KEY OPPOSITION LEADERS DISQUALIFIED, EXILED OR UNDER INVESTIGATION IN BENIN’S PRESIDENTIAL POLL

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore…and then run?”

Those were the prophetic words of poet Langston Hughes but they could also explain the rising frustration in an African election season where hopes for a democratic change are deferred and the incumbent holds on to power year after year after year.

Votes are now being counted in the West African nation of Benin, long praised as a thriving multi-party democracy but critics say President Patrice Talon has steered the country into authoritarianism with a steady crackdown on his opponents.

In January, 17 opposition candidates hoping to run in this month’s election were rejected by the national election commission. Among them was well-known law professor Joel Aivo and Reckya Madougou of the opposition, and former minister Boni Yayi. Avio, under arrest since the beginning of March, is accused of financing terrorist activities.

This past week, one protestor was killed and six were wounded by gunfire after troops cleared the protestors before the polls. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc condemned “peaceful protests that gradually turned violent in several cities across the country.” The US State Department on Friday also urged Benin to remain peaceful.

In north-central Chad, votes are being counted following a presidential poll in which incumbent Idriss Deby is widely expected to extend his 30-year rule amid growing signs of popular discontent and criticism over his handling of oil wealth.

A key ally in the West’s anti-jihadist campaign in the Sahel, Deby, 68, has no major rivals after a campaign in which demonstrations were banned or dispersed.

After the incumbent and his wife cast their votes in the capital N’Djamena, Deby spoke to the press: “I am calling upon all men and women of Chad wherever they are to come out in force and vote to exercise their right and duty to choose the candidate they think is best for them,” he said, brushing aside some opposition parties’ calls to boycott the polls.

A former rebel and career soldier who seized power in a coup in 1990, Deby has twice thwarted attempts to oust him with French help.

Chad has struggled with poverty and instability since gaining independence from France in 1960.

Last but not least, Djibouti veteran ruler Ismail Guelleh is now confirmed as president for another term, with final results showing he won over 97% of votes.

But only 215,000 Djiboutians registered to vote out of a total population of 990,000 people.

“We are entering a period of five years of problems, more than ever,” said Mahamoud Youssouf Ali, a taxi driver in an interview with AFP news. “Five years of problems, five years of unemployment, five years of fraud, five years where we will be put down.”