Women wearing red prepare coconut cakes in Cotonou. Photos published on the Facebook page of Red Wednesday.
Every Wednesday since the middle of July, hundreds of Beninese have turned out wearing red. This is not a fashion statement but a new way of protesting against the constitutional reform proposed by President Yayi Boni.
The Movement "Citizen’s Alternative" launched the "Red Wednesday” campaign on Wednesday 17 July to bring together all their gripes against Yayi Boni from over the past 7 years. Their main complaint is the proposed constitutional reform which would allow the outgoing president to stand for a third term in office after the end of his mandate in 2016.
Every Wednesday, supporters of the movement gather wearing red T-shirts, bracelets and baseball caps.
The movement is mainly organised through Facebook and via SMS. And it is getting large enough to annoy the government. On 31st July and 1st August, the commemoration of Benin’s independence, several hundred people descended on the streets of Cotonou wearing red T-shirts, baseball caps or other red clothing. Several people were arrested for disturbing public order at the heavily supervised protests. The most notable person to be arrested was one of the leaders of the movement, former Communications Minister Gaston Zossou, who described on his Facebook page how his house was surrounded by police before his arrest.
In response to "Red Wednesday", supporters of Yayi Boni have launched the “White Friday” counter movement but, for the time being, it has not caught on to the same extent. The Interior Minister, Benoît Dégla, declared that "the supposed causes for which the initiators of the red Wednesday are campaigning are groundless” and dismissed the movement as simply “intoxication”.
Soldiers surround Gaston Zossou's house on 1st August.
"It is the spark that has got people interested in politics!"
Alexandre John Tikpa is a computer technician in Cotonou.
Red is above all a symbol of courage, it is one of the colours on the Benin flag. But for me, it is also the colour of anger, a way of denouncing a regime which is addicted to power and which is trying to cheat its population.The Red Wednesday is organised by those who reject changes to the Constitution but who are also seizing the opportunity to denounce bad governance, revoke freedoms, and protest against hunger. What is happening resembles what occurred in 2009 [Yayi Boni instructed a technical commission of experts to examine the Constitution before back-peddling because of opposition demonstrations and civil society].This initiative has given young people - who are not always politically engaged – ideas. For example, a motorbike brigade all dressed in red has been created and they tour the main roads of the country’s big towns. It is the spark that has got them interested in politics! [The movement has launched a speech competition on the topic of the constitution.]I don’t think the government was expecting such a reaction. But as we say in Benin, the person who brings the tam-tam can’t complain about the noise.
Photo on streets of Cotonou published on 31st July.