Benin’s former president, Nicéphore Dieudonné Soglo, was with President Patrice Talon at the Marina Palace on 19 February 2022. This was part of the opening of the exhibition of the 26 art works returned by the French State. Known for often speaking out against the break-up, could this rapprochement be a coincidence or a giant step towards reconciliation?
“Peace is not an empty word, but a behaviour. Has this famous quote from the Ivorian Félix Houphouet-Boigny passed through the minds of two Beninese political leaders? Indeed, former president Nicéphore Soglo was absent in the gardens of the presidency on 10 November 2021 on the occasion of the reception ceremony of the royal treasures. This absence had already attracted the attention of many Beninese who wondered whether Soglo was still speaking his mind with his younger brother. The alleged points of conflict between the two were not clarified when he was suddenly seen alongside President Patrice Talon at the opening of the exhibition of 26 art works returned by France on 19 February.
Culture brought together or need to make peace?
A week earlier, the Head of State was at the home of his elder brother, according to corroborating sources. The discussions took place behind closed doors and lasted about an hour. Has Nicéphore Soglo convinced Patrice Talon? The question remains. Since the former Soglo has always contested the opinions of the leader of the rupture and has never expressed the desire to meet him for anything. For some, it was the royal treasures that brought these personalities together because, beyond personal conflicts, one must think of the general interest of the people. But for others, beyond that, it is a political manoeuvre to distract the people. From another point of view, it may be a political rapprochement to appease the Beninese people and particularly the opposition, which has been in turmoil for a long time. On the other hand, since he is from Abomey, he must pay tribute to the remains of his great grandparents as a worthy descendant of the kings of Dahomey.
Closures that won’t let the peace flow easily
Is the former Beninese president seeking a presidential pardon from the current head of state for the return of his son Lehady to the country? It may be difficult for President Soglo to overcome his differences with Talon. Indeed, the thing he disagrees with most is his style of governance. Moreover, the conviction of his son Lehady Soglo, former mayor of the city of Cotonou, to 10 years’ imprisonment by the Court of Repression of Economic Offences and Terrorism (Criet) for abuse of office will not make reconciliation easy. The latter was obliged to take refuge in France to escape his country’s justice system, which did not allow him to pay his last respects to his late mother Vieyra Soglo. Without forgetting, however, the situation of political exiles, which the former president had decried for a long time.
Perhaps we should take advantage of this moment of clemency when the president of the republic returns from the EU-AU summit with Lionel Zinsou, former prime minister under Yayi Boni and challenger to President Talon in the 2016 presidential elections. Previously, he had been sentenced to four years of ineligibility and a fine of five million CFA francs for “exceeding election campaign expenses”. This return, which surprised most Beninese, seems to be part of a predisposition by the Head of State to pardon certain convictions. In spite of everything, it is undeniable to recognise that Benin is one and indivisible. Sometimes you have to put your opinions aside for the sake of the country. I hope that this step will be a giant step towards easing the tensions between these great leaders of the Beninese republic.