By Ambassador Omar Arouna*
It might be the sign of the times or the harbinger of what is to come. For example, in Russia organizations linked to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny are designated « terrorist and extremist », in Belarus criminal probe against the nation’s top opposition leaders on charge of terrorism are launched. Such charges keep away human rights advocates from raising effective objections, thereby enabling authoritarian regimes to perpetrate crackdown on opposition without due process. New breeds of autocrats in Africa are using pages from the same playbook.
African’s new autocrats are arbitrary imprisoning opposition leaders on trumped up charges of terrorism and are cracking down on opposition’s strongholds and region favorable to the opposition under the watchful eye of the international community kept at bay in the name of terrorism. Unfortunately, in Africa the danger of that playbook lies in that, it creates breeding ground for real terrorism. Especially in the west African region where countries, such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania Niger, Nigeria, Chad are already under actual terrorists’ attacks from Boko Haram, ISWAP or Al -Qaeda and extremist organizations are actively recruiting youth in disenfranchises populations.
In Benin for example, having achieved the feat of embarking on the most serious democratic retreat in modern African history, Patrice Talon following the April 11, 2021 exclusive presidential election, in an unprecedented purge of the country’s opposition is taking pages from the terrorism playbook. Reckya Madougou the first female flag bearer of Benin’s largest opposition party and à former minister of justice has been arrested on a trump up charge of « terrorism and financing of terrorism »; Professor Frederick Joel Aivo a well-known constitutionalist and another opposition candidate is under arrest on similar charges.
Excursions into domicile of former president Boni Yayi the honorary chairman of the country’s largest opposition party are routinely performed by the political police. To date over 150 oppositions members and counting have been arrested on similar trump up charges, without due process. Frustration is high within the political elite and populations of the northern part of the of the country, a traditional stronghold of the opposition. The predominantly Muslim northern region is routinely ransacked by the country’s security apparatus. Young people in the region are massively arrested or simply shot in the name of a pseudo fight against terrorism.
Frustration often leads to aggressive behavior and since 2016, Patrice Talon’s Administration created an unprecedented resentment and frustration among the population of Benin and especially in the northern part of country. Within a four year span, following exclusive elections, twice the population of the hunter’s community –“les chasseurs”- in the region has taken arms to defend themselves against the regular army sent to track oppositions members and twice the population by mounting roadblocks on major highways have attempted to isolate the region from the rest of the country in response to what is perceived as 4 years of government exactions and infringement on basic democratic rights and liberties.
In avoiding adherence to human rights obligations and commitments and to camouflage the authoritarian turn of the country, Patrice Talon and his government resorted to lift pages from the playbook of terrorism, sources of instability and conflict and thereby are creating actual recruitment conditions and breeding ground for actual terrorism.