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Benin

Benin was the seat of one of the great medieval African kingdoms called Dahomey. Europeans began arriving in the area in the 18th century, as the kingdom of Dahomey was expanding its territory. The Portuguese, the French, and the Dutch established trading posts along the coast (Porto-Novo, Ouidah, Cotonou), and traded weapons for slaves. Slave trade ended in 1848. Then, the French signed treaties with Kings of Abomey (Guézo, Toffa, Glèlè) to establish French protectorates in the main cities and ports. However, King Behanzin fought the French influence which cost him deportation to Martinique. As of 1900, the territory became a French colony ruled by a French Governor. Expansion continued to the North (kingdoms of Parakou, Nikki, Kandi), up to the border with former Upper Volta. On December 4, 1958, it became the République du Dahomey, self-governing within the French community, and on August 1, 1960, the Republic of Benin gained full independence from France. Post-Independence Politics: Between 1960 and 1972, a succession of military coups brought about many changes of government. The last of these brought to power Major Mathieu Kérékou as the head of a regime professing strict Marxist-Leninist principles. The Revolutionary Party of the People of Benin (PRPB) remained in complete power until the beginning of the 1990s. Kérékou, encouraged by France and other democratic powers, convened a national conference that introduced a new democratic constitution and held presidential and legislative elections. Kérékou's principal opponent at the presidential poll, and the ultimate victor, was Prime Minister Nicéphore Soglo. Supporters of Soglo also secured a majority in the National Assembly. Benin was thus the first African country to effect successfully the transition from dictatorship to a pluralistic political system. In the second round of National Assembly elections held in March 1995, Soglo's political vehicle, the Parti de la Renaissance du Benin, was the largest single party but lacked an overall majority. The success of a party formed by supporters of ex-president Kérékou, who had officially retired from active politics, encouraged him to stand successfully at both the 1996 and 2001 presidential elections. During the 2001 elections, however, alleged irregularities and dubious practices led to a boycott of the run-off poll by the main opposition candidates. The four top-ranking contenders following the first round presidential elections were Mathieu Kerekou (incumbent) 45.4%, Nicephore Soglo (former president) 27.1%, Adrien Houngbedji (National Assembly Speaker) 12.6%, and Bruno Amoussou (Minister of State) 8.6%. The second round balloting, originally scheduled for March 18, 2001, was postponed for days because both Soglo and Houngbedji withdrew, alleging electoral fraud. This left Kerekou to run against his own Minister of State, Amoussou, in what was termed a "friendly match" In December 2002, Benin held its first municipal elections since before the institution of Marxism-Leninism. The process was smooth with the significant exception of the 12th district council for Cotonou, the contest that would ultimately determine who would be selected for the mayoralty of the capital city. That vote was marred by irregularities, and the electoral commission was forced to repeat that single election. Nicephore Sogloís RB party won the new vote, paving the way for the former president to be elected Mayor of Cotonou by the new city council in February 2002.

ECONOMY

Beninís economy is chiefly based on agriculture. Cotton accounts for 40% of GDP and roughly 80% of official export receipts. There also is production of textiles, palm products, and cocoa. Corn, beans, rice, peanuts, cashews, pineapples, cassava, yams, and other various tubers are grown for local subsistence. Benin began producing a modest quantity of offshore oil in October 1982. Production ceased in recent years but exploration of new sites is ongoing. A modest fishing fleet provides fish and shrimp for local subsistence and export to Europe. A number of formerly government-owned commercial activities are now privatized, and the government, consistent with its commitments to the IMF and World Bank, has plans to continue on this path. Smaller businesses are privately owned by Beninese citizens, but some firms are foreign owned, primarily French and Lebanese. The private commercial and agricultural sectors remain the principal contributors to growth.

Economic Development: Since the transition to a democratic government in 1990, Benin has undergone a remarkable economic recovery. A large injection of external investment from both private and public sources has alleviated the economic difficulties of the early 1990s caused by global recession and persistently low commodity prices (although the latter continues to affect the economy). The manufacturing sector is confined to some light industry, which is mainly involved in processing primary products and the production of consumer goods. Benin is dependent on imported electricity, mostly from Ghana, which currently accounts for a significant proportion of the country's imports. Benin has several initiatives to attract foreign capital to build electricity generation facilities in Benin in order to break this dependency. The service sector has grown quickly, stimulated by economic liberalization and fiscal reform. Membership of the CFA Franc Zone offers reasonable currency stability. Benin sells its products mainly to France and, in smaller quantities, to the Netherlands, Korea, Japan, and India. France is Beninís leading source for imports. Benin also is a member of the West African economic community ECOWAS.

In July 2000, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as Beninís bilateral creditors agreed to support a comprehensive debt reduction package for Benin under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Total relief from all of Benin's creditors is worth $265 million, about 31% of Beninís debt outstanding as of 1998. HIPC will reduce Beninís debt-to-export ratio from 218% at end 1998 down to below 100% from 2011 onward, freeing up considerable resources for education, health, and other anti-poverty programs. Despite its rapid growth, the economy of Benin still remains underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Growth in real output averaged a sound 5% since 1996, but a rapid population rise offset much of this growth on a per capita basis. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. Commercial and transport activities, which make up a large part of GDP, are vulnerable to developments in Nigeria, particularly fuel shortages.

BELIEFS

Several religions are practiced in Benin. Animism is widespread (50%), and its practices vary from one ethnic group to the other. Arab merchants introduced Islam in the north and among the Yoruba. European missionaries brought Christianity to the south and central areas of Benin. Moslems account for 20% of the population and Christians for 30%. Many nominal Moslems and Christians continue to practice animistic traditions. It is believed that voodoo originated in Benin and was introduced to Brazil and the Caribbean Islands by slaves taken from this particular area of the Slave Coast.

INCIDENCE OF CRIME

As of the year 1998, the overall crime rate in Benin was low compared to industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Benin. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Benin will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 1998 was 5.12 per 100,000 population for Benin, 1.10 for Japan, and 6.3 for USA. For rape, the rate in 1998 was 2.55 for Benin, compared with 1.48 for Japan and 34.4 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 1998 was 4.27 for Benin, 2.71 for Japan, and 165.2 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 1998 was 102.03 for Benin, 15.40 for Japan, and 360.5 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 1998 was 4.57 for Benin, 187.93 for Japan, and 862.0 for USA. The rate of larceny for 1998 was 59.90 for Benin, 1198.13 for Japan, and 2728.1 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 1998 was 0.63 for Benin, compared with 28.37 for Japan and 459.0 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 179.07 for Benin, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4615.5 for USA. (Note: data were not reported to INTERPOL by the USA for 1998, but were derived from the Uniform Crime Report for 1998)

TRENDS IN CRIME

Between 1996 and 1998, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder increased from 3.70 to 5.12 per 100,000 population, an increase of 38.4%. The rate for rape increased from 1.03 to 2.55, an increase of 147.6%. The rate of robbery decreased from 4.28 to 4.27, an decrease of -0.3%. The rate for aggravated assault increased from 17.40 to 102.03, an increase of 486.4%. The rate for burglary increased from 2.12 to 4.57, an increase of 115.6%. The rate of larceny increased from 32.85 to 59.90, an increase of 82.4%. The rate of motor vehicle theft decreased from 2.47 to 0.63, and decrease of -74.5%. The rate of total index offenses increased from 63.85 to 179.07, an increase of 180.5%.

 

LEGAL SYSTEM

The legal system of Benin is based on French civil law and local customary law. The Constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial. A defendant enjoys the presumption of innocence and has the right to be present at trial and to representation by an attorney, at public expense if necessary. In practice the court provided indigent defendants with court-appointed counsel upon request. A defendant also has the right to confront witnesses and to have access to government-held evidence. Trials were open to the public, but in exceptional circumstances the president of the court may decide to restrict access to preserve public order or to protect the parties. Defendants who were awaiting a verdict may request release on bail; however, the courts granted such requests only on the advice of the Attorney General's office.

 

DETENTION

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, at times the authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. The Constitution prohibits detention for more than 48 hours without a hearing by a magistrate whose order is required for continued detention. However, there were credible reports that authorities exceeded this 48-hour limit in many cases, sometimes by as much as a week, using the common practice of holding a person indefinitely "at the disposition of" the public prosecutor's office before presenting their case to a magistrate. Approximately 75 percent of persons in prison were pretrial detainees. The Constitution prohibits forced exile of citizens, and it was not practiced.

COURTS

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice; however, the executive branch has important powers in regard to the judiciary, and the judiciary remained inefficient in some respects and was susceptible to corruption at all levels. The President appoints career magistrates as judges in civil courts, and the Constitution gives the Ministry of Justice administrative authority over judges, including the power to transfer them. Inadequate facilities, poorly trained staff, and overcrowded dockets resulted in a slow administration of justice. The low salaries of magistrates and clerks had a demoralizing effect on their commitment to efficient and timely justice and made them susceptible to corruption.A civilian court system operated on the national and provincial levels. There was only one court of appeals. The Supreme Court was the court of last resort in all administrative and judicial matters. The Constitutional Court was charged with deciding on the constitutionality of laws, disputes between the President and the National Assembly, and disputes regarding presidential and legislative elections. Its rulings in past years against both the executive and legislative branches, which were respected by both branches, demonstrated its independence from both these branches of government; however, it was accused of bias in favor of the President during the 2001 presidential elections. The Constitution also provides for a High Court of Justice to convene in the event of crimes committed by the President or government ministers against the state. Under the Constitution, the High Court is to consist of members of the Constitutional Court (except for its president), six deputies elected by the National Assembly and the Supreme Court, and the Chairman of the Supreme Court. The first members of the High Court of Justice were sworn in and began serving their terms in 2001. Inefficiency and corruption particularly affected the judiciary at the trial court and investigating magistrate levels. Military disciplinary councils deal with minor offenses by members of the military services, but they have no jurisdiction over civilians.

The legal system is based on French civil law and local customary law. The Constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial. A defendant enjoys the presumption of innocence and has the right to be present at trial and to representation by an attorney, at public expense if necessary. In practice the court provided indigent defendants with court-appointed counsel upon request. A defendant also has the right to confront witnesses and to have access to government-held evidence. Trials were open to the public, but in exceptional circumstances the president of the court may decide to restrict access to preserve public order or to protect the parties. Defendants who were awaiting a verdict may request release on bail; however, the courts granted such requests only on the advice of the Attorney General's office.

CORRECTIONS

Prison conditions continued to be extremely harsh. Extensive overcrowding and lack of proper sanitation and medical facilities posed a risk to prisoners' health. The prison diet was seriously inadequate; malnutrition and disease were common. Family members were expected to provide food for inmates to supplement prison rations. Women were housed separately from men; however, juveniles at times were housed with adults. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners; however, they were not held with the most violent convicts or those subject to the death penalty. Prisoners were allowed to meet with visitors such as family members, lawyers, and others. According to the Justice Ministry, the country's 8 civil prisons have a collective capacity of approximately 5,000 persons; however, the prisons at times were filled to more than 3 times their capacity. The prison in Natitingou (in Atacora province) was the only one of eight prisons nationwide below full capacity. While delayed due to funding problems, a new 1,000-person prison still was under construction in Akpro-Misserete (Oueme department) at year's end. On the eve of the August 1 Independence Day holiday, the Government granted partial amnesty or modified the sentences of some prisoners convicted of minor crimes, such as petty theft. The Government permitted prison visits by human rights monitors, and NGOs continued their prison visits. In December the Benin Commission for Human Rights (CBDH) made unannounced visits to several prisons.

 

WOMEN

Domestic violence against women, including wife beating, was common. According to incomplete court statistics for Cotonou in 1999, only 35 criminal proceedings based on reports of violence against women were ongoing at the end of 1999. The maximum penalty ranges from 6 to 36 months' imprisonment. NGO observers believe that women remained reluctant to report cases. Judges and police also were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes; society and law enforcement considered such cases to be an internal family matter. The Government generally was unsuccessful in preventing FGM, which was legal. FGM was practiced on females ranging from infancy through 30 years of age and generally took the form of excision. Surveys, including one conducted by the World Health Organization in 1999, reliably estimated that the number of women who had undergone FGM at approximately 50 percent. A prominent NGO, the Benin chapter of the Inter-African Committee, made progress in raising awareness of the dangers of the practice, and the Government cooperated with its efforts. According to recent research, there was a strong profit motive in the continued practice of FGM by those who performed the procedure, usually older women. The efforts of NGOs and others to educate rural communities about the dangers of FGM and to retrain FGM practitioners in other activities continued during the year. The press reported that the number of girls and women undergoing FGM decreased significantly each year since 1996. The NGO APEM believed that if the trend continued, the practice could be eradicated by 2005. Although the Constitution provides for equality for women in the political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive societal discrimination, especially in rural areas where they occupied a subordinate role and were responsible for much of the hard labor on subsistence farms. In urban areas, women dominated the trading sector in the open-air markets. By law women have equal inheritance and property rights, but local custom in some areas prevented them from inheriting real property. The long-debated Family Code finally was approved by the National Assembly in June. It was being reviewed by the Constitutional Court at year's end. Critics called it a women's code and charged that it would give women unfair advantages. The code strengthened the inheritance and property rights for women, among other things; however, both opponents and supporters considered that the legislation was only a first step and that the code likely will be amended.

CHILDREN

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs was responsible for the protection of children's rights, primarily in the areas of education and health. The National Commission for Children's Rights and the Ministry of Family, Social Protection, and Solidarity had oversight roles in the promotion of human rights issues with regard to children and their welfare. Education was free but not compulsory. In some parts of the country, girls received no formal education. The Government was trying to boost primary school enrollment, which was approximately 95 percent of boys and approximately 66 percent of girls nationwide; only 26 percent of boys and only 12 percent of girls were enrolled in secondary school. Girls did not enjoy the same educational opportunities as boys, and female literacy was approximately 18 percent (compared with 50 percent for men). However, elementary school pass rates in recent years highlighted significant progress by girls in literacy and scholastic achievement. There was a tradition in which a groom abducts and rapes his prospective child bride (under 14 years of age). Criminal courts meted out stiff sentences to criminals convicted of crimes against children, but many such crimes never reached the courts due to lack of education and access to the courts or fear of police involvement in the problem. The Government, in concert with NGOs, made serious efforts to combat child abuse and trafficking in children, including media campaigns, programs to assist street children, greater border surveillance, and a conference on trafficking. Following the April 2001 arrival of the Etireno, a ship reportedly transporting trafficked children, the National Commission on Children's Rights prepared an action plan to counter child trafficking. The plan was presented to the Government and financing for it still was pending at year's end. Despite such efforts, the abuse of children remained a serious problem. Some traditional practices inflicted hardship and violence on children, including most prominently the custom of "vidomegon," whereby poor, often rural, families place a child, primarily a daughter, in the home of a more wealthy family to avoid the burden the child represents to the parental family. The children work, but the arrangement was voluntary between the two families. There was a considerable amount of abuse in the practice, and there were instances of sexual exploitation. Approximately 90 to 95 percent of the children in vidomegon were young girls. Children were sent from poorer families to Cotonou and then some of the children were sent to Gabon, Cote d'Ivoire, and Central African Republic to help in markets and around the home. The child received living accommodation, while income generated from the child's activities was split between the child's parents in the rural area and the urban family that raised the child. Following the Etireno incident, the Government renewed its analysis of the impact of vidomegon. In March a 12-year-old child living in vidomegon reportedly committed suicide because of ill treatment. In June a woman reportedly beat to death a 6-year-old child living in her household, then she returned the body to the child's parents for burial.

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS

Although no law specifically prohibits trafficking in persons, the Government interprets its laws as prohibiting trafficking in persons in general and in underage girls in particular; however, there were reports of trafficking in children, which continued to be the subject of considerable media coverage. Longstanding provisions of the criminal code prohibit kidnaping. The country was a source, transit, and destination for trafficked persons, primarily children. The Constitution and the law prohibit child prostitution; however enforcement was not effective and frequently lax. Child prostitution mainly involved young girls. They were from poor families who urged them to become prostitutes to provide income for the family. They were abused sexually by teachers who sought sex for better grades. They were lured to exchange sex for money by older men who acted as their "protectors." There were street children who became prostitutes to support themselves. There were reports of sexual tourism and reports that adult males preferred young girls because they were viewed as less demanding and less likely to have HIV/AIDS. The Government organized assistance to child prostitution victims and worked jointly with NGOs and international organizations on prevention programs. The Government publicized various arrests of potential traffickers; however, there were no reports of subsequent legal action against the alleged traffickers. Internal trafficking of children within the country took place in connection with the forced servitude practice called "vidomegon," whereby poor, often rural, families place a child, primarily a daughter, in the home of a more affluent family to avoid the burden the child represents to the parental family. The children worked, but the arrangement was voluntary between the two families. Children were trafficked to Ghana, Nigeria, and Gabon for indentured or domestic servitude, farm labor, and prostitution. In addition, hundreds of children were taken across the border to Togo and Cote d'Ivoire to work on plantations. Children from Niger, Togo, and Burkina Faso have been trafficked to the country for indentured or domestic servitude. Most victims leave home with traffickers who promise educational opportunities or other incentives. Following a child labor conference in 2000, it was reported in an ILO-IPEC report "Combatting Trafficking in Children for Labor Exploitation in West and Central Africa" that 3,061 children were known to have been trafficked in the country between 1995 and 1999. The ILO and UNICEF reported that trafficking originated mainly in the depressed rural areas. UNICEF also reported that trafficked persons originated primarily from the country's southernmost provinces, those with the easiest access to the paved coastal highway that links Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. UNICEF also indicated that girls were far more likely to be trafficked than boys. According to UNICEF, four distinct forms of trafficking occur in the country. "Trafic-don" was the term given to a practice whereby children were given to a migrant family member or stranger, who turned them over to another stranger for vocational training or education. "Trafic-gage" was a form of indentured servitude, in which a debt was incurred to transport the child, who was not allowed to return home until the debt was repaid. "Trafic-ouvier" was the most common variant, and it was estimated at to be 75 percent of the total traffic of the three provinces UNICEF surveyed in 2000. This practice generally involved children aged 6 years to 12 years, and they worked as artisans, construction laborers, or agricultural or domestic workers. Lastly, "trafic-vente" was simply the outright sale of children. According to a survey of child labor conducted in 1999 by the Government, the World Bank, and National Institute of Statistics and Economics, 49,000 rural children, constituting 8 percent of the rural child population between the ages of 6 and 16, work abroad, primarily as agricultural workers on plantations in Cote d'Ivoire and as domestic workers in Gabon. Only children who had been trafficked explicitly for labor purposes were counted among the 49,000 children that were estimated to be victims of trafficking. However, the children who left "for other reasons" may conceal an additional number of trafficked children and bring the number close to 80,000. Of the trafficked children, 61 percent were boys and 39 percent were girls. Organized child traffickers particularly have victimized certain villages, and there were villages where up to 51 percent of children were trafficked. At year's end, none of the persons arrested in connection with the MV Etireno, a ship suspected of carrying trafficked children in March 2001, had been brought to trial. Following the arrival of the Etireno, the Government undertook a formal investigation and produced a final report, cosigned by UNICEF and Terre des Hommes, an NGO. The final report stressed the regional nature of the trafficking problem, asked for international assistance to help the Government improve its antitrafficking measures, and criticized the tone of international media's coverage of the event. No further action was taken by year's end. The Government was limited severely by a lack of resources, but did recognize that trafficking was a problem. To prevent trafficking, the Government worked with international organizations to increase literacy rates, diversify the economy, and improve health care. The Brigade for the Protection of Minors, under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry, fought crimes against children. The Brigade estimated that between 1998 and the beginning of 2001, the various border control agencies, including gendarmes and police, intercepted 2,053 children at borders other than the port of Cotonou. The Government also worked with NGOs to combat trafficking in children, taking measures that included media campaigns and greater border surveillance; however, police complained that they lacked equipment to monitor trafficking adequately. The Government participated in a two-part ILO trafficking project with seven other countries (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo). The Government also has bilateral agreements with Togo, Gabon, and Nigeria, which focus on border control and repatriation of trafficking victims. During the year, the Government concluded a formal agreement with Government of Gabon for the repatriation and reintegration of trafficked children. In August 2001 in Abomey-Calvi, a group of magistrates held a conference to discuss better ways to enforce the country's existing laws against trafficking and displacement of persons. In August 2001, the city of Cotonou hosted a subregional conference of West African police chiefs to discuss their broad array of trafficking cases, including women and children, and to explore more effective ways to integrate their enforcement and interdiction efforts. Although there was no evidence of concrete results, the subregion's police chiefs adopted resolutions pledging increased information sharing on border control issues; the magistrates created a compilation of existing laws and regulations related to trafficking and discussed methods of improving enforcement efforts.

DRUG TRAFFICKING

During 1998 Benin took some small, but positive steps in the fight against illegal narcotics trafficking, but overall its efforts remained inadequate. The government continues to make incremental changes to its law enforcement system by building upon the foundation laid by passage of the 1997 Beninese law which increased sentences for traffickers, criminalized money laundering, and permitted the forfeiture of drug-related assets. Still in the process of being implemented, this law could go a long way toward making Benin a less hospitable country for drug traffickers. Enforcement will be the key. While the new anti-drug law provides hope that Benin can improve its performance, in practice its current drug enforcement efforts are inadequate. Resources allocated to the police unit charged with drug enforcement are far below minimum requirements, and there is no concerted government plan to combat trafficking. Traffickers from neighboring Nigeria operate with impunity in Benin. Benin is not now, nor is it likely to become, a significant producer of drugs or a source of precursor chemicals. Marijuana is grown in Benin, and is consumed almost exclusively in Benin. There is some money laundering in Benin.

Traffickers use legal businesses to camouflage drug operations and buy assets, particularly real estate, to launder illicit profits. Until the passage of 1997 anti-narcotics legislation, there was no legal framework to prevent laundering through the local banking system. Government authorities suspect that a flourishing markets in used cars and second-hand clothing are used as a method of laundering drug money, but have not taken concrete actions to interfere with these trades.The government of Benin has yet to systematically enforce its own comprehensive anti-narcotics law enacted in 1997. This law provides stronger sentences for trafficking, provides for asset forfeiture, criminalizes money laundering, and provides for increased inter-agency cooperation in combating trafficking. The law was based on a model law prepared by the UNDCP to bring countries into compliance with the 1988 UN Drug Convention. Few tangible accomplishments on the counternarcotics front were recorded in Benin in 1998. Benin's excellent anti-narcotics law has not had any practical impact. Beninese authorities are unsure who is responsible for enforcing the provisions against money laundering and more generally how the law is to be enforced. The new law also provides a useful law enforcement tool in its asset forfeiture provisions, but little effort has been made thus far to educate law enforcement personnel on how these provisions can be used. Seizures of drugs in the Cotonou area have declined in recent years while seizures in other parts of Benin have increased. While there are periodic newspaper accounts of marijuana being seized in rural areas and traffickers arrested in Benin, the lack of a strong centralized police structure hinders enforcement efforts. Resources devoted to drug enforcement remain far below adequate levels. Little effort is made to pursue major traffickers despite widespread acknowledgment that trafficking is a serious problem in Benin. The few law enforcement resources that do exist are exclusively devoted to arresting and prosecuting small-scale couriers and users. The more complex investigations necessary to break up trafficking groups are beyond the capabilities of the local police force. There has been an increased level of public discussion of corruption and several high profile cases have surfaced involving government officials. Following highly publicized reports alleging non narcotics-related corrupt activities, the Directors General of the state-run petroleum company, cotton company and electricity/water utilities company were fired, and the Chief of Staff of the armed forces resigned. In July 1998, the media reported that an investigation would be conducted into allegations that Benin's Ambassador to the United Nations had used the diplomatic pouch to traffic in illicit narcotics. Initial press reports indicated that the Ambassador would not be allowed to return to New York until the investigation was completed. A few weeks later he returned to his post without publicity; no investigation results have been made public. In another case, a high ranking police officer was killed in early 1998. It is widely believed he was killed for uncovering, and attempting to publicize, high-level government corruption. Overall, little real progress was made in addressing the entrenched and institutionalized corruption existing among career government bureaucrats although the issue itself has become the subject of great discussion in the privately-owned news media and among civil society organizations. Despite the issuance of recommendations by a Presidential Task Force, there is a widespread resistance to reform efforts. A cooperation agreement between the Beninese and the French governments is in place under which the French will provide 3 million French Francs (ca. $500,000) to assist in drug enforcement activities. The French made their assistance contingent on several actions by the Beninese, including passage of the anti-narcotics law. Although the law was passed, the Beninese have not yet met an additional condition that they hire 300 new law enforcement officers (150 gendarmes and 150 police officers) and, consequently, the assistance has not been forthcoming. French aid will be used to train and help organize a central anti-drug office encompassing police, gendarmes, and customs officers. The only significant drug cultivated in Benin is marijuana, and no figures are available regarding the amounts grown. Heroin bound for the U.S. and Europe transits Benin. Benin also continues to be an important transshipment point for cocaine and marijuana. It is believed that these drugs depart Benin primarily through its International Airport in Cotonou. However, we have no evidence that such drugs reach the U.S. in sufficient quantities to significantly affect this country.

There are no significant demand reduction programs in Benin. The primary U.S. goal is to build on successful bilateral anti-narcotics cooperation efforts to combat the flow of drugs transiting Benin to the U.S. The U.S. and Benin signed a Letter of Agreement in 1995 under which the U.S. agreed to provide assistance to the narcotics squad in the form of radios and testing kits. 15 Motorola radios and close to a 1,000 drug testing kits for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana were provided to the Beninese National Police in September 1998 under the terms of this Agreement. Road Ahead. Training is the biggest single need to improve narcotics law enforcement in Benin. Efforts are underway to respond to the need for training in Africa generally. Prosecutors and police could also benefit from training in the use of Benin's new asset forfeiture legislation. In a country where law enforcement resources are so inadequate, this law could provide law enforcement personnel with additional resources and stronger incentives to pursue drug traffickers. The problem in Benin, however, is inadequate government emphasis on the growing trafficking problem. Benin needs to do more to protect its own people from the threat of narcotics and to fulfill its international responsibilities.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Internet research assisted by Heng Hear

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