This West African nation on the Gulf of Guinea, between Togo on the west and Nigeria on the east, is about the size of Tennessee. It is bounded by Burkina Faso and Niger on the north. 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.
Republic under a multiparty democratic rule.
The Abomey kingdom of the Dahomey, or Fon, peoples was established in 1625. A rich cultural life flourished, and Dahomey's wooden masks, bronze statues, tapestries, and pottery are world renowned. One of the smallest and most densely populated regions in Africa, Dahomey was annexed by the French in 1893 and incorporated into French West Africa in 1904. It became an autonomous republic within the French Community in 1958, and on Aug. 1, 1960, Dahomey was granted its independence within the Community.
Gen. Christophe Soglo deposed the first president, Hubert Maga, in an army coup in 1963. He dismissed the civilian government in 1965, proclaiming himself chief of state. A group of young army officers seized power in Dec. 1967, deposing Soglo. In Dec. 1969, Benin had its fifth coup of the decade, with the army again taking power. In May 1970, a three-man presidential commission with a six-year term was created to take over the government. In May 1972, yet another army coup ousted the triumvirate and installed Lt. Col. Mathieu Kérékou as president. Between 1974 and 1989 Dahomey embraced socialism, and changed its name to 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. In 1990, Benin abandoned Marxist ideology, began moving toward multiparty democracy, and changed its name again, to the Republic of Benin.
A Troubled Economy
By the end of the 1980s, Benin's economy was near collapse. As its oil boom ended, Nigeria expelled 100,000 Beninese migrant workers and closed the border with Benin. Kérékou's socialist collectivization of Benin's agriculture and the ballooning bureaucracy further damaged the economy. By 1988, international financial institutions feared Benin would default on its loans and pressured Kérékou to make financial reforms.
Kérékou subsequently embarked on a major privatization campaign, cut the government payroll, and reduced social services, prompting student and labor union unrest. Fearing a revolution, Kérékou agreed to a new constitution and free elections. In 1991, Nicéphore Soglo, an economist and former director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, was elected president. Although he enjoyed widespread support at first, Soglo gradually became unpopular as austerity measures reduced living standards and a 50% currency devaluation in 1994 caused inflation. Kérékou defeated Soglo in the 1996 elections and was easily reelected in March 2001. Term limits prevented him from running again. In April 2006, Yayi Boni assumed the presidency. The World Bank and IMF agreed to cancel much of Benin's foreign debt after the country demonstrated significant economic reforms.
In 2010, floods destroyed 55,000 homes, killed tens of thousands of livestock, and displaced 680,000 people. There were 46 fatalities.
After two postponements, presidential elections were held on March 13, 2011. According to Benin's constitutional court, incumbent Yayi Boni won 53% of the vote. His main challenger, Adrien Houngbedji, disputed the results, alleging fraud and claiming victory for himself. Parliamentary elections followed in April, 2011, and established a new government, including Pascal Koupaki as prime minister, Nassirou Bako Arifari as foreign minister, Benoît Assouan Degla as interior minister, and Adidjatou Mathys as finance minister; Issifou Kogui N'Douro remained as defense minister.
Boni Forms New Government without a Prime Minister
In August 2013, President Boni fired his entire cabinet, including Prime Minister Pascal Koupaki. Part of the reason Boni dismissed his government was due to the allegations that some of them had been linked to Patrice Talon, a Benin businessman accused of trying to poison him.
Boni replaced every member of his government except for the position of prime minister. A statement from the office of the president said that Boni opted not to have a prime minister at this time. Boni and former Prime Minister Koupaki had a history of disagreements.
In June 2015, President Boni again appointed a new government. This time he included a prime minister, French-born financier Lionel Zinsou. A dual French-Beninese national, Zinsou has previously headed PAI Partners and served as an advisor to President Boni. As prime minister, Zinsou would lead the country in economic development and evaluate its public policies.
More on Benin from Fact Monster: