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Key findings
  • Nearly three-quarters of Beninese (73%) said they prefer democracy to other systems of government. Large majorities also consistently express a preference for having many political parties, although only 29% said they personally felt close to a party.
  • Eight in 10 citizens (79%) said it’s more important that the government be accountable than that it get things done – almost twice the level of support for accountability recorded in 2011.
  • Only half (51%) of citizens said they were “fairly” or “very” satisfied with the way democracy was working in Benin.
  • Strong majorities said that citizens “often” or “always” have to be careful about what they say about politics (66%), which political organizations they join (69%), and how they vote (78%).
  • Fewer than half (47%) of Beninese said opposition parties have more freedom to function than they did a few years ago. And 37% said opposition candidates are at least “sometimes” prevented from running for office. On both counts, even before the 2019 elections, Benin was about average among 34 surveyed countries.

Benin has long been seen as a stable democracy, consistently rated as free by Freedom House and achieving several peaceful electoral transfers of power since democratization in the 1990s (Paduano, 2019). However, Benin’s recent legislative elections have called this image into question. New eligibility requirements left only two political parties on the ballot, both allied with President Patrice Talon. The government violently suppressed large protests and restricted Internet access, and widespread boycotts led to the lowest voter turnout on record (Paduano, 2019; BBC News, 2019).

Is Benin’s democracy as strong as its reputation would suggest?

Results from Afrobarometer 2017 survey in Benin suggest some reservations even before the troubling 2019 elections, While citizens overwhelmingly supported democracy, wanted multiparty competition, and desired a government that is accountable, only half were satisfied with the way the country’s democracy was working, and many said they have to be cautious in talking about politics, joining political organizations, and voting. On indicators of the opposition’s freedom to function, citizens’ marks were only about average compared to other African countries.

Christina Scheller

Christina Scheller is a PhD student at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Mircea Lazar

Mircea Lazar is a PhD student at Michigan State University in East Lansing. <br />