The World Today for January 07, 2022

NEED TO KNOW

Falling From Grace

BENIN

Benin’s former justice minister, Reckya Madougou, had been planning to run for president against cotton magnate Patrice Talon in April. She would have been the country’s first female presidential candidate. And she had a good chance at unseating the incumbent.

Instead, she is now serving a 20-year-long prison sentence after a special terrorism court charged her with crimes relating to the financing of terrorism and then convicted her of plotting to assassinate “political figures.”

One of the judges on the court has fled to France, calling the proceedings against Madougou “tragic” and “phony.” Her lawyer claimed that he had only five minutes to defend her.

“Without witnesses, without documents, without evidence, Madame Reckya Madougou was sentenced to 20 years in prison by three government henchmen,” her attorney told the Washington Post in a statement. “Her crime: Embodying a democratic alternative to the regime. There is no justice in Benin.”

Another one of her lawyers said the ruling was a sign of the “asphyxiation of democracy in Benin” during an interview with the BBC.

Madougou could really be a criminal, of course. But the context of her fate casts doubts on that suspicion.

On the day after Talon won office, one of his opponents, Joel Aivo, for example, was detained on money laundering and conspiracy charges. As Africa News wrote, the special terror court recently sentenced him to 10 years in prison, too. His trial, like Madougou’s, lasted less than two days.

Similarly, opposition leader Sebastien Ajavon was recently sentenced to an additional five years in prison for forgery and fraud in addition to the 20-year sentence he faces on drug trafficking charges from a 2018 case, reported Africa News and Agence France-Presse. Now living in exile in France, Ajavon said the charges were trumped up.

First elected in 2016, Talon won reelection with 86 percent of the vote in April. He faced only two opponents, explained This Day, a Nigerian newspaper. Now it appears he has become yet another African leader who appears disinclined to share power according to the precepts of democratic laws, claimed African Arguments.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse, Wathi think tank founder Gilles Yabi said the judicial persecution of political figures is a double-sided problem in Benin. The country’s courts need to target corrupt officials. But when they neutralize the president’s rivals, the institutions undermine their own legitimacy.

Drug trafficking is a major problem in the country, for example, noted the Africa-based Institute for Security Studies. Corrupt local officials, weak institutions and other issues make it an ideal base for Latin American and Middle Eastern traffickers seeking to move drugs around the world. Regional consumption is on the upswing, too.

Benin used to be a poster child for democracy in Africa. Now it seems the powerful have too much to gain by subverting it.

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