By Ambassador Omar Arouna, MBA*
The French expression is “a beau mentir qui vient de loin”. It’s a proverbial expression whose meaning is crystal clear. Appeared at a time when the means of locomotion and communication were not very fast, “it was easy for a traveler returning from afar to tell lies about what he had seen during his journey, sure that it was that no one would go to check.” It is easy to lie when what is said is not verifiable or when no one can contradict the speech.
Fortunately, in this era, where the average time of information propagation is around 175 minutes, nothing remains hidden for too long, everyone knows, and all is true. The possibility of going back, the time of a comparative analysis, a statement or an affirmation, the possibility of reconstructing a context, of examining the author’s antecedents, of an affirmation or a promise is real and usually is only a few keyboards strokes away.
Was I surprised when last weekend internet-version-Benin was set on fire, following Patrice Talon’s statement. The same Talon whom the political activist and human rights activist, Nathalie Yamb nicknamed “Mister I will only serve one term”.
Indeed, he declared during his appearance at the work of the 2nd West African Citizens’ Summit on Good Governance and Democracy, that “Limiting mandates is, in all respects, for the benefit of the people, rather than letting each other remain in office forever.” It did not take more for some to get excited and applaud while others are already working to reinvent his qualities as a democrat… the same one who had promised that by moral obligation he would only serve one presidential term, to be in his second…
For example, among many others, in a frantic series of tweets, Senegalese activist Alioune Tine hastened to relay “the good news”. Even if for some this enthusiasm can be excused if we really do not know Patrice Talon and what became of Benin under his dictatorship. This is certainly not the case of Alioune Tine who was until recently in Cotonou incognito at the invitation of Patrice Talon, all expenses paid, the time of a few meetings with several personalities handpicked by the power, in a deliberate effort to whitewash and conceal unpleasant or incriminating facts concerning the last electoral crisis.
And yet it only takes very little to realize that for almost six years of power Patrice Talon has made lies an instrument of governance in Benin. The man has often knowingly and intentionally made false statements to finally make an about-turn of which only he has the secret.
All of Africa and the rest of the world is experienced the episode of “I will make my single mandate a moral requirement” and yet Patrice Talon did not bother to exclude all his challengers, stuff the ballot boxes and walk on corpses to offer himself a second mandate which he said he did not want. Less well known is the 2016 episode of “I dream that Beninese will carry me in triumph in five years” which several years later in the test of power turned into “I never said that my compatriots were going to carry me in triumph at the end of my mandate”. Or when he declares that he is not going to change the Beninese constitution, but that at the turn of a Halloween night, in one time three movements he quickly changed to tailor it to himself.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me…
If we dwell on it, we realize it very quickly. A character like Patrice Talon who has an exaggerated sense of his own importance, a deep need for attention and excessive admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others will always tend to make statements or say anything to mark the moment for an instantaneous adulation.
To give credence to this new declaration not to run for a third term in view of the last five years of systematic dismantling of democracy, suppression of basic human rights, muzzling of dissenting voices of gratuitous relentlessness against young and promising leaders such as Komi Koutché exiled in the United States, all-out-arrest such as in the case of Reckya Madougou and Pr. Joel Aivo, currently jailed and economic and financial abuses is a suicidal exercise.
Moreover, in a sub-regional context where some heads of state have proclaimed urbi et orbi their intention not to run for a third term to renegade themselves at the last moment based on absurd and fallacious arguments. So welcome to the autocratic republic of Benin… as if to say that Patrice Athanase Guillaume Talon will only leave power if he is driven out of power.
*Former Ambassador of Benin to the USA