Partly Free
PR Political Rights 17 40
CL Civil Liberties 42 60
Last Year's Score & Status
59 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Benin had been among the most stable democracies in sub-Saharan Africa, but President Patrice Talon began using the justice system to attack his political opponents after taking office in 2016, and new electoral rules and a crackdown on his political opponents enabled him to consolidate his power in 2021. Deadly police violence at political protests, arrests of activists, and other restrictions on civil liberties have become increasingly problematic in recent years.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • Approximately fifty members of the opposition who had been imprisoned during the 2021 election period were released in June and July; however, major opposition figures, including imprisoned 2021 presidential candidate Reckya Madougou, remained behind bars through year’s end.
  • In November, the Democrats, Benin’s main opposition party, were barred from contesting the 2023 legislative elections for failing to provide required tax information; the party was ultimately allowed to register later that month after the Constitutional Court ruled in its favor. At year’s end, seven parties—including three opposition parties—had been registered for the 2023 elections.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 1.001 4.004

The president is elected by popular vote for up to two five-year terms and serves as both the chief of state and head of government. In 2021, Patrice Talon won reelection as president with 86 percent of the vote. The authorities had disqualified, arrested, or forced into exile the major opposition candidates, leaving only two opponents who posed no significant competition. Elected members of progovernment parties had veto power over which candidates qualified for the ballot, and some opposition parties boycotted the election. Peaceful protesters against the unfair and noncompetitive contest were injured, and at least five people were killed after security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition into the air. Official voter turnout was 50 percent, a historic low for the country’s multiparty presidential contests; civil society groups estimate turnout at 26 percent. Observers described election day as “calm” and “orderly.”

Constitutional amendments created the largely ceremonial position of vice president in 2019. Mariam Chabi Talata, Talon’s running mate in 2021, became the first to hold the office.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 1.001 4.004

Delegates to the 83-member, unicameral National Assembly serve four-year terms and are elected by proportional representation. The 2019 legislative elections were neither free nor fair, as new electoral rules effectively prevented all opposition parties from participating. Observers canceled poll-monitoring plans for fear of violence, turnout fell to about a quarter of eligible voters amid an opposition boycott, there was an internet shutdown on election day, and security forces violently suppressed protests before and after balloting, resulting in several deaths.

Only the two progovernment parties on the ballot won seats. In November 2021, the new National Assembly adopted constitutional amendments, including provisions imposing three-term limits on legislators, expanding the body to 109 seats, and extending terms to five years beginning in 2026 to align them with those of the president. The government ignored a call by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) for these amendments’ repeal before the presidential election.

Municipal elections were held in 2020, ignoring an AfCHPR order to suspend them and ensure opposition participation. Sébastien Ajavon, a businessman living in exile after receiving a drug trafficking conviction in 2018, had sued after opposition parties were barred from participating. The Progressive Union and the Republican Bloc won most local council seats, while the Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE), the only opposition group to field candidates, won 14 percent of them. In 2021, the AfCHPR ruled in Ajavon’s case that Benin had violated its human rights obligations.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 1.001 4.004

Elections are conducted by the Autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA). Following the passage of a restrictive electoral law in 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that parties must obtain a “certificate of conformity” from the Interior Ministry. In 2019, CENA approved only two progovernment parties for the legislative election. CENA also barred most opposition groups from the 2020 local elections.

Legislative elections scheduled for 2023 will be run by a restructured CENA largely appointed by Talon and his allies. As of the end of 2022, seven parties—four progovernment, three opposition—were registered to contest the 2023 elections. CENA initially disqualified the main opposition party, the Democrats, in November 2022 for failing to provide required tax information. The party was ultimately allowed to register after appealing the decision to the Constitutional Court, which found in the party’s favor later that month.

Due to a 2019 amendment requiring presidential candidates to be endorsed by 10 percent of mayors and members of the National Assembly, the disqualifications of opposition parties in the 2019 and 2020 elections empowered members of Talon’s party to disqualify all but two candidates for the 2021 presidential election.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 2.002 4.004

After multiparty elections were restored in 1991, Benin generally had a large number of active political parties. However, the 2018 electoral code established restrictive rules including an unusually high 10 percent national threshold and an onerous increase in obligatory financial deposits. Costs for presidential candidates were reduced in 2019, but other requirements were introduced, including the need for endorsements and a vice presidential candidate.

All opposition parties were excluded from the 2019 parliamentary contest. As of December 2022, three opposition parties had been permitted to register for the 2023 legislative elections.

The FCBE was able to put forward a candidate for the 2021 presidential election. Though the Democrats won recognition in December 2020, the party’s presidential candidate, Reckya Madougou, was arrested before the election. The leader of a disqualified front of opposition parties, Joël Aïvo, was arrested shortly after the polls.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 1.001 4.004

Talon’s defeat of Lionel Zinsou, former president Thomas Boni Yayi’s chosen successor in the 2016 election, marked Benin’s fourth presidential transfer of power between rival groups since 1991.

However, Talon’s government has since introduced significant obstacles to opposition parties and presidential candidates, and leading opposition figures have faced harassment and prosecution. Zinsou, Ajavon, and others have been sentenced in absentia to extensive sentences and remain in exile. Madougou and Aïvo were disqualified from the 2021 presidential ballot, arrested, and, in December of that year, sentenced to 20 and 10 years in prison, respectively. Approximately fifty members of the opposition imprisoned during 2021 were released in June and July 2022.

Under the 2019 constitutional amendments, no president can serve more than two terms in their life, even if they are nonconsecutive; some alleged this provision was aimed at Boni Yayi.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 3.003 4.004

Politics have generally been free from military interference. The role of personal wealth in politics has increased in recent years, with higher campaign costs and clientelist structures boosting the careers of wealthier politicians. Talon developed his private businesses in part by financing the campaigns of Boni Yayi and other elites and then securing lucrative contracts. After becoming president, Talon allegedly attempted to bribe lawmakers while working to secure passage of constitutional amendments.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3.003 4.004

Women and minority groups are not legally excluded from political participation, but cultural factors limit women’s engagement. Women won just 7 percent of the seats in the 2019 parliamentary elections. Recent constitutional amendments reserve 24 seats for women in the next legislative term. Benin’s first vice president, Mariam Chabi Talata, is a woman.

Benin has historically been divided between northern and southern ethnic groups, and political parties often rely on ethnic bases of support. Southern-born Talon selected most of his political appointees from the southern Gbe-speaking region. The 2019 election of a southerner as National Assembly president broke with a tradition where legislative leaders and chief executives come from different regions. Vice President Talata is from the north.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 1.001 4.004

The president and the legislature generally determine government policy. However, the president and legislative representatives were not elected freely or fairly, and the lack of opposition members seriously undermines the legislature’s role as an independent branch of government.

The government does not consistently implement policy throughout Benin. In many rural areas, the state struggles to deliver basic services, and citizens instead rely on local customary and religious leaders.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2.002 4.004

Corruption remains widespread. Corrupt officials rarely face prosecution, contributing to a culture of impunity. In 2020, the National Anti-Corruption Authority (ANLC) was dissolved to be succeeded by the High Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (HCPC), which has the authority to refer corruption cases to court. The law establishing this office also removed aspects of public officials’ asset declaration requirements.

The Court of Punishment of Economic Crimes and Terrorism (CRIET) was established in 2018 to prosecute corruption, drug trafficking, and terrorism cases, but critics claim it targets political opponents and journalists.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2.002 4.004

The 2015 Information and Communication Code provides for public access to government records. However, information deemed sensitive, including national security, trade, and judicial documents, remains restricted.

A law passed in 2020 repealed asset declaration provisions for presidential candidates and government officials, and a 2021 joint report by the Clingendael Institute and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) indicates that the government is deliberately concealing increasingly violent communal conflicts in the north from the public.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2.002 4.004

Constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression are somewhat respected, and print outlets have expressed a wide variety of viewpoints. However, media outlets have encountered new scrutiny and restrictions under the Talon administration.

Defamation remains a crime punishable by fines, and media outlets critical of the government have increasingly risked suspension. Major television broadcasters have been shuttered by the High Authority for Audiovisual Media and Communication (HAAC) and remain so, despite court orders reversing those actions. In 2020, the HAAC banned all “unauthorized” online news outlets, suspending three outlets temporarily; others ignored the order.

A 2017 digital media law allows for the prosecution and imprisonment of journalists for online content that is allegedly false or harasses individuals.

In February 2022, Beninese journalist Flore Nobime and Dutch journalist Olivier van Beemen were arrested and held for four days on specious charges of espionage after failing to notify authorities that they would be working near Pendjari National Park. The charges were ultimately dropped, but authorities ordered that van Beemen be deported. In December, a journalist was arrested after publishing a story on alleged extrajudicial executions by the police; he was detained for two days and charged with spreading false news to disturb the peace. If convicted, he faces up to 6 months’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 Central African francs ($807).

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

Academic freedom is largely respected.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4.004 4.004

There are no major restrictions on personal expression, and individuals generally are not subject to surveillance or reprisals when discussing political or other sensitive matters.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 2.002 4.004

Freedom of assembly has traditionally been respected; permit and registration requirements for demonstrations are not always enforced. A COVID-19-related ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, which authorities had sometimes used to prevent political opponents from organizing meetings and rallies, was lifted in March 2022.

Security forces violently dispersed opposition protests before the election in 2021 by firing tear gas and live ammunition into the air, resulting in at least five civilian deaths.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3.003 4.004

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including human rights groups, generally operate freely, but individual activists have been arrested in increasing numbers. Large numbers of political figures and activists were arrested leading up to and after the 2021 presidential election; several of those arrested at that time were released in 2022.

New regulations included in a 2021 draft law would require civil society organizations to renew their registration and pay a significant fee, which may limit small NGOs’ ability to operate and enable the authorities to withdraw the registration of organizations that criticize the government. Beninese NGOs can no longer bring cases to the AfCHPR after Benin withdrew from a relevant protocol in 2020.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3.003 4.004

Workers, except certain civil servants and public employees, have the right to form and join unions, and to bargain collectively, with some restrictions. Public employees in the defense, health, justice, and security sectors are barred from striking; workers in other sectors may strike for a maximum of 10 days per year.

The National Assembly voted to ban workers in the hydrocarbon sector and at the port and airport in Cotonou from striking in October 2022, following a September strike by air traffic controllers.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 2.002 4.004

Although the judiciary has demonstrated some independence, the courts are susceptible to corruption. Judges are not nominated or promoted transparently.

Judicial independence was undermined when President Talon’s personal lawyer, Joseph Djogbénou, was named Constitutional Court president in 2018. The court has since issued a number of decisions that favor the government, intensifying concerns about its autonomy. Djogbénou stepped down in July 2022 to take over leadership of the progovernment Progressive Union party.

CRIET also lacks independence. Judges were appointed by decree in 2018, in lieu of a transparent confirmation process. A CRIET judge resigned and fled the country in 2021, reporting that the court is used to prosecute Talon’s political opponents.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 2.002 4.004

Due process usually prevails in criminal and civil matters. However, judicial inefficiency, corruption, and a shortage of attorneys in the north inhibit the right to a fair trial. Lack of resources contributes to often lengthy pretrial detentions. Arbitrary arrests and detentions occasionally occur, sometimes with extreme sentencing, particularly in the CRIET.

During the 2021 presidential election period, reports suggest that large numbers of opposition leaders and activists were arrested by the authorities. Reckya Madougou—a prominent prodemocracy campaigner, former justice minister, and presidential candidate—was arrested and detained on spurious terrorism charges in March 2021 and, despite a lack of evidence, sentenced to 20 years in prison that December. In November 2022, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Madougou’s release after ruling that her 2021 arrest was devoid of legal basis and that her detention is arbitrary.

According to international rights NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), hundreds of nonviolent individuals were arrested for politically motivated reasons in 2021.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3.003 4.004

The population is free from war and other major physical threats, though the threat of terrorism is growing in the north. Approximately 20 people were killed in terrorist attacks during 2022, including at least 12 soldiers.

Prison conditions are harsh. Prisoners face overcrowding, lack of access to food and water, and occasional physical abuse. Police brutality remains a problem, including beatings and torture of suspects. Superiors often shield perpetrators from prosecution.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3.003 4.004

Relations among Benin’s ethnic groups are generally amicable, despite recent political tensions. Minority ethnic groups have typically been represented in government agencies, the civil service, and the armed forces. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, and disability, but not sexual orientation. The 1996 penal code imposes a higher age of consent for same-sex sexual activity (21) than for heterosexual activity (13). LGBT+ people face social stigma and discrimination in practice. In February 2022, police detained and severely beat a transgender woman who had been the victim of an assault, forcing her to remain naked in detention for three days before releasing her without charge.

Women experience discrimination in employment and access to credit, health care, and education.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3.003 4.004

Individuals can generally move freely throughout Benin. However, in some rural areas, cultural traditions force women to remain indoors for extended periods.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3.003 4.004

Reforms to the business registration process, anticorruption efforts, and other regulatory changes since 2010 improved the business environment. However, property registration is difficult, and contract enforcement is inconsistent. Despite laws guaranteeing equal rights to inheritance for women, many women are denied the right to inherit property in practice.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2.002 4.004

Domestic violence remains a serious problem, and women are often reluctant to report domestic abuse. A 2003 law that prohibits female genital mutilation (FGM) was somewhat effective in reducing its occurrence, though the challenge persists. Marriage for those under 18 years old is prohibited, though exceptions are allowed for 14- to 17-year-olds with parental consent. Child marriage and forced marriage remain common in rural areas.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

Legal protections against forced labor and other exploitative working conditions are unevenly enforced. Poor conditions are prevalent in the large informal sector, which was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Human trafficking is widespread, despite increased convictions for the crime in recent years. The practice of sending young girls to wealthy families to work as domestic servants has led to cases of exploitation and sexual slavery. Children are also exploited for agricultural labor and work in various trades.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    59 100 partly free