In the past several years, through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the United States has funneled more than $300 million to Benin to help improve the nation’s infrastructure. A condition to the grants included Benin adhering to a certain standard of human rights and respect for the rule of law. Now, a substantial new grant is under consideration. But no additional funding from the U.S. should be sent to Benin without a guarantee that the government restores respect for human rights and the rule of law.
The American government should insist upon the release of Soumanou, who has been in prison under deplorable conditions for more than nine months without any substantive charges against him. He has a daughter and son-in-law who reside in Virginia. Soumanou’s son-in-law is an American citizen and his daughter is a permanent U.S. resident. As such, they are entitled to the assistance of our government.
Benin has been an important ally in an area critical to U.S. interests. Located on the Gulf of Guinea, Benin shares a long and porous border with Nigeria, an important trade partner. Its northern region is in close proximity to areas eyed by Islamist terrorists as havens. Benin’s stability and cordial relationship with the West is an important, even vital, objective. The United States needs to bolster the forces of democracy and strengthen human rights wherever possible as the best bulwark against aggression and radicalism.
Benin appears to be on the cusp of sliding backwards, away from progress and toward an ugly past. The United States should make its displeasure known and should refuse to make additional funds available to Benin until President Yayi pledges to respect his nation’s democratic institutions, protect human rights and adhere to the rule of law.
Former Sens. Robert Bennett, R-Wyo., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., are senior policy advisers at Arent Fox LLP. The firm represents Patrice Talon.