Judge Angelo Houssou just returned home to Benin after two years of exile in the United States in order to run in the next presidential election in February 2016. But his friends, including three Frenchmen and a Ghanaian lady were all denied entry. The French were sent back to Paris, the Ghanaian was returned back to Togo along with Nino Saviano. Read his Interview.
Nino Saviano, would you please introduce yourself to the readers of Courrier des Afriques?
I’m an American political strategist and consultant. Beside my political work in the U.S., I also work internationally in Africa, Europe and other places. My firm Savi Political Consulting is based in Washington, DC.
As I understand, you are an adviser to Judge Angelo Houssou, correct?
That’s right. I am a political adviser to Judge Houssou. During his time in Washington, DC, I got to know him well. As a political professional, I came to appreciate his values and qualities as a leader. We also became friends during that time.
Judge Angelo Houssou just returned home to Benin after two years of exile in the United States in order to run in the next presidential election in February 2016. But you were prevented from entering Benin and were kept at the Cotonou airport. Could you tell us what happened exactly?
I left the United States with Judge Houssou for West Africa a couple of weeks ago. We finally made our way back to Cotonou together from Togo this past Saturday, August 15. While Judge Houssou was allowed in, I was stopped by the immigration at the airport along with the few others traveling with us.
To begin, I was singled out and interrogated for nearly three hours by an immigration police chief. Officials first accused me of lacking proper documentation, or proof of accommodation/certificate d’herbergement. Then, that accusation was changed to declaring me a threat to national security—an utterly incredible charge. At the end, I was denied entry for no particular or specific reason. The next day, on Sunday, I was fingerprinted by the Interpol and National Police and put on a plane in the afternoon back to Lome. There is certainly more to the story, but I prefer to add only that I received an unnecessary rough political treatment because I am a friend and an adviser of Judge Houssou.
What is your impression of the way the government of Benin behaves and how you were treated?
I am not going to judge the entire government of Benin based on the questionable actions of a few. Many policemen showed me and the others a great deal of respect and courtesy. That is a reflection of the kindness on the part of the people of Benin.
As for the treatment I received, I certainly felt harassed by those in charge. If you are the chief of police and are going to start your three-hour interrogation with me by asking about my religion and my wife and children, I can assure you it will not be a pleasant three hours. First, I will tell you I am aware that I am being harassed for political reasons. Then, I will not answer any of those very personal questions you are asking me.
That interrogation was a long three hours. After traveling to Cotonou, we were kept in a lounge for several hours and offered no food.
You were not alone, according to my sources of information. What about your other colleagues?
On our way to Benin, in fact, Judge Houssou and I were joined by some friends, including three Frenchmen and a Ghanaian lady. We were all denied entry. The French were sent back to Paris, the Ghanaian was returned back to Togo along with myself… And yes, you heard correctly, a Ghanaian was prevented entry into Benin for no official reason.
Before this incident you experienced at Cotonou international airport, you had already visited Benin a few weeks earlier without any problems. What do you think happened since then that the government of the Republic of Benin had to stop you from entering its territory?
I visited Cotonou at the beginning of August for a few days. There were no issues whatsoever. I met with some close friends of Judge Houssou and visited with his mother. I felt welcome in the country and was received exceptionally well by all of the people I met. Nothing happened between then and Saturday, except that I traveled with Judge Houssou on his way back to Benin.
Do you think you were denied entry mainly because you were with Judge Angelo Houssou?
Being with Judge Houssou was the only reason I was denied entry into Benin this time. There could have been absolutely no other reason. They did not even look at the immigration form I filled out at the airport… The only thing they wanted was my passport.
And if so, why the President of Benin and his supporters are so afraid of Judge Angelo Houssou?
I don’t know if they are afraid, or why they should even be afraid if indeed they are. Judge Houssou is a leader who is only interested in moving the country forward on behalf of all Beninese people. He believes in good governance, prosperity through investment and business growth, and rule of law. He wants to improve the lives and opportunities for everybody through better health, education and economic opportunities.
Judge Angelo Houssou left the airport of Cotonou with his lawyer to join his family and supporters after two years of exile in Washington, DC. As his political adviser and friend, will you try to come back to Benin?
I hold a two-year, multi-entry visa from the Embassy of Benin in Washington, DC. And despite what happened, I was reassured by the chief of immigration himself that I would be welcome in Benin anytime in the future. I appreciate the opportunity and I certainly intend to be back.
Do you have a message for the government of Benin or for the people?
The upcoming 2016 presidential election is a very important democratic test for Benin. Judge Angelo Houssou only intends to be a unifying force for the country. Americans and others around the world expect he will be treated fairly and with respect, and that the people around him will also be treated fairly and with respect.
A couple of weeks ago in Addis Ababa, President Yayi Boni was among those West African leaders President Barack Obama congratulated as the ones who « can serve as effective models » for Africa’s democratic progress. I am sure that under President Yayi Boni’s leadership everything will be fine through the next presidential election. What happened at the Cotonou airport on Saturday was just an unfortunate incident and we should all move past it.
Interview by Marcus Boni Teiga
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