Republic of Benin

The Abomey Kingdom of the Dahomey

Now the

The Republic of Benin

The Republic of Benin  is a West African nation on the Gulf of Guinea, between Togo on the west and Nigeria on the east. While to the north  its bounded by Burkina Faso and Niger. The land consists of a narrow coastal strip that rises to a swampy, forested plateau and then to highlands in the north. A hot and humid climate blankets the entire country.

Originally known as the Abomey kingdom of the Dahomey it was established in 1625. One of the smallest and most densely populated regions in Africa. Later it was annexed by the French in 1893 and incorporated into French West Africa in 1904.

In 1946  Dahomey became an overseas territory of France.

Then in 1958 it became an autonomous republic within the French Community, and on 1st August 1960, Dahomey gained its independence and prominent politician Hubert Maga leader of the  ‘Parti Dahomeen de L'Unite’  party became the countries first President and was admitted to the United Nations. This was also a time when the country was also facing a major economic recession. The situation was not helped when France wiped its hands of the country and no longer offered subsidies.

In early 1961 President Maga began applying repressive measures on the opposition press and anyone suspected of trouble-making, and practically eliminated Ahomadégbé-Tomêtin's voice in the country. By April, most U.D.D. members had expressed interest in joining the P.D.U., and Maga not only supported this but encouraged it. A notable exception was Ahomadégbé-Tomêtin himself. However, the choice was made for him when the entire U.D.D. was dissolved by Maga on 11th April Maga then attempted to design a four-year growth plan, to begin on 1st January, 1962, that contained many ambitious acts. It was designed to increase yield in agriculture and was financed by French capital. Part of the plan was to cut all wages by ten percent. Young Dahomeyans were forced to contribute "human investment", a more acceptable wording than the use of forced labor on the fields.

January 1962 saw the poisoning of Dessou, an official of the Sakete sub-prefecture. The deputy from his constituency, named Christophe Bokhiri, was accused of the crime and duly arrested. He was released after his fellow deputies in the National Assembly requested to suspend proceedings against him under the parliamentary immunity clauses of the Dahomey Constitution, specifically Article 37. Maga, meanwhile, was away in Paris during all of this.

Upon his return President Maga decided to reshuffle the cabinet in February 1962. He added the Planning and Development duties to Apithy's office to quench his apparently unquenchable thirst for power. Nonetheless, he accused Maga of being a dictator. The Vice President hoped that a series of demonstrations that followed would ultimately depose his boss. However, they were not sparked by Maga himself, but rather the murder of David Dessou.

The people of Dahomey, on the other hand, were outraged on the release of Bokhiri. They incited racial clashes in the summer of 1963, as the murderer and the victim were of different tribes. Demonstrations were organised in Porto Novo on 21st October  and soon spread to Cotonou. They remained somewhat orderly before the trade unionists became involved. While still led by Maga, the trade unionists were still upset by the wage cut and used the case to further their interests. In addition, they criticised what they called Maga's "squander-mania", such as the construction of a presidential palace. Most of the demonstrations were peaceful, although six trade unionists destroyed a sign containing Maga's name on a hospital. The trade unionists were arrested on the second day of demonstrations, causing the unions to call a general strike. By the end of the second day, protesters forced the National Assembly to put Bokhiri back in jail, and simultaneously enforced a curfew.

In light of recent events, Maga cancelled his trip to the United States and returned to Dahomey immediately. Appealing for peace, he convened a special National Assembly session. The protesters and trade unionists were indifferent to these actions, when Maga agreed with their demands and replaced his government with a provisional one in which Apithy and Ahomadégbé-Tomêtin had equal standing. Armed northerners came down to Cotonou to support Maga and clashed with dissenters, killing two. The protesters, however, would not return to their jobs until Maga no longer held his.

On 28th October 1963 the Chief of staff of the 800 man Dahomeyan Army, General Christophe Soglo deposed the first president Hubert Maga to prevent a civil war.  After having Maga sign his resignation he dismissed the cabinet, dissolved the Assembly, suspended the constitution and banned any type of demonstrations. One of the reasons for the overthrow of Maga was the luxurious life style of the rulers, abusive increase in the number of ministerial posts, unsatisfied social demands, un-kept promises, the rise of the cost of living, and antidemocratic measures that martyised the people and reduced them to nothing.

1964  saw Sourou-Migan Apithy elected as president.

In 1965  General Soglo dismissed the civilian government of Sourou-Migan Apithy, and proclaimed himself Chief of State.

In December 1967 a group of young army officers led by Major Maurice Kouandete sized power, and Lt Col Alphonse Alley replaced General Soglo as head of state.

In December. 1969, Benin had its fifth coup of the decade, with the Army again taking power. The military regime nominated Dr Emile-Derlin Zinsou as President. However, before the end of the year Lt Col Kouandete deposed President Zinsou and took over  power.

In May 1970 Presidential elections were held but abandoned. Power was ceded to a presidential council consisting of Ahomadegbe, Apithy and Maga, who received almost equal support in the abandoned poll. Maga was the first of the three to serve as president with a two-year term.

In 1972  Ahomadegbe assumes the Presidency from Maga for the next two-year term.
Later in 1972  Major Mathieu Kerekou seized power and became the President after the presidential council members were all detained.

1973  The Conseil National Revolutionnaire (CNR) was created. Representatives were taken from across the country.

1975 November  Dahomey is renamed the ‘People's Republic of Benin’. The name Benin commemorates an African kingdom that flourished from the 15th to the 17th century in what is now southwest Nigeria.

1975  The Parti de la Revolution Populaire du Benin (PRPB) was established as the country's only political party.

In 1977 another coup was attempted and led by the French mercenary Bob Denard along with fifty other European mercenaries and thirty Africans. However, it failed and they were forced to withdraw. They left behind documents which showed that Morocco and Gabon had financed the operation and that France was also involved. Relations with Gabon were broken off, leading to the expulsion of some 9000 Benenese from Libreville and French aid was drastically cut. Although in real terms they had been contributing virtually nothing.

(Denard was twice convicted in France for his role in the attempted coup in Marxist-controlled Benin in 1977, and a later short-lived coup in Comoros in 1995. He received a suspended prison terms in each case. However, in 1993 Denard was convicted for the failed Benin coup, and settled with his family in France).

1979 Elections were held to the new Assemblee Nationale Revolutionnaire (ANR). The list of people's commissioners was resoundingly approved. The Comite Executif National (CEN) replaces the CNR.

1980  ANR unanimously elected Kerekou as President. Kerekou was the sole contender.

1981  Members of the former presidential council are released from house arrest.

1984  ANR increases the terms of the president and people's commissioners from three to five years. The number of people's commissioners is reduced from 336 to 196.

1984  ANR re-elects Kerekou, no other candidates contest the election.

1987  Kerekou resigns from the military.

1988  Two unsuccessful coup attempts.

1990  Unrest continues. President Kerekou meets dissident leaders. Agreement on constitutional reform and multi-candidate presidential elections is reached.

1990 March - Implementation of agreed reforms begins. Benin drops "people's" from its official title and becomes the Republic of Benin.

1990 December In a referendum, the constitutional changes are approved by a majority of voters.
2004 July -Benin, and  Nigeria agree to redraw their mutual border.

2005 March - US telecommunications company is fined after it admits to bribery in Benin. The company was accused of funneling millions of dollars into President Kerekou's 2001 election campaign.

2005 July  International Court of Justice awards most of the river islands along the disputed Benin-Niger border to Niger.

2009 February  Benin announces discovery of "significant quantities" of oil offshore near Seme a town on the Nigeria-Benin border.

Terry Aspinall


BBC News