi, the former banker and
political novice who will be sworn in as Benin's new president this
week following a landslide election victory, has promised sweeping
change for the tiny West African nation "with the blessing of God."
The high-flying 54-year-old economist who takes over 6 April from
outgoing President Mathieu Kerekou is a devout evangelist who
publicly thanked God after heading a field of 26 candidates in the
first round of the vote -- his maiden political run. "God builds
and blesses all destinies," he said in a victory statement entitled
"My prayer for economic renewal."
In the second run-off round, the political debutante who had no
party backing and ran with support from a coalition of small
groups, went on to secure a whopping 1,979,305 votes against
637,937 for challenger Adrien Houngbedji, a veteran politician who
heads the Democratic Renewal Party, one of the country's main
Commentators said Yayi's seemingly miraculous 74.51 percent win
reflected the country's deep desire for change rather than divine
intervention. "Boni Yayi is not a messiah! But he is the man of the
hour," said the daily newspaper Nokoue. In the 15 years since the
introduction of multi-party democracy, Benin's political leaders
had failed popular expectations, the paper said. "Benin today is a
misery," agreed Dobou Dine Prudencio, a computer specialist.
"President Boni Yayi is the hope of all Benin, especially the
After resigning this year from his job of 12 years as president of
the West African Development Bank (BOAD), Yayi launched his run for
political office under the slogan "With Boni Yayi it can change, it
must change, it will change." Disappointed Beninese signed up by
the droves to the vision of this technocrat, who after completing
a PhD in Economics in 1991 worked for two years as advisor on
monetary and banking affairs to then president Nicephore Soglo
before going on to BOAD in 1994.
After being officially proclaimed winner of the election by the
Constitutional Court last week, Yayi said. "The people want
prosperity. I am convinced that together we will succeed in
changing to create a new Benin."
Hit by plunging cotton sales, a spiralling oil bill, rising food
prices and corruption, Benin's 7.5 million people appear to have
found hope for the future in the president-to-be's wide-ranging
programme to pump new life into the economy by beating corruption
and mismanagement, while providing fresh political direction and
moral impetus. "We expect the new president to ease our suffering
and bring better welfare with a new team. We are waiting to see the
result of these comings and goings," said Akim Ossnu, a security
Benin is rated among the world's 20 poorest countries by the United
Nations. Life expectancy is 54 and a third of the population is
illiterate and lives below the poverty line.
During his 12 years at the helm of the BOAD, Yayi reorganized and
cleaned up management, increased activities and spending, and
brought in new shareholders and funds. During his campaign for the
presidency he pledged that if elected, one of the top priorities of
his five-year mandate would be to end corruption and economic crime
and reinstate ethical values and respect for the state. "Our
working method will leave no place for impunity," he said.
Yayi has pledged to develop Benin's traditional economic role in
the region as a provider of shipping and services for its
landlocked northern neighbours, Burkina Faso and Niger, while
developing ties with the giant on its doorstep, Nigeria. "I will
seek to set up a strategic partnership with this brother nation,"
On the domestic front, Yayi said he would battle attempts to whip
up ethnic trouble, pay out unpaid salaries to civil servants,
provide civic instruction in schools, create a better investment
climate and promote peace.
Demonstrating his aim to harness aid from all sides, one of his
first visits after being proclaimed winner of the poll was to
contender Houngbedji, whom he praised for his fair play. "Noone
will be left aside," he told reporters. "We need to rebuild the
Democratic Consolidation in Benin Lessons from the 1996
Leonard Wantchekon Assistant Professor of Political Science, Yale
Paul Ngomo Research Assistant, Yale University
News from the Nordic Africa Institute, May, 2001
[For full article, including bibliography, see
Historically we have ample evidence that the process of political
reform or democratisation is at best a very long-term and
complicated affair. Recent experience from Africa shows that it can
also be rather messy.
In the popular discourse of today democratisation is rather simple.
Most of the discussion focuses around the question of free and fair
elections and countries are judged according to the number and
performance of elections. The Republic of Benin, one of the
smallest African countries with a population of some five million
has, thus, been held up as a success story and is today seen as a
guide for other countries in the region and for Africa at large.
However behind this façade of success the situation is not so
The first twelve post-independence years of the Republic of Benin
were characterised by political instability with an alternation of
civilian and military rule. The country experienced its fifth and
last military coup in 1972. The coup led by Mathieu Kérékou paved
the way for a leftist dictatorship, which lasted for 18 years.
In February 1990, mass protest and external pressure by France led
the military regime of General Kérékou to convene a national
conference (a gathering of representatives of all the political
groups of that time) that gave birth to a democratic renewal. A
transition government and parliament were created and a new
constitution written and voted on by referendum, providing for a
multiparty democracy. Since then Benin has experienced three
parliamentary and two presidential elections.
The country's first presidential election took place in 1992 and
was won by Mr Nicéphore Soglo, a former World Bank official. He was
Prime Minister in the Transition Government that governed the
country from 1990 to 1992. The country had its second regular
presidential contest on 3 March 1996 and Nicéphore Soglo lost to
General Kérékou, the former autocrat. The outcome took many people
by surprise. There had been little doubt that Soglo would be
re-elected after five years of relative economic prosperity.
Thus, the central enigma of the 1996 Benin election was the defeat
of the incumbent president whose achievements made him one of the
most respected African technocrats of his generation. The
surprising return of the former discredited strongman, via the
ballot box, gave rise to serious doubts over the capacity of Benin
to sustain a long-term rule of law building process.
Why did Soglo, the incumbent president lose to Kérékou despite an
economic record by far superior to his opponent's in 1989? Why did
a political leader portrayed as a competent technocrat, whose
economic achievements revitalised his country lose the presidential
election to an opponent who led the country to bankruptcy after
seventeen years in office? What is the rationale behind Benin's
surprising 1996 leadership turnover?
We argue that Soglo lost the election because of his lack of
political leadership. We show that the second presidential election
held in Benin was a 'critical test' whose outcome unquestionably
showed that country to be a democracy among other democracies.
Good economic record but questionable political leadership Soglo is
generally portrayed as the reformer who restructured a bankrupt
state. Between 1990 and 1996, government revenues increased by 232
per cent. The growth rate of the GDP, which was only 1 per cent in
1989 increased to 6.2 per cent between 1990 and 1994. Overall the
growth was twice as much as the general population growth (nearly
3 per cent). The investment rate increased by 20 per cent in 1995.
Until the devaluation of the national currency, the Franc CFA in
1994, inflation had stayed under control.
Unlike normal leadership turnover in democratic electoral processes
where incumbent candidates may be dismissed by voters because of
their inability to manage the economy, the rationale of Benin's
1996 electoral outcome derives from strictly political reasons that
arose when the rulers democratically elected in 1991 squandered
their credibility by acting inconsistently with the spirit of
political pluralism. From 1992, he was frequently accused of
governing without including the members of the coalition parties,
who supported his candidacy during the 1991 presidential election.
While in power, Soglo faced many challenges in parliament. He
reacted to these challenges by consolidating the power of his
party, the Renaissance du Benin, created in 1992 by his wife, Mrs
Rosine Soglo. The hegemonic tendencies of his party became evident
in 1993 after the breakdown of his coalition in parliament.
In 1994, when the legislature rejected his budget proposal, Soglo's
relations with the political establishment became more strained and
polarised. The political history of the country from independence
to the beginning of the democratic renewal reveals the crucial
importance of local leaders. Neglecting this reality Soglo launched
several attacks on local leaders who disagreed with him.
An inappropriate leadership strategy aggravated by despotic
inclinations seriously handicapped Soglo's chances of winning the
1996 elections. Moreover, the regime's legitimacy was also
undermined by persistent accusations of corruption and arrogance in
the president's inner circle, which Soglo had packed with family
members. His propensity to appoint his family members to public
offices soon became the subject of controversy. At least four
Soglos surrounded the president: a brother, two cousins and his
son. The president also appointed his brother-in-law as the
minister in charge of national defence.
All Soglo's opponents joined Kérékou to prepare for the elections.
In the end, Soglo, the respectable technocrat lost to Kérékou, the
former dictator. In many respects, Soglo's unwise leadership
strategy, the fears about his one-party state mentality and
accusations of corruption accounted for his defeat.
The Benin lesson The most significant event of the electoral 1996
outcome of the presidential election in Benin is not really Soglo's
defeat. In short, it is the paradox of the return of Kérékou and
the popular support he received to bring about his comeback. Were
the president-makers (the members of the coalition that chose
Kérékou as their candidate) and the majority of the voters amnesiac
and liable to misunderstand the lessons of the past? On closer
examination, the central issue does not lie here, but has to do
with the set of institutions and structures that made it possible
to express the will of the majority. The outcome of the 1996
electoral contest in Benin is not only interesting because of the
return of Kérékou, but because it brings to light some theoretical
lessons that may be useful in understanding the essential patterns
of democratic consolidation.
An important lesson from Benin's electoral experience is the
triumph of democratic procedures in the consolidation of the
regime. This approach establishes elections as crucial tests and a
suitable way to choose rulers and to solve political disputes. It
is worth noting that such an understanding of elections has also
been mentioned in the contemporary literature on the transition
process and democracy. Although elections are not what democracy is
all about those held in Benin have shown the vitality of democracy
as a procedural method that can be used to dismiss an unwanted
ruler who acts unwisely in order to prevent him from compromising
a democratic consolidation. Besides this, they have illuminated the
fact that economic competency may not be the factor that decides
election outcomes. A ruler may lose elections even if he is
competent. Thus, he can be held accountable on issues other than
economic performance. In general governments are 'accountable' if
citizens can discern representative from unrepresentative
governments and can sanction them appropriately, retaining in
office those who perform well and ousting from office those who do
We argue that the surprising outcome of the 1996 presidential
election brings to light what was really at stake on the election
day: a choice between democratic consolidation and the return of
the era of strong men whose practices are inconsistent with the
spirit of democracy. By voting for Kérékou, the majority did not
compromise the future of democracy in Benin. What was at stake was
the defence of democratic institutions that seemed endangered by a
political leadership that displayed a lack of political
flexibility, despite an unquestionable economic competency. Thus,
economic competence is not always enough to justify dictatorial
actions at the expense of the consolidation of democracy.
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication
providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with
a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus
Bulletin is edited by William Minter.
AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at email@example.com. Please
write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin,
or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about
reposted material, please contact directly the original source
mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see