The country was named from the 17th century until 1975 Dahomey. Benin is not to be confused with the older kingdom of the same name in present Nigeria (see Benin Kingdom).
Abomey, the former capital of Dahomey, became the center towards the end of the 17th century in a powerful state formation, which had the character of absolute monarchy and which was raised by the phonics. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the empire expanded greatly. Earlier, contact had already been established with European stakeholders in the slave trade, which during the 18th century developed into a profitable business prisoner. Slaves were acquired through raids against the neighboring peoples, especially Yoruba.
In the middle of the 19th century, the French – in competition with mainly British and Germans – began to gain a foothold as colonizers in the area. By superior arms power, the French crushed the Dahome Empire, which in 1894 became a French colony and in 1895 was incorporated into French West Africa. The French colonization was motivated partly by the country’s strategic position between British Nigeria and Togo, which was the German colony in 1884-1919, and partly by the production of palm oil needed for the French soap industry.
Independence, poetry and democratization
On August 1, 1960, Benin became independent under the name of Dahomey. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Benin. The country’s first president became Hubert Maga (1916-2000), who was overthrown by a military coup in 1963. Even after Maga’s fall, the country’s history has been marked by coups and a number of military governments, and the ethnically diverse parts of the country have fought each other. In 1972 Major Mathieu Kérékou took power. The country was declared a Marxist-Leninist state and changed its name from Dahomey to the People’s Republic of Benin in 1975.
Benin had deep financial problems at the end of the 1980s. Kérékou accepted the demands of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to limit public spending, to eliminate unprofitable government companies and to reduce the number of government employees. At the same time, students, intellectuals and trade unionists protested against human rights violations. Kérékou abolished Marxism-Leninism as an official state ideology and agreed that a national conference was convened in February 1990. This laid the foundation for a new democratic constitution and changed the country’s name to the Republic of Benin. The new constitution was approved in a referendum in December 1990, after which general elections were held in February and March 1991.
Benin has since emerged as a relatively stable democracy since the 1990s, where power shifts have been possible without serious incidents. Kérékou resigned without protest after losing the first presidential election in 1991 against former World Bank economist Nicéphore Soglo (born 1934). Five years later he regained power in equally peaceful forms and in 2001 he was re-elected for a further term of office.
Benin during the 2000s
Both Kérékou and Soglo were, according to the constitution, too old to stand in the 2006 presidential election, and Kérékou had also sat the two consecutive terms of office allowed by the constitution. In the fight against political veterans, independent candidate Boni Yayi, who was previously head of the West African Development Bank, won. He formed a government consisting mainly of trade experts. In 2007, the Alliance forces became Cauris pour un Bénin émergent (FCBE), which supported Yayi, the largest party in the parliamentary elections. The president and FCBE also prevailed in the 2011 elections, despite the fact that Boni had risked facing national law the year before he was drawn into a financial scandal.
In 2013, Boni dismissed the entire government, including Prime Minister Pascal Koupaki (born 1951), who during the new government formation did not get a replacement for the post of head of government. In the 2015 parliamentary elections, FCBE returned but remained the largest party. In contrast, the party’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election, Lionel Zinsou (born 1954), lost to party politically unbounded Patrice Talon, one of Benin’s most successful business leaders who previously stood close to Yayi but in 2012 was accused of conspiring against the president.
In the 2019 parliamentary elections, only two parties – both loyal to President Talon – were allowed to stand. Other parties failed to meet new administrative requirements introduced in 2018.
Despite the reforms, the country’s financial difficulties have persisted and there have been periodic unrest in the labor market. Corruption within the state administration as well as suspected links between senior officials and organized crime have emerged as the country’s most serious problems during the 2000s. In the fall of 2010, large parts of the country were submerged after the worst floods in almost 50 years. Hundreds of thousands of people were allowed to leave their homes and large harvests were destroyed. The masses of water also caused sanitary problems with outbreaks of cholera epidemics.