Benin Recent History

The development from independence to today


On August 1, 1960, the French colony became independent as the Republic of Dahomey. This time was shaped by conflicts between the ethnic groups and regions of the country. Numerous changes of government and coups d’état created a lot of instability. Hubert Maga, representing the north, first became president, rival Sourou Migan Apithy became vice-president, who was to succeed him for a day after serious unrest and Maga’s resignation. Colonel Soglo put himself to power with a military junta and Apithy became president again. However, he resigned after six months and made way for Tahirou Congacouand his government. Soglo staged another coup, now as a general, and appointed himself president in late 1965. Just two years later, it was a group of younger officers who, in another coup d’état, installed Émile Derlin Henri Zinsou as head of state. Another coup followed just a year later. Paul-Émile de Souza became head of the state. In 1970 parliamentary elections were planned, but due to disagreement among politicians between North and South and fear of civil war, the elections were canceled. A three-person presidential council should alternately share the head of state: Apithy, Maga and Justin Ahomadegbé-Tomêtin. Maga and Ahomadegbé-Tomêtin came to their governments, with the third change in 1972 the major put forward Mathieu Kérékou, after five successful and three failed coups, five different constitutions and fourteen changes of presidency, came to power and transformed the state into a communist republic.

Socialism: 1975-1990

Mathieu Kérékou embarked on a Marxist-Leninist course and maintained good relations with the Soviet Union until the fall of the Eastern bloc. Amazingly, Mathieu Kérékou had not clearly committed himself to the GDR, but maintained good relations with the Federal Republic, which was also represented with an embassy in Cotonou, while the GDR embassy in Nigeria was also responsible for Benin. According to cheeroutdoor, during this period, relations with the People’s Republic of China were also intensified, including the ‘Stade de l’Amitié’ football stadium in 1982, now renamed ‘Stade de l’Amitié Mathieu Kérékou’, and the Chinese cultural center in 1988. The Republic of Dahomey was renamed the People’s Republic of Benin on November 30, 1975.Partie de la Révolution Populaire du Bénin ‘(PRPB) ensured nationalization and centralization of the administration.

In January 1977, a mercenary force tried to overthrow Mathieu Kerekou. The coup failed at Cotonous Airport, where the coup plotters landed at dawn and were driven back into the plane they chartered by Benin elite troops under North Korean orders. Three soldiers of the Benin army died in the firefight.

Kérékou stayed in power for seventeen years. Seventeen years of mismanagement, opposition suppression and indebtedness. By the mid-1980’s, civil service personnel costs were already consuming 80% of government spending. The state banks gradually became insolvent, and the state threatened to go bankrupt.

Due to the hopeless economic situation and the pressure of the people protesting on the streets, the Central Committee of the Unity Party and the Kérékou government convened a national conference in December 1989. The “Conférence Nationale” des Forces Vives de la République in Cotonou saw democratic reforms as the only solution and at that time laid the foundation for the constitution, which is still valid today. On March 9, 1990, a council (Haut Conseil pour la République) was formed as the provisional supreme body of the legislature. This council included the former heads of state Maga, Ahomadegbé-Tomêtin, Congacou and Zinsou. They appointed the former director of the World Bank Nicéphore Dieudonné Soglo as prime minister of a transitional government.

Democratization: 1990-2010

In the March 1991 elections, Kérékou was defeated by Soglo and the era of democratization began. Soglo turned away from socialism and took the first steps towards a market economy. But Mathieu Kérékou came again. In 1996 he won the presidential elections and this time ruled the country under a democratic system. This political change earned him the nickname “the chameleon”. In 2001, Kérékou was even able to win the election again. Coming from the north, Kérékou also knew how to win over voters from the densely populated south, even though territorial and ethnic ties have so far influenced election results more than content-related disputes. There was much speculation during the 2006 election campaign for the presidency. It was believed that Kérékou would change the constitution in order to remain in power and that the former colonial power France supported this in order to ensure political stability. But Kérékoudid not run and Soglo could not run anymore either, he was constitutionally too old. The way was clear for Dr. Bonuses yayi. After two rounds of voting, Boni Yayi, as the former chairman of the West African Development Bank, stood up to his rivals Adrien Houngbedji, chairman of the PRD and former speaker of parliament (1991-1995), Bruno Amoussou, chairman of the Benin Social Democrats and Lehady Soglo, son of Nicephore Soglo (RB, Opposition). The population longed too much for a paradigm shift, a cleanup of the patronage structures that had become established over decades. This third democratic change of poweralso shows that democracy seems to be establishing itself as a form of rule in Benin and is therefore to be seen as a success story for Africa. Boni Yayi wanted the change at all levels. The slogan: “Ca doit changer, ça peut changer, ça va changer! “(It has to change, it can change, it will change) went through the country, the expectations of the population were high. The cabinet also symbolized the change: it initially consisted largely of experts who had not held any ministerial office in their previous careers. Despite the good intentions, it will take a few years to see whether success will materialize. In any case, the image of the ‘model democracy Benin’ seems to have been damaged.

The Historical Museum in the former Portuguese fort in Ouidah Benin

Present: the situation since 2010

There was great enthusiasm when Boni Yayi began his first term as President of the Republic in 2006. It was believed that Boni Yayi, as an experienced financial expert, was exactly the right person to get the economic grievances under control. He studied banking in Senegal and then economics and political science in France. He was Deputy Director of the Central Bank (BCEAO) and Deputy Director of Development for the West African Center for Banking Studies – COFEB(Dakar). From 1992 to 1994 he was responsible for finance and banking under the government of Nicèphore Soglo. In 1994 he was finally appointed President of the West African Development Bank (BOAD). With the ongoing reverberation of his election slogan “It has to change, it can change, it will change”, the new president announced numerous reforms in the areas of economy, infrastructure and good governance.

But after four years in office, the general assessment of the president and his policies had deteriorated significantly. The government is accused of lacking zeal for reform, numerous corruption scandals, mismanagement, wasting money and restricting freedom of the press.

In disrepute, Boni Yayi was advised when he appeared on television with investment advisors from ICC, advocating their cause. The financial jugglers had robbed over 100,000 Beninese of their savings and in a large advertising campaign had promised up to 50% profits after only three months. The whole thing was nothing more than a large-scale pyramid scheme. After the hoax was exposed and it was found that members of the government were also involved, Boni Yayi fired the interior minister and had the attorney general arrested. However, the opposition also called for Boni Yayi’s resignation. After all, with his television appearance, he created the necessary trust in the company. As a former banker, he should have realized that something like this couldn’t work, according to the opposition.

The national deficit became so high that the state was virtually insolvent. Along with the global financial crisis, this meant an increasing threat to their livelihoods for many. Boni Yayi, who comes from the north, blamed the south for the backwardness of the north and thus fueled regionalism, which could lead to serious tensions in society.

The Boni Yayi government faced a number of challenges that will continue to be faced in the years to come. The consistent further decentralization of state administration and municipal development as well as administrative reforms, the fight against corruption and crime, youth unemployment, restructuring of the economy, improvement of the investment climate (including legal security) are among the urgent tasks.

Since the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2011, President Boni Yayi has tried to implement reforms such as the fight against corruption, civil servants’ right to strike and territorial reforms, but without great success. Above all, the constitutional reform that had been planned for several years met with rejection from the opposition, as they feared that the constitution would be changed to allow Boni Yayi to be re-elected for the third time. Patrice Talon has been the new President of the Republic of Benin since April 6, 2016. After two failed attempts, Parliament finally approved the constitutional amendment on November 31, 2019.

Mathieu Kérékou, who had ruled Benin for almost three decades, died on October 14, 2015. Former President Emile Derlin Zinsou died on July 28, 2016 at the age of 98. RFI recognized him as one of the founding fathers of modern Africa. On the national holiday, August 1st, the online magazine ‘Bénin-Monde-Infos’ published a review of the past 56 years of the country’s history since independence.