Are term limits at risk in Benin?

downloadBenin was among a handful of African countries that voted out incumbent presidents in the “founding” multiparty elections of the early 1990s. Mathieu Kérékou, president since 1972, lost to Nicéphore Soglo in 1991, and agreed to step down.

Since then Benin has seen three presidential turnovers (with opposition candidates winning). Most importantly, Benin became one of the first countries in the region in which presidential term limits quickly congealed as part of the political culture.

All that is now at risk:

Because of changes to Benin’s electoral rules, only two parties have met the requirements to field candidates for the polls (legislative elections) scheduled for April 28, and both of them back President Patrice Talon. Among the excluded parties is the Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin, which is allied with former President Thomas Boni Yayi and claimed the most seats—33 of 83 total—in the last legislative elections in 2015.

Talon has described the exclusion of the opposition from next month’s elections as “unfortunate.” Yet the president’s critics suspect he is being disingenuous and that the rule changes are having their intended effect: allowing Talon to consolidate power while undermining his rivals.

Without a meaningful opposition presence in parliament, there will be few checks on Talon’s power. And that might put Benin’s presidential term limits at risk. In 2017 Parliament rejected Talon’s attempts to tinker with the constitution by a mere three votes. It seems like there is more to come.

Africa’s most forgotten Democrat

Who was the first leader of independent Africa who lost an election and agreed to step down?

No, it was not Mathieu Kerekou of Benin.

Because my adviser [I doubt he reads this blog] spent some of his early years in academia working and publishing on Somalia, I have been reminded quite a few times that back in 1967 Somalia’s president Aden Abdulle Osman Daar was actually the first leader of independent Africa to lose an election and agree to step down [see here].

This is a fact that many Africanists and journalists have forgotten. Please give credit where it is due.