Formerly part of French West Africa; Also called: Dahomey.
Former African kingdom 1200–1897, now a province of Nigeria. It reached the height of its power in the 14th–17th centuries when it ruled the area between the Niger Delta and Lagos.
Benin traded in spices, ivory, palm oil, and slaves until its decline and eventual incorporation into Nigeria. The oba (ruler) of Benin continues to rule his people as a divine monarch. The present oba is considered an enlightened leader and one who is helping his people to become part of modern Nigeria.
Artworks honoring the Oba of Benin were looted by a British military expedition 1897. They included cast bronzes and carved ivories and have since found their way into museums and into the hands of collectors worldwide. See African art.
Country in W Africa, bounded E by Nigeria, N by Niger and Burkina Faso, W by Togo, and S by the Gulf of Guinea.
The 1990 constitution provides for a president, elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term, and a 64-member national assembly, similarly elected for up to a four-year term.
In the 12th–13th centuries the country was settled by the Aja, whose kingdom reached its peak in the 16th century. In the 17th–19th centuries the succeeding Dahomey kingdom (which gave the country its name until 1975) captured and sold its neighbors as slaves to Europeans.
French colonial rule
Under French influence from the 1850s, Dahomey formed part of French West Africa from 1899, and became a self-governing dominion within the French Community 1958.
Dahomey became fully independent 1960.
The country went through a period of political instability 1960–72, with swings from civilian to military rule and disputes between regions.
The deputy chief of the army, Mathieu Kerekou, established a military regime 1972, pledged to give fair representation to each region. His initial instrument of government was the National Council of the Revolution (CNR). Kerekou announced 1974 that as the People’s Republic of Benin the country would follow “scientific socialism”, based on Marxist-Leninist principles. From 1975 to 1989 Benin was a one-party state, under the Party of the People’s Revolution of Benin. CNR was dissolved 1977 and a “national revolutionary assembly” established, which elected Kerekou 1980 as president and head of state. He was reelected 1984 and, after initial economic and social difficulties, his government grew more stable.
Relations with France (Benin's biggest trading partner) improved in the 1980s. President Mitterrand became the first French head of state to visit Benin 1983.
President Kerekou was reelected Aug 1989 by the assembly for another five-year term. It was announced Dec 1989 that Marxist-Leninism was no longer the official ideology of Benin and that further constitutional reforms—allowing for more private enterprise—would be agreed upon. A preliminary referendum 1990 showed overwhelming support for a multiparty political system. The first multiparty elections, held Feb 1991, were won by the Union for the Triumph of Democratic Renewal (UTRD); Nicéphore Soglo, supported by the UTRD, won the presidency.