Benin Finds Democracy Does Not Boost Pay
COTONOU, BENIN — IN the middle of his 15-hour day as a motorcycle taxi driver in this run-down, West African capital, Marcos Doe pauses to explain a dilemma about the switch from dictatorship to democracy. In countries such as this one, he says, democracy brings a quick boost to morale, but not to paychecks."Now you can talk, no matter where," Mr. Doe explains. "You can criticize even the government. No one arrests you." Benin's peaceful shift to democracy earlier this year is sending a hopeful signal across Africa, but it hasn't helped Doe financially. Married with two children, he has not had a regular job since 1989. Meanwhile, he bounces across this city from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., trying to make enough from 30 cent rides to pay his bills. "Some days I earn $7 profit, sometimes $8. It's very difficult. In the rain, the sun, I never rest," Doe says. In this sliver of a country on the Atlantic Ocean, there is another universal fact about the transition to democracy: The first fairly-elected leader can quickly loose the glow of invincibility. Of President Nicephore Soglo, Benin journalist Karim Okanla says: "He's not really a politician; he's insecure; he doesn't know where to go." The former World Bank official, who was elected president in April, succeeded Mathieu Kerekou who seized power in a military coup in 1972. Since taking office, Mr. Soglo has been involved in a pay dispute with civil servants. And when he failed to settle a land-ownership squabble with the federal government near the capital Cotonou, the squabble became a riot. His expansion of the cabinet from 15 to 20 ministers also prompted widespread criticism that he is making government bigger instead of cutting back. Despite his World Bank experience, Soglo is not an economist, but "he's learning," says Robert Dossou, who also ran for president and is a member of the newly-elected National Assembly. After months of riots and strikes by civil servants, students, and others against President Kerekou in late 1989, Mr. Dossou helped organize a national conference of opposition leaders and government representatives early last year. At the conference, Soglo blamed Kkou for Benin's economic chaos. Soglo's boldness caught the imagination of conference delegates, who named him interim prime minister until multiparty elections could be held. Kkou, who called the conference "a civilian coup d'etat," could have opposed the results. Instead, he decided to run for president. In a run-off, he lost to Soglo by a 2-to-1 margin. But Kkou, carried most of his home region in the north. Along with the need to revive Benin's economy, bridging the animosity between north and south is one of Soglo's main challenges, analysts say. Albert Tevoedjre, who ran third in the vote, says "There is resentment in the north." Southerners hold most key leadership posts in the National Assembly. And there is an imbalance, Dossou says, in favor of southerners in the new cabinet. Sogolo has also been accused of appointing people to ministerial jobs not in line with their professional experience. Despite such criticism, Sogolo has a reputation for honesty and a commitment to accountability of public funds, something people here welcome. "Corruption was the system," under Kkou, says Herman Henning, former director of the American Culture Center here. "Before, money stayed in the hands of the leaders," says Fiedle Ayikoue, Soglo's director of information. Soglo has set up a commission to uncover past corruption and try to recoup funds allegedly smuggled out of Benin by officials of the Kkou government, but little has been accomplished so far. "We have a sense of forgive and forget," suggesting a reason why the search for dirt has produced little more than dust," says Ange Tingbo, deputy director of Catholic Relief Services. Besides, he says, there was no paper trail behind the corrupt deals. "People don't have the proof." While some experts argue there is no link between democracy and economic development, Adriean Houngbedji, president of the National Assembly says clamping down on corruption can boost the economy. "I think democracy is one of the conditions of our development," he says. "Freedom of the press requires leaders to do their work fairly, and honestly, reducing the chances of corruption." Honesty in government encourages economic initiative and investment, he says. If so, democracy may yet bring a steady job for motorcycle taxi driver Doe.