President Talon of Benin’s church attendance draws a crowd
BY LOU SIFA
President Patrice Talon of Benin attended mass this Sunday morning at Eglise Notre Dame des Apotres in Cotonou, an event that drew a crowd of onlookers. A president’s church attendance is no news in normal circumstances, but these are not quite ‘normal circumstances’ in this controversy-prone country where the president’s health has fueled quite a lot of agitations—including ugly ones—in the course of the past several weeks.
The president’s 24-day stay in France in May-June to undergo a prostate cancer treatment had triggered vicious attacks on him, primarily in the social media, including calls for his resignation. Upon his quiet return on June 18, the publicity-shy, vigorous-looking head of state led a special cabinet meeting the very next day at 10 in the morning, and the regular weekly one two days later. He then wasted no time in taking a step never taken before by an African head of state by confirming the rumor about his health to his cabinet, which senior cabinet minister and government’s spokesperson, Irene Koupaki, relayed in a post-cabinet meeting briefing, and in a government press release dated June 19. The robust, agile head of state was later shown on national television and in videos all over the social media moving right and left shaking hands before the extraordinary cabinet meeting got underway.
Despite these unquestionable proofs, some citizens doubted the president had actually returned. Going a step further, some circulated the rumor that he had flown to the United States for further medical attention, which turned out to flatly false. President Talon did return to France a few days later for another check-up and came back to Benin within days.
Despite persistent criticisms that he must be hiding some fatal health concerns, which, the critics say, account for his not being seen outside his regular political circles, Talon—who hates publicity—did not bother to be seen in public.
His attendance at mass this Sunday, which obviously drew a large crowd of onlookers, whether by design or not, should kill the persistent, unfounded rumors that went as far as pronouncing the president dead. To the contrary, the crowd at mass and on the street today saw a healthy-looking, happy, smiling president.