Benin tells US recent comments on domestic affairs have ‘paternalistic’ tone

By Matthieu Millecamps

Posted on Wednesday, 28 April 2021 20:07
Benin's foreign affairs minister Aurélien Agbénonci on 12 May in Cotonou. C_AHOUNOU/AID

Benin's foreign minister Aurélien Agbénonci has made it clear to US ambassador Patricia Mahoney that Cotonou is not impressed by Washington's critic of the West African country for "numerous arrests of opposition political leaders."

In a message relayed on social media  on 23 April by the US Embassy in Benin, the US State Department said it was “concerned” about the “numerous arrests of opposition political leaders related to the 11 April presidential election”, during which Benin’s incumbent President Patrice Talon was re-elected in the first round.

“The United States notes with concern numerous arrests of political opponents in Benin related to the April 11 elections, and will continue to closely monitor the situation. The Beninese people deserve regular updates on the status of these cases.” This statement was not welcomed by the highest echelons of the Benin government.

A“paternalistic” tone

The message – which insists, in particular, on the presumption of innocence – does not mention any names, but was made public a week after the arrest on 15 April of Joël Aïvo, whose candidacy was rejected by the Electoral Commission.

Mario Mètonou, the special prosecutor at the Cour de Répression des Infractions Économiques et du Terrorisme – CRIET (Court of repression of economic crimes and terrorism) had initiated a case against Aïvo. Mètonou has not yet commented on the proceedings.

But Aïvo’s lawyers have at one time mentioned the motive of “financing terrorism” –  also applied to Reckya Madougou, who was arrested on 2 March and placed in custody.

Officially, Benin has “taken note” of the US’ message and has not publicly commented on it. However, according to our information, Benin’s foreign affairs minister Aurélien Agbénonci directly contacted Patricia Mahoney, the US ambassador to Benin since January 2019, to let her know that Cotonou is not happy.

Several of the minister’s advisers were present at this conversation. Agbénonci reproached the US diplomat for the “paternalistic” tone of the press release. “Benin doesn’t have any lessons to learn,” he added, urging her to “change her ways.”

Persona non grata

The Beninese authorities have shown a firm attitude towards foreign diplomats on numerous occasions in the past. In November 2019, Olivier Nette, European Union ambassador to Benin, was declared persona non grata by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after he had met with several opposition leaders.

Benin’s government accused him of having undermined, “on several occasions and during various meetings in the presence of officials”, the “legitimacy” of the National Assembly, which had been elected a few months earlier after a vote was held during which no opposition officials had been able to stand.

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