Benin’s political background
Since the adoption of a new constitution in the early 1990s, Benin has enjoyed relative stability. The current president, Patrice Talon, was elected as an independent candidate in 2016 after the incumbent Yayi Boni reached the end of his second and final constitutional mandate. A total of 14 presidential and parliamentary elections have been held since 1991, while a number of these have been marred by claims of election irregularities. Although multiparty elections were the norm for most of Benin’s recent political history, the political landscape is changing rapidly due to reforms led by President Talon.
At its peak in 2018, Benin was home to over 200 political parties, the vast majority of which revolved around key individuals as opposed to policy platforms or specific constituencies. The large majority of these parties were very weak, with few working according to a formal structure with members, a manifesto and so on. This meant party alliances and coalitions tended to make up the majority of the parliaments, until new party rules introduced in 2019 reduced the number of parties from more than 200 to 10. Only 5 out of 10 obtained their registration.
The Constitutional Court then disallowed three out of the five remaining parties to take part in 2019’s National Assembly elections. The remaining two parties, Progressive Union and Republican Bloc, are both loyal to the President, and currently control all the seats in the National Assembly. Opposition parties and voters boycotted the vote. The political situation is extremely tense as a result.
Benin’s political parties and actors face a situation that holds several turning points, including an opportunity to become more accountable, structured, and programmatic as they meet the new guidelines. But the representativeness of the democratic institutions has seriously diminished, and the ability for groups to coalesce and provide effective opposition to the government is undermined by a highly adversarial political climate and a lack of genuine dialogue between stakeholders. Furthermore, the legislature is still more than 90% male, signalling a serious deficit in terms of female participation and representation.
NIMD’s approach in Benin
NIMD has worked in Benin since 2012. The issues noted above such as weak political parties and lack of female representation inform our multi-pronged approach, which focuses on citizen engagement with parties, capacity strengthening for parliamentarians, and democracy education for young party members.
To help parties bolster their connection to the citizens who elect them, NIMD continues to facilitate dialogue between the people, parties, civil society, and locally elected representatives. Firstly, NIMD facilitates communication between parliament and the public via social networks in areas such as representative roles and formulating policy. As well as helping parties understand the needs and interests of voters, this can also foster trust between parliament and the public.
NIMD also supports Benin’s parliament in reaching out to the public through working visits and public hearings between multiparty delegations of political actors and the public, which allow for wide-ranging discussions on issues that matter to local communities. To ensure that parties can capitalize on the knowledge gleaned from these hearings, NIMD also supports the organisation of restitution workshops and has helped create a system to follow the recommendations of the hearings.
Capacity strengthening for political actors
NIMD offers specialized sessions for political parties in areas relevant to their organization, such as manifesto development. Improved manifestos accompany public hearings as ways NIMD seeks to achieve its main goal of strengthening the parties’ consultative and representative connection to the public.
In partnership with the EU, NIMD also provides parliamentary staff and MPs with expertise in areas such as legislation drafting and budget scrutiny. By supporting the legislative capacities of parties, NIMD is helping MPs build laws and institutions that are both robust and ideally suited to their country’s specific needs.
Another core aspect of our work funded by the EU is to give actors oversight over budgeting and human rights. One example of this work is in regard to child labour. In 2018, NIMD facilitated a visit for sitting MPs to a region of Benin where child labour was a persistent issue, despite bills preventing the practice having been ratified by parliament. NIMD then tried to help MPs identify why the legislation wasn’t being implemented, and come up with possible solutions.
Benin School of Politics
In 2015, the Benin programme piloted its first class of a potential Benin School of Politics. Classes are run in the form of several 3-day sessions, which take place throughout the year. Each session has a specific subject, such as dialogue techniques, Benin’s socioeconomic history, decentralization, and political communication. These are attended by young members from a broad array of parties. The school has now been providing sessions for four years, and is expanding its activities with a strong focus on female political representation and supporting young activists, as this will address long-term participatory and representative imbalances.
The School of Politics also brings participants together through and more informal ‘café’ sessions, which allows for more open discussion than typical dialogue forums can offer. Just a few of the subjects covered during café sessions includes human rights law, gender inclusivity, and the welfare of disabled people and children. Café sessions are designed around current events, so have covered elections taking place at the time, young people’s representation, and women’s political rights. Inspiring speakers, including former Beninese Prime Ministers, attend to share knowledge with participants.
Alumni of the school have made it to positions in their party, some featured on the electoral list of their party, and some were elected as municipal councillors.
This programme is part of the ‘Lobby and Advocacy’ programme of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. More on the Strategic Partnership with the Ministry here.
This programme is also part of the EU-funded programme, Support Programme to the National Assembly of Benin for the Promotion of Participative Government and Human Rights.