There are more than 70 radio stations, approximately 60 newspapers and magazines and around 15 television channels in Benin. Journalists have significant freedom of expression. However, since Patrice Talon has taken office, serious concerns have been raised.
Since coming to power in 2016, state-owned media have provided little coverage of the opposition. Under Talon’s rule, media are subject to close surveillance. Pro-government reporting guidelines are often sent to the media after cabinet meetings. The High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication continues to be headed by a man who was reprimanded by the court after he arbitrarily shut down several media outlets although a court ruled in May 2017 that it should be allowed to reopen.
In the start of 2018, President Talon appointed his personal lawyer as head of the Constitutional Court. In a further attempt to solidify his control, the government undertook an investigation and criminal prosecution of political opponents. In September 2018, the electoral code was updated by increasing the fee for presidential candidates from $27,000 to $445,000. Benin’s election committees ruled that only two parties allied to the nation’s current President Patrice Talon had met the requirements for participation in the polls. The fees for parliamentary candidates rose in similar fashion which for all practical purposes prevented any opposition candidates from running against Talon.
On election day, Benin blocked all social media and messaging platforms and then shut down the internet to hamper opposition activists:
Alert: Network data shows #Benin‘s leading internet provider Spacetel has been shut down as of 9:00 AM UTC on election day, after social media was blocked for several hours #BeninShutdown #KeepItOnhttps://t.co/Y94ipLiLsv pic.twitter.com/hszLZbH8Yf
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) April 28, 2019
Despite the fact that the election went forward without any meaningful opposition candidates running against Talon, the government insisted the elections were done by the book and perfectly legitimate. As a footnote the voter turnout was the lowest it has ever been.
On May 2nd as hundreds of demonstrators gathered and surrounded the residence of Boni Yayi (the former head of state), the police and army moved in and dislodged them by opening fire with automatic bullets. While the official number of fatalities was two people killed, that figure has been opened to question.
President Talon has promised frank and constructive exchanges with the opposition. “I will invite the entire political class very soon for direct, frank and constructive exchanges.” Given these typical bullhorn dictator tactics, I would say it is long overdue.