Benin Country Report 2012
May 30, 2012 - Cotonou, Benin
With the commencement of his new term of office, President Boni Yayi has initiated a series of political and economic reforms.
Benin‘s Constitutional Court blocked his attempt to extend his powers. The President had used his supporters in the National Assembly to pass a new law allowing a referendum to be called to approve changes to Benin‘s constitution. Although the constitution already contains complex procedures for amendments, these have never been used—with the result that the constitution has been left unchanged since the overthrow of the ruling military dictatorship and inauguration of the Republic in 1990. However, on October 21st the Constitutional Court declared the new law unconstitutional because it did not specify those elements that lie outside the remit of a referendum. The Court noted that article 6 of the new law would need to be amended in order to ensure that the basic pillars of the constitution, as set out in articles 42, 44 and 54, remain sacrosanct. These provisions include the secular and republican form of the state, Benin‘s territorial integrity, the five-year limit on a president‘s term, the maximum of two terms, and the age limit of 40-70 on presidential candidates. The Court‘s response came as a surprise to many as it has shown itself only too ready in the past to support the president.
President Boni for the reform purpose has set up a committee to make proposals for the constitution review and parliament has also opened a session on constitutional review. The constitutional and institutional reform process continues to dominate public and political activities in Benin since the early days of the President‘s new term.
The limits of Benin‘s democracy and electoral system that appeared during the 2011 presidential elections are also the center of interest. Many challenges were noted however there are two primary issues, namely the voters register and the suspension by the Government of Radio France International (RFI).
The voters’ registration was a major issue of disagreement between the opposition and the government during the 2011 presidential elections. A team was sent by the l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) to Benin in order to audit the country‘s voters register - la liste électorale permanente informatisée or LEPI. The audit was not consensual and was considered by the opposition as unilaterally commissioned by the government. This will continue to be a source of disagreement for the 2013 local elections.
With regard to the suspension of RFI, the Government justified the decision by saying that the station was giving too much coverage of the parliamentarians' accusation against the president. The suspension was condemned by the Constitutional Court, which reminded the Government in its decision that only the media regulation body - Haute autorité de l‘audiovisuel et de la communication (HAAC) has that prerogative.
At the continental level, President Yayi Boni was elected the new President of the African Union. He has already organized an AU Heads of States meeting in Cotonou in February. A select committee of Heads of States met again in Cotonou on March 17, to resolve issues relating to the appointment of a new AU chair.
Benin was also commended for the quality of its governance in the annual Ibrahim Index of African Governance. With a score of 59.9 \ 100, Benin is ranked 11th out of 53 African countries and, for the third consecutive year, is ranked first of eight countries in the regional economic grouping, the Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA). It occupies the third position in West Africa.
At the Economic level, after an estimated 3.8% expansion in 2011, growth is expected to slow to 3.5% in 2012 due to a slackening in Benin's re-export and transit trade. Meanwhile, inflation seems to be slowing, it remains above the 3% convergence target set by the regional central bank. Benin is largely dependent of international aid. So the approval by IMF of Benin‘s review of three-year extended credit facility is positive news for the country. But IMF insisted on the necessity for the country to strengthen aspects of economic policy. This is in addition to World Bank ranking of Benin as one of the world‘s worst countries for doing business.