Pride in Vote Eases Soglo's Pain at Polls
The following is a speech delivered by Nicephore Soglo after he stepped down as president of Benin because of his election loss.
Benin held elections in March. I lost the presidency. Since then, well wishers have offered me consolation. Their words are appreciated.
My greatest consolation, however, comes from the conduct of my fellow countrymen. They honored democracy with their great enthusiasm. Election turnout was near 80 percent. Since we began our democratic journey six years ago, when we left behind a one-party military state, Benin has made great strides.
Ours certainly were not perfect elections. They rarely are, especially in young democracies. There were irregularities in the voting and counting processes. Beninois living abroad were wrongly disenfranchised. The election period was too short to adequately debate ideas. But while these problems need to be noted and remedied, they did not sully our elections.
I am concerned that people outside of Benin have been despondent about the results. Many have viewed our elections as a setback for democracy in Benin. I disagree. While former President Kerekou has returned to power, there is a difference now. Twenty-four years ago he came to power by the barrel of the gun. This year, it was by way of the ballot box.
Yes, part of the old guard will be returning to government. And some of them resent the new democratic ways. But they are no match for democracy's strong foundation in Benin. A dozen private newspapers offering all manner of opinion are now a force in Benin. Our constitutional court and electoral commission are strong and independent. Indeed, our country has progressed so far that it is now recognized as being "free" by Freedom House, the political rights and civil liberties watchdog organization. So while the international community's continued watch on Benin is welcomed, our undemocratic past will remain past.
Neither do I agree with the fashionable argument that democracy throughout Africa has peaked. For sure, Africa in general has not met the expectations placed upon it with the Cold War's end. It was an exuberant time as a wave of political revolutions swept over the continent and several repressive regimes fell. Setbacks have occurred, but building democratic institutions and norms takes time. A longer-term perspective is needed. And there have been victories too. Benin is one of them.
Many claim that Africa is different, that it is not ready for democracy. Ethnic tensions are pointed to as poisoning democracy. We have ethnic tensions in Benin. We have managed them.
Sadly, these are the same arguments that were used by many African leaders of the early independence years to justify their repressive rule. …