Benin´s political background
Benin has a relatively stable multiparty system, with five successful presidential and legislative elections held since the early 1990s, most of which have been deemed free and fair. However, many democratic challenges remain, both politically and economically.
As for the overall situation in parliament, there are 4 main party alliances and a considerable number of politically unaffiliated individuals or small parties. Political parties are in general very weak, with very few parties working according to an actual structure with members, a manifesto and so on.
The current president, Yayi Boni, is near the end of his second term which will end March 2016. The alliance ‘Forces Cauris pour un Bénin Emergent’ (FCBE), made up of many parties and other actors, supports the president but has lost quite some ground in the April 2015 elections.
PRB and RB-RB are established but struggling parties, and the main oppositional alliance ‘Union fait la Nation’ (UN) is seeking to move towards becoming one party. Meanwhile, within FCBE many ‘mini-parties’ and organizations exist but mostly only in name. Political life therefore seems to revolve around key individuals, mainly MPs, who do not seem to have a very strong link to their respective parties.
The approach of NIMD in Benin
2012 saw the roll-out of the first operational phase after the decision in 2011 to jointly explore a programme with the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA). From 2012 to 2015 NIMD and AWEPA have worked on a basic approach of combining the NIMD objective of facilitating interparty dialogue and strengthening political parties with a clear focus on the role and functioning of parliament and the interactions between the parties in parliament.
Next to training session for parliamentary staff and MP’s, the annual two rounds of public hearings with parliamentary multiparty delegations through the country are one of the most successful and locally appreciated activities. In 2015, the programme piloted a first class of a potential Benin School of Politics. The new more balanced and more fluid composition of parliament and the political party landscape potentially offer new doors to revive interparty dialogue and broad inclusive stakeholder dialogue on democratic reform of the political system. The school programme will be continued in 2016.
The Benin programme has been quite active in linking up international politicians to share experiences with politics in Benin. AWEPA’s president and Minister of State, Ms Miet Smet, and NIMD’s Supervisory Board member, Mr Eimert van Middelkoop, participated in the 2012 opening parliamentary conference in Benin. In 2013, MP Ingrid de Caluwé of the VVD participated in a conference on Interparty Dialogue. French MP Bernard Lesterlin from the friendship committee of the French Assemblée joint the Beninese parliamentary delegation during public hearings throughout the country in 2014. And Beninese delegations went on learning missions to Senegal and Tunisia in 2014 and 2015.
NIMD and AWEPA have established a Steering Committee (Comité de Pilotage) composed of MP’s and political party senior leadership to guarantee local ownership and guidance over the programme design. The programme is presently managed by a local coordinator with supervision from AWEPA and NIMD headquarters in The Netherlands.