- Several media and civil society organisations in Benin have been forced to dance to government's tune, abandoning their role in democracy in fear of censorship and losing government contracts worth several millions of CFA francs, human rights activists are complaining. Benin has until recently been known as the African country most respecting press freedom.
Most of Benin's 38 daily newspapers, 73 radio stations and five television stations - which were in the past two years committed to relay news against bad remuneration practices and government actions, especially public media - have now become less critical, since they got related to government contracts that bring in millions of cash to their operations, according to the criticism.
This follows a pro all-round communication policy, which was apparently destructive to objective information and diverse media. "Censorship and self-censorship are the rule," recognise, under anonymity, several journalists, who were questioned by human rights activists. They allude to cases of violation of freedom of expression, citing recent evictions of journalists deemed critical of government.
During the last presidential term of Mathieu Kérékou, Benin was increasingly praised as one of the most democratic states in Africa. The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontičres (RSF) during several years listed Benin along with South Africa as the continent's only countries without press freedom problems worthwhile mentioning. Signs are, this may be changing.
Benin's media are however not the only victims. Critics show that while some civil society organisations continue to advocate for peace and good governance in Benin, most of them, like consumer associations, have lost the vitality they initially had. Even attitudes among academics, are said to refrain from criticising current administration of President Yayi Boni.
According to Benin's human rights bodies, the executive wants to control all other powers, be it legislative, judicial, or editorial independence, so as to continue to be source of all abuses.
Before April 2006, organisations such as Elan, Transparency International (TI) Benin, the League for Consumer Protection and others were said to be present in lively public debate, such as denouncing corruption, fighting against attempts of opportunistic revision of Constitution as well as campaigning for successful organisation of 2006 presidential election.
"This had helped ensure peaceful alternation in power, to guarantee freedom of opinion and forge a credible public opinion," a report on the issue stated.
Furthermore, the democratic issues before April 2006 were reportedly more important, thus justifying a greater commitment on media part. However, convener of NGO Centre Obotha Africa, Rufin Godjo said, "it is time for civil society to speak, otherwise we will go into the wall."
Civil society organisations "have been taken by surprise by current regime, which has recovered their themes, including fight against corruption," socio-anthropologist Denis Amoussou-Yéyé added.
Since inauguration, President Boni is said to have unilaterally dismissed executives no towing the line, while at the same time building his own "puppeteering stage". However, for senior government officials, President Boni is seen different and almost idolised.
"He managed to increase tax revenues of state and recover a large part of public debts. Economic growth rose from 3.5 percent before April 2006 to 5 percent now," recently said Minister in charge of Development, Pascal Koukpaki. One visible sign of this good economic health is said to be launching of public works and infrastructure rehabilitation, including roads, hotels and airports, to mention but a few.
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