Benin : To Our Collective Conscience Beware Of The Dangers Of Religious And Ethnic Stigmatization
By Reckya Madougou*
*Born 30 April 1974) Reckya Madougou, is a Beninese politician. She served in the Boni Yayi cabinet twice: first as Minister of Microfinance, Youth and Women’s Employment; and then as Minister of Justice. As head of the political party Les Démocrates, Madougou declared her intention to contest the presidential election on 11 April 2021 against the incumber president Patrice Talon; however, she was arrested on 3 March 2021 during a meeting with another opposition politician in Porto-Novo and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. According to an article published in the 10 December 2021 by the Washington Post, she could have been Benin’s first female president. In its opinion N°51/2022, of August 31, 2022, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, ruled that Mrs. MacDougal’s detention was completely arbitrary, and recommended her immediate and unconditional release. Yet she remains in the maximum-security prison in Benin from where she wrote this opinion. —-
«The Republic of Benin is one and indivisible, secular and democratic». This provision in Article 2 of the Constitution of December 11, 1990 refers to the triptych of national unity, secularism and democracy. The constituent has thus made freedom of religion and the obligation of the State not to privilege any religion over another the basis of social peace.
Social peace does not rest exclusively on democracy, which unfortunately since 2016 has been on life support due to the many liberticidal laws that have followed one another. These iniquitous laws have forced several hundred sons and daughters of the country to take the painful path of exile, and for those of us who have resisted exile, it is the path of arbitrary detention, our way of the cross against a backdrop of permanent multiform torture.
So to speak, social peace is also guaranteed by the freedom of worship without any discrimination and by the respect of the practice of the revealed religions more than thousand years old.
There is not a single family in Benin without a parent, a cousin, a niece, a brother, an aunt… Muslim or Christian. Reforms aimed at regulating a sector as sensitive as the practice of religions and cults, in a country already engaged in the fight against terrorism, must take into account all socio-cultural and security parameters.
We must at all costs avoid maintaining a poisonous context where amalgams and other recuperations prejudicial to social peace can serve as a breeding ground for the enemies of peace and other fundamentalist jihadists who have sworn to sow desolation in our families by attacking our defense and security forces throughout the country. Let us bear in mind that for less than that, in some countries, terrorists have used official decisions – justified or not – against Muslim communities as a pretext to launch assaults.
If it is necessary to carry out a reform against noise pollution to prevent the inconveniences suffered by the populations, this should not lead the political authorities to despise the revealed religions by forbidding them to make sound calls to prayer at hours which are anchored in our habits since centuries, whether it is among Muslims or Catholic Christians.
God, Allah the Almighty, the Most Merciful, deserves better consideration from us, even if today we are so powerful that we have no interest even in human lives. It is the same God who confers authority and knows how to remind us of it in due time. It is the same God who created Pharaoh, the super king of biblical and Quranic Egypt. Pharaoh (Firwa’n in the Holy Qur’an) was strong, super strong, everyone was subject to him. Idolatry was in full swing in that country in those days. Pharaoh had all the great magicians and idolaters at his beck and call to give him the illusion of being able to produce miracles like our heavenly Father. The Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible tell us that one day the Creator sent Moses (Musa) to his creature asking him to free the chosen people of God so that they could go and serve Him, His only God. But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened to resist God, according to his own hegemonic inclinations and inhumanity. Pharaoh did not have the spirit of submission to God His Creator. He did not care about the fear of God.
However, one fine day, in the firmament of the ultimate blasphemy, God rose up on Pharaoh and his minions. Their military might could not save them from God’s wrath, showing that power belongs to God on earth as well and that everything is destined to expire. For those of you who do not know the inspiring continuation of this famous and edifying story from the Holy Scriptures, I urge you to read it. It reminds us that there is no stronger God than the God of Abraham (Ibrahim), Jacob (Yacoub), Isaac (Ishaq), Ishmael, Joseph (Youssef), Daniel (Daniyal or Danialou), David (Daoud or Daouda), Solomon (Souleyman), Jonah (Younous)…of each of us.
The deference that we ALL owe to this GOD, Master of our breath, forbids us to lodge at the same sign, in a step of sound regulation, the places of worship or prayer and the pubs and other bars which pollute in almost all the street corners of the country.
The sound calls to prayer from our mosques and churches have never been the cause of real noise pollution in Benin. On the one hand, the said religious sound calls to prayer are of short duration. On the other hand, they are likely to remind the believing citizens of the surroundings, the moments of prayer, moments of light very useful for the salvation of all.
The decree 2022-301 of May 25, 2022 is a form of encroachment to the free exercise of the freedom of worship and religion of which the Muslim and Catholic religions are the main victims. The sound calls to prayer do not prevent the exercise of other religious cults. It is to be feared that the will of the authorities to reform at all costs and in all directions, with the current fragile social cohesion, will lead to the stigmatization of religious and ethnic communities.
Speaking of stigmatization, in an article published on January 27, 2023 in the international newspaper Monde Afrique, journalist Pierre Lepidi sounded the alarm about the Beninese government’s response to the terrorist threat, which risks turning into an increased stigmatization of the Peuhl ethnic group in Benin. The journalist, following investigations, asserts that this people of herders known for their perpetual nomadic activities, has been massively targeted by the security forces.
If the danger is indeed real with regard to the successive attacks coming from extremist groups, an even greater danger hangs over the social cohesion of Benin through the stigmatization of the populations of the north, in particular the Peuhls who are suspected rightly or wrongly of belonging to terrorist cells.
There are several hundred Peuhl prisoners in Benin’s prisons, especially in the civil prison of Missérété, who are being prosecuted for terrorism and are awaiting trial. But curiously, no public debate has been opened on this question, which is to know what justifies the multiplication of arrests of members of this community on the basis of simple denunciation or even simple prejudice, with sometimes anecdotal and pathetic stories of Peuhl abductions.
I am also afraid that this policy of mass arrests targeted against this community will make the bed for extremists, who could use it to justify a “jihad” against our security forces and also against other communities.
The responses to the conflicts between farmers and herders that have pitted the Peuhls against the communities for decades should rather aim at reforming or revising the land code with a good dose of upstream sensitization and support for the populations concerned. A repressive policy targeted against the Peuhls will only further erode national unity, which is already undermined by the northern regionalist location of the vast majority of political prisoners.
Every week that passes, unfortunate deaths are counted among these Peuhls in our prisons because of the inhumane conditions of their detention. In the absence of judging them within the legal timeframe, it is the obligation of the State to ensure that they are treated with dignity and humanity. It is the responsibility of the entire political class to be concerned about the fate of this ethnic community of our country which is visibly stigmatized in the context of the response of the State to the terrorist attacks undermining our collective security.
In the same vein, I regret the arrest in Parakou of Mr. Alpha Kabirou, a preacher and opinion leader, for his alleged opposition to the decision to ban the use of microphones in mosques, according to information reported to me on Sunday by my lawyers.
All this unfortunately contributes to the destruction of the living together because it is related to sensitive religious issues that should be treated with caution. I invite the Imams of Benin and all political actors of all persuasions to plead his cause with the political and judicial authorities so that he is released. It is also necessary to sensitize our populations to privilege dialogue and social cohesion in all circumstances.
“I come to regret the arrest in Parakou of Mr. Alpha Kabirou, preacher, opinion leader
I myself am aware that after having opted against certain interests, you will still subject me to other reprisals in the jails as usual. But as I told those who oppress me here according to your orders, you have already made me suffer everything, deprived of everything. The only thing you have left to do is to take my life. Fortunately, only my Creator can decide when and how to do this. So I remain stoic in my pain by the Mighty Hand that covers me and I call your attention to the dangers of certain decisions.
As there always appears a lightning in any dark sky, the present Christian Lenten season curiously coincides with an important period of supererogatory fasting for Muslims. It
is the month of Sha’ban, the eight in the Muslim calendar, the month in which the Prophet Muhammad (saw) fasted the most in preparation for Ramadan. This special time of communion with God for both Christians and Muslims is therefore par excellence favorable to introspection, humiliation of the flesh, meditation, love of God and neighbor, forgiveness, imploring divine justice in the absence of human justice and reconciliation.
May God enlighten our authorities and bless us all in prayer.