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Benin Modern History

Benin's time as an independent state was greatly marked by Mathieu Kérékou, who with a brief interruption ruled the country from 1972, when he took power in a military coup, until 2006, when, according to the constitution, he was not allowed to stand for re-election as president. What is unique to Benin, however, is that during the early 1990s, the country under Kérékou peacefully went from a Marxist-Leninist, long-standing military-controlled one-party state to a democratic multi-party state.

Benin, or Dahomey as the country was still called, became independent in 1960. The first decade as an independent republic became stormy due to power struggles. A series of largely military-supported regimes succeeded until October 1972, when Major (shortly thereafter General) Mathieu Kérékou seized power at the head of a group of young officers. Thus, an 18-year dictatorship and even longer power holdings for Kérékou were initiated personally.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Benin. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Kérékou's regime quickly attracted leftist intellectuals and became radicalized. In 1974, Marxism-Leninism was adopted as the official state ideology and nationalized companies, banks and insurance companies. In 1976, the country was renamed Benin. The following year, a constitution was adopted which made the country a one-party state.

President Kérékou sat safely during the first half of the 1980s. He turned down several coup attempts and got himself re-elected a couple of times. But when Nigeria closed its border in 1984 in an attempt to stop smuggling between countries, Benin was plunged into an economic crisis. The government then turned to the West and sought support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But when savings plans were enforced on the advice of the IMF, popular dissatisfaction grew. In January 1989, government officials who had not been paid for several months strikes. The banks collapsed. In August, however, Kérékou was re-elected as the only candidate, but now as civilian president.

Contemporary History of BeninAt the end of the year, Kérékou abandoned Marxism-Leninism after pressure, among other things, from the lenders in the West. At a national conference in April 1990, where representatives of all the "active forces" of the country were present, it was decided to replace the old constitution. A senior official of the World Bank, Nicéphore Soglo, was called home and made prime minister in a transitional government. Political parties were allowed. However, Kérékou remained as president.

Kérékou defeated

In a referendum in December 1990, a new constitution was adopted which introduced a democratic state of governance. In February 1991 elections were held for a legislative assembly. Thus, the country, whose name was now the Republic of Benin, as the first African state to have peacefully gone from a long-standing military-controlled one-party state to multi-party systems. In the parliamentary elections, most of the mandate went to a party grouping that supported Soglo. In the March 1991 presidential election, the first with more than one candidate, Kérékou was defeated by Soglo.

In the 1995 parliamentary elections, Soglos Benin's re-birth party (RB) became the largest party. But together, the opposition parties got the majority of seats in the National Assembly. The opposition's success spurred Kérékou to re-enter politics. He defeated Soglo in the 1996 presidential election and appointed Adrien Houngbédji, leader of the Democratic Renewal Party (PRD), as prime minister. After disagreements with the president, Houngbédji resigned in 1998. No new prime minister was appointed.

In the 1999 parliamentary elections, RB and the other opposition gained barely a majority in parliament, which made it difficult for Kérékou to form government. Only after several months could a new government take office. In the 2001 presidential election, Kérékou defeated Bruno Amoussou, government member and leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), with 84 percent of the vote in the second round. Amoussou was given a ministerial post in the new government. In 2002, Amoussou became party leader for the newly formed Union of Benin Future (UBF), which consisted of parties that supported Kérékou. UBF had success in the 2003 parliamentary elections, while RB nearly halved. After the election, the opposition party PRD went over to the presidential side, which thereby gained a significant majority in the National Assembly.

Boni Yayi becomes president

After two terms in office, Kérékou was not entitled to stand in the presidential election in spring 2006. Instead of voting for one of the other well-known politicians, many voters opted for an unproven card, the former head of West African Development Bank Boni Yayi, who was running as an independent candidate. Yayi got over 35 percent of the vote in the first round, while Adrien Houngbédji came in second with 24 percent. In the second round, Yayi won big. As president, he wanted to fight corruption and poverty, revitalize the economy and implement constitutional changes to streamline governance in the country.

Ahead of the spring 2007 parliamentary elections, about twenty parties formed to support the Yayi alliance the Cauri forces for a prominent Benin (FCBE). Traditional parties such as RB, PSD and Madep instead collaborated within the Alliance for Democratic Dynamics (ADD). The election was a success for Yayi's support coalition FCBE. However, his unease at the political game led to him gradually losing the support of the small parties. His proposal was blocked and not much was done.

In 2010, Yayi dismissed his Interior Minister who was accused of participating in a financial scandal in which entrepreneurs, many of them women, lost money when investing in a company that promised extremely high interest rates. Eventually, Yayi himself was pulled into the scandal. More than half of Parliament's members signed a petition to put him before the national court. However, the number of signatures was not enough to get the process started.

In the fall of 2010, Benin was hit by the most severe floods in over forty years. More than a quarter of the country was submerged and 200,000 people were forced to leave their homes.

In the 2011 presidential election, Boni Yayi won 53 percent of the vote. Even in the parliamentary elections, Yayi and his support alliance went well, FCBE, which could count on the support of 61 of the 83 MPs. In May of that year, President Yayi reinstated a prime ministerial post. The new head of government Pascal Irénée Koupaki, one of the president's closest confidants, would do the daily government work while the president would still have the last say.

 
 

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