The Africa Center for Strategic Studies’ most recent Topical Outreach Program Series took place in Benin and Nigeria during Oct. 17-21. The first stop was Benin where the topic of elections and security was especially pertinent because the country is preparing for national elections.
Some 90 attendees, to include the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy, ranking Beninese military, and other Benin Chapter members, attended the one-day symposium on Oct. 20. Mathurin Houngnikpo, PhD, Chair of Civil-Military Relations at the Africa Center, spoke about the challenges that can occur before and after elections. An additional event was held at the Armed Forces Headquarters to discuss some of the practical challenges security officials may face during elections. The Africa Center also hosted a Community Reunion Meeting during the visit. Community Affairs Specialist Ms. Emily Renard managed this TOPS visit.
Dr. Houngnikpo stressed that democracy is a debate of ideas, not a physical battle between people. He reinforced the concept of political neutrality and the critical role the armed forces can play in elections by remaining non-partisan.
Poverty and corruption are challenges that many countries face. Dr. Houngnikpo encouraged symposium attendees to be creative in how they address these issues and to find solutions that make sense in the Beninese context. Dr. Houngnikpo reminded attendees that peace and stability often do not exist without democracy; and without peace and stability, there cannot be development.
The outreach program in Nigeria on Oct. 19, overseen by Community Affairs Specialist Ms. Amanda Balderston, focused on elections and the role that legitimate choice plays in enhancing the prospects for democratization. Presentations were given by Monde Muyangwa, PhD, the Africa Center’s Academic Dean, and Professor Kingsley Macebuh, formerly of the City University of New York and who currently resides in Nigeria.
Dr. Muyangwa discussed the case studies of elections in Ghana, Kenya, and Zimbabwe and the lessons learned from those experiences. She noted the lack of implementation of normative standards and an attitude of winner take all.
Professor Macebuh’s talk focused on Nigeria as a presidential federal state, noting that is also the model in the U.S. and Argentina. He said that both countries had taken nearly 100 years to become legitimate democracies with credible elections. On a note of optimism, Professor Macebuh said that even though Nigeria is still a young democracy, it is catching up to other older democratic states.