Electoral Preparations Amidst Protests in Benin: the Cairo Effect

Talk about the ripple effect of the Egyptians uprising…
Peoples around the world have been emboldened overnight, taking to the streets to protest the slightest violations to their rights or end regimes. Libya’s experiencing a difficult transition, as are Yemen and Bahrain. As predicted in a previous post, Algeria also joined the group of soon-to-be-ex dictatorships. In the United States, Wisconsin has become grounds to mass demonstrations that participants are proud to compare to the events that took place in Egypt. On that particular topic, I never thought I’d live to see the day when Americans would follow the lead of an Arab country and that some of the most conservative beacons of the US political spectrum would be willing to call Madison, WI,  America’s ‘little Cairo’. But that’s beside the point.
It appears echoes of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions still resonate in one of my two home countries, Benin, and the political zeal felt in northern Africa has crossed borders, reaching the far ends of the continent’s west coast. CNN probably won’t notice but the developments described below do matter. A stable democracy for the past 20 years, Benin has experienced, and is perhaps still experiencing the growing pains associated with the transition from a Marxist state to a democratic regime.  Pursuant to the stipulations of the 1990 Constitution, which limits the presidential mandate to 5 years, the fifth presidential elections in the country’s history were initially set to take place on February 27th, but have been rescheduled to March 6th.  The legitimacy of the 14 candidates competing for office isn’t the issue; it has long been established and I’m proud to say that one of the incumbents is a woman, the outspoken, powerhouse attorney Marie-Elise Gbedo. But controversy surrounds the CENA, the entity tasked with organizing the vote, and its decision to debut a new computerized voters’ list, the LEPI.  A failure to account for thousands of voters across the country prompted a mass rejection of a list many, including the opposition and the media consider unacceptable. This dual validation of popular discontent was enough to cause thousands of excluded voters to demonstrate in front of the Constitutional Court (the Beninese equivalent of the US Supreme Court) in recent days. I suspect calls for action were answered a lot faster and by a greater number of individuals, unions, student groups than they would have been without the Egyptian precedent. The intensity of the protests, possibly foreseen by the authorities to mirror that of Egypt’s uprising, prompted both police and army interventions within minutes. Robert Dossou, Esq., President of the Constitutional Court called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. He invited protestors to use legal channels available to them and not resort to demonstrations that could be a catalyst for widespread violence. Local newspapers described chaotic scenes involving anti-government slogans, tear gas, mass arrests and wounded participants. They also reiterated demonstrators’ intentions to take to the streets on a daily basis until the LEPI is revoked or altered to include the third of voters it left out of a process meant to be inclusive. This is nothing less than democracy tested. The pre-elections political crisis and the elections to follow have the potential to tarnish the country’s democratic renewal records. However, I could also argue that this is democracy at its best, with voters acting as stakeholders in a regime they’ve helped establish and maintain.  Egypt’s uprising was the chronicle of an announced demise (that of a despotic regime, that is), a long overdue liberation.  But I’m still very much undecided on whether the Cairo Effect will have a positive or negative outcome in Benin.
Let’s wait and see what March 6th brings.

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25 Responses to Electoral Preparations Amidst Protests in Benin: the Cairo Effect

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