Angelo Djidjoho Houssou is a magistrate at the first class court of first instance of Cotonou. He is a holder of a degree in general administration (1998), of a maîtrise (bachelor degree plus one year post-graduate degree) in business law and judiciary careers (2001) and a DEA (Diploma of Advanced Studies) in the human person’s rights and democracy (2005), he has been for several years a juridical assistant at the constitutional Court of Benin (2000 to 2006). This investigating judge passionate about the law has been projected under the spotlights in 2012 when the tribunal entrusted him two big cases: one regarding the head of the state’s poisoning attempt and the other related to a coup plan in Benin. Despite the collision rumors with the regime in place, he ruled two famous dismissals of decisions that triggered his being nicknamed “Juge Courage” (Judge Courage) simultaneously with his being oppressed by the government of his country. In November 2013, he fled and took an exile in the United States of America. Ever since, he has been showing close interest to the governance of his country and published on a regular basis political chronicles that are appreciated by all. But for some time, he has decided to break ground by accepting to run for the 2016 presidential elections in Benin, at the request of many Beninese nationals.
Courrier des Afriques: First of all how are you doing Judge Angelo Djidjoho Houssou?
I am doing pretty good dear journalist. Away from my family and deprived of various things, you agree with me that it is not the usual comfortable way of life. Having said this, I must give thanks to the Lord the ways of whom are inscrutable and unsearchable; never forget that, everything contributes to the good of the one who loves God.
In what do you miss Benin since you have been forced to flee le country and be exiled in the United States…?
I miss Benin enormously. What I miss the most, is first of all my family, my children most of them of a very young age. Then, I really need to be in contact with the Benin population; in majority made up of brave women and men who are shamelessly abused and who, without any support likely to come from the system of governance, have only the justice as a last rampart. I am pawing with the desire to meet all those youngsters whom the endemic unemployment and lack of adapted solutions condemn a little more every day, to a convulsive state of ease and vice, those youngsters for whom life has become a threat instead of a good fortune, those youngsters who have found only cyber criminality as an ultimate redemption. I can’t wait to meet those thousands of households hit by nagging misery, our courageous wives, our mothers and sisters in the districts of the country, those who live the precariousness and worst atrocities of the human suffering. My function as a judge has transformed me and granted me with a sensitive listening to the others. I am convinced our populations are also longing to meet the one who can listen to them through his heart and not with his ears. I can’t wait to meet them. That is why I must go back home shortly, even earlier than expected…
We are not going to ask you to tell us about your fleeing, since you have written a book that will be published soon and that talk about it among others. What is the title of your piece of work and what has induced you to write it?
A little bit of patience, the book will soon be on the market. If I keep quiet on what I went through, I would have unfairly deprived the posterity of an important rendezvous with history. As people of the justice we have the propensity to cower and live our mission and our trade as a blind spot. We need to remember: we serve justice in the name of the people and there is no mission without the necessity-indeed the urgency-of rendering. The magistrates should be obliged to render. My wish is that we magistrates could develop the free duty of writing about our struggle to make justice prevail. This battle is characterized by a want of means in the face of a clash a flood of interests. That will for sure contribute to improving our relationship with that people both the plaintiff and the defendant! I have as a consequence written this book as an account rendering to the people for the sake of whom I have rendered justice, over the course of those years. That rendering duty is more important for me than everything. It is above any reservation obligation…
The information that was taken for a rumor has now proved true. You are confirming to us that you will indeed run for the 2016 presidential election in Benin.
I will not shy away from the call and cry of distress of all those Beninese nationals who want me to be their candidate in the March 2016 presidential election. Most of them are people who have no more voice; those whose voices have always drown in the abysmal turmoil of despair and ignorance. To an extent it is a patriotic duty and a generational challenge for me. By responding to this call, I want to say thus, here before the world that I am ready and that until the completion of the ideal, to convey to Benin the hope of a quiet, but real break with the past; with the unique purpose of making myself useful to my national community so as to contribute as a matter of fact together with all its daughters and sons, to give it what has so far been prohibited: the hope of a better future and a new dawn. Having said this, I reserve to my people who is actually my godfather, the prime of this information, once I get back to my birth place.
Would you, by any chance run only as a revenge against president Boni Yayi…?
Far from it! Far from me any revenge intent. I must forgive all those who have been at the origin of the profound pain I suffered. In fact, when you are inflicted an
injury, you can only heal with forgiveness. My wounds healed slowly but surely thanks to the balm of forgiveness I applied on them. There is neither individual development nor social progress without forgiveness. Forgiveness is necessary for peace and re-establishment of ties between humans. Perhaps Jesus-Christ would have never resurrected if he had not forgiven. Still in the Bible, we see how Joseph managed to get rid of his anger and above all of his bitterness to forgive his brothers. Not only did he not content himself with forgiving, but also he found a providential explanation to the events that lead to his brothers’ big offense.
Closer to us, South Africa is the result of forgiveness. By choosing the way of forgiveness, Nelson Mandela offered redemption to the rainbow nation. Because I need to heal, I forgive. Because in the adversity they imposed upon me, I have grown up and matured, I must be grateful rather than blaming my persecutors and continue to mull over bitterness. I realize how much the adversary helps you to become a better you. In his book entitled:
Strength to Love, Martin Luther King states that “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning…” Today, because I forgive president Boni yayi and his adulators, my victory is twofold: I am in peace and they are in peace.
Furthermore, I discover that evil cannot be totally complementary or fortuitous. It can be factor for wonders. The persecution that I was submitted to under president Boni Yayi’s regime, has enabled me to realize and understand, with a relative perceptiveness, my mission as a Beninese citizen.
Would you not be making a big mistake by deciding to land in the political arena and to run for presidency instead of remaining a magistrate and continue your mission?
The political environment has a tendency of confining, protecting itself from intruders by hardening its armor. However, I have decided, knowingly to go ahead. Not doing it is missing my mission; it is being like a useless citizen. Truly, my involvement in politics carries the secret hope of alerting all those who are resting on their knowledge, experiences and values, thus depriving Benin of a real prosperity. I commit myself to stopping virtue from paying tribute to vice. If we do not do anything, if we consider politics as being the business of other people, Benin will never change; it will not evolve; it will not shine in the concert of nations. Many fundamental reasons have eventually convinced me on the necessity of hanging up my judge’s gown and descending in the cauldron… Those reasons constitute an amount of inadmissibility that more and more worthy Beninese citizens cannot stand. We do not have the time to go back over that!
Many Beninese nationals, through “les Amis du juge Angelo Djidjoho Houssou” (the Friends of judge Angel Djidjoho Hossou), gave you their support and sympathy when you were persecuted by president Boni Yayi’s regime. But is their support enough to make you a president of the Republic?
I make the difference between emotion and popularity very well. The time of emotion has elapsed, so that today the Beninese nationals, from the North to the South, from the East to the West, want me to be their spokesman at that election. What makes the strength of a leader is the number of people mobilized behind him, and ready to go to the coal. As far as I am concerned, that number has not stopped growing. I am working progressively at occupying the field and revealing myself as a powerful people mobilizing engine, mainly the youth. I do not lose sight of the fact that to accede to power, I need diverse parties and movements alliances. With this regard, I am stretching my hand to all, without any distinction. I remain, however attached to my independence and dignity.
The same way some had thought to get you owing to your young age and lack of experience by entrusting you with the two cases that have finally revealed you and hence made you famous in Benin and across borders, many could have concerns about your young age and the poor experience that you have of Benin politics. What is your answer?
I do not need to be old before serving my country and to take this generational challenge. Most of the great men of the continent who inspire me and the souls of whom call upon all the African youth went to public business very young. These are among others, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba. Remember this Pierre Corneille’s famous quotation from Le Cid:
“aux âmes bien nés la valeur n’attend point le nombre des années” (the well-born souls awaits not the number of years). It is true, some defense attorneys, have copiously spoken ill about my young age and lack of experience. I do not have a grudge against anybody. I just keep in mind their congratulations on my “clear-sightedness” and “courage” after my orders on May 17, 2013.
Strictly speaking, I did not take personally their criticism on my young age as I was convinced that I mastered my subject. Concerning the presidential election of 2016, I am stepping into politics, but I refuse to be a man of the establishment, a product of the current system. I have rather chosen to be a public actor attached to the future of the poor and the future generations. Leadership makes a head of state and who says leadership, says “character”. In fact, it is the character that determines your destiny and enables you to control circumstances. It is not about age, experience, and not even knowledge. The proof is, you see very well where all those who call themselves competent and experienced in finances and economics have sadly lead the country. It is under their ruling that we experienced the biggest scandals of the democratic revival. That is why, I say that politics must become in Benin and in Africa, an opportunity to serve the community and not a short cut to become rich at the expense of the people. That is the politics-service that I advocate, moreover.
What proposals do you have for the Beninese nationals to convince them that you are the person needed to lead Benin as from April 6, 2016?
The deadline of 2016 is striding up and a pack of politicians is already preparing to fold our ears with a slew of solutions in the economic, social, cultural, etc. fields. It is not that at all. It is neither the quantity nor the quality of the proposals that are at stake. When you observe carefully our country, you realize that our democracy is not in want of relevant promises.
Our under-development is not either due to a lack of quality human means or a lack of financial resources.
We are suffering from a leadership deficit. The difference in the world’s nations’ level of development does not lie in the society and government projects. Otherwise, it would be enough to copy each other and all would be fine. It is the leaders’ strength of character that makes the difference. It is enough for a good president, to have some charisma, courage, convictions. And the ability to say “no” to the destroyers of the national economy. That is the society project that Benin needs. The remaining is a matter for a demagogic jingle that eternalizes the struggle for unemployment, but also and above all for laying real foundations in order to re-establish a new Beninese society in which integrity, responsibility, and honest labor, power to the people, probity, and well-being will be set up as cardinal values. And it is together that we work to reinvent that “resolutely best Benin”.
You do not prepare a presidential election whereas you are living shut away in exile…Is not that already a handicap?
I agree with you. Having said this, the word handicap or crisis does not exist in my vocabulary. To me, everything in this life is an opportunity. I do not lose sight of the impatience of my fellow citizens to meet their candidate. That will soon be a reality within the next few days.
With the risk to continue to let some rumors circulate according to which you would have received some money from the billionaire Patrice Talon, how do you think you could finance your campaign, since you are talking of transparency, good governance…because the Beninese nationals know that you are not billionaire?
Without the resources or the support of a well established political force, potential and credible leaders have less chance to get elected. They are generally short of resources and do not have relevant means to face the elections in an unhealthy environment like ours. Unfortunately, as sad as that could be, those who make a show of their riches during the electoral campaign, are generally those who are in the best position to win the elections taking advantage of the misery, naivety and analphabetism of our populations, who have become very fragile faced with corruption, clientelism, and copinerie system. It follows that most of the elected people are so depending on their financial, material means, illicitly earned and invested during the electoral campaign, in the face of a population who has no maneuver margin to make a judicious choice of the persons able to meet their expectations. The losers are for most of them, those who cannot afford an expensive campaign. It is mainly civil servants, members of the opposition, women, youngsters, university teachers, etc. In short, of all those who do not have financial means, even when their messages are impactful enough and useful to the society.
I want through my candidacy to break with this tradition. In principle, in a country worthy of the name, elections must be used to indicate the best among us. So far, they consist in choosing the most capable of buying our consciences, destroy living-together and our progress dreams. That is inacceptable. The best among us are those who have proved their resistance with respect to the public resources bait, those who are capable of highness and grandeur, in a word, those who have character. I want the youth of my country and of Africa as a whole, to understand that the most important in an election be it presidential, it is not the means it is first and foremost the ideal, a very clear vision. That is why with no other fortune than the manifest will of the Beninese nationals who are supporting me I have decided to serve my country otherwise by running for president. I
have launched, to that end, a voluntary fund subscription so that for the first time, in Benin and in Africa, the people participate in financing the campaign of a credible presidential candidate. It is a real revolution that will be astonishing worldwide. That has certain advantages. To begin with, I will resume my independence and my freedom to govern. Then, that enables me to solve progressively the question of buying the populations’ conscience, one of our gangrenes in Africa. Lastly, that will progressively contribute to putting the quality of ideas first during our electoral competitions.
What message do you have for the Beninese nationals of the interior of the country and those of the diaspora?
Benin Otherwise Governedis possible and even certain with my team and me. Its advent is close by. The challenges that the country will have to be faced with as from 2016 are very real. They are serious and numerous. Everywhere I cast a look, there is some work to do. Whereas our abilities are intact. But the time to remain quiet, to protect small interests, to delay our difficult decisions is long gone. As from 2016, the people as a whole must take the path of those who take risks, those who act, and those who manufacture. We must revive ourselves, take charge of ourselves and resolutely resume the construction work of Benin. 2016 is the last chance presidential election. As a result, a choice needs to be made for our children and grand-children’s future. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, 2016 will be the best or the worse of the times. It will be either the spring of hopes or the winter of disappointment…We will go straight to heavens or to hell.
Interview by Alan Buster, correspondent in the United States