Since independence on 1 August 1960, Dahomey
had a strikingly volatile
history. The list of presidents includes a military coup
every second or third year:
- Hubert Maga 1960-1963 (overthrown)
- Col. Christophe Soglo 1963
- Sourou-Migan Apithy 1964-1965 (overthrown)
- Tahirou Congacou 1965 (interim; overthrown)
- Gen. Christophe Soglo again 1965-1967 (overthrown)
- Cmdr Maurice Kouandété 1967
- Lt.Col. Alphonse Alley 1967-1968
- Dr Emile Zinsou 1968-1969 (overthrown)
- Paul-Emile de Souza 1969-1970
- Hubert Maga again 1970-1972
- Justin Ahomadegbe 1972 (overthrown)
- Maj. Mathieu Kérékou 1972-1991
- Nicéphore Soglo 1991-1996
- Mathieu Kérékou again 1996-
The 1970 government was a rotating presidential council consisting of independence leaders Maga, Ahomadegbe, and Apithy to try to achieve stability, but when Kérékou seized power on 26 October 1972 he proclaimed a Marxist
state, and changed Dahomey's name to the People's Republic of Benin on 30 November 1975.
He also changed the flag to a red star in the canton of a green field. The flag of the ruling party had the colours reversed.
In 1990 popular agitation for democracy led to the creation of a National Convention. Kérékou agreed to hold democratic elections, which were won by the economist Soglo. The new Republic of Benin (1 March 1990) restored the original Dahomey flag, a green hoist next to yellow above red.
However in 1996 Kérékou was re-elected. At one point he had converted to Islam and called himself Ahmed Kérékou, but he seems to be Mathieu again now. In the democratic climate the founding president Hubert Maga resumed a senior role and was much mourned on his death in May 2000. In the presidential elections of 2001, Soglo and Kérékou again opposed each other, but Soglo has withdrawn after irregularities in the first round.
The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, though the largest city is Cotonou. In the interior is Abomey, capital of the former kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful West African states of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: see under Dahomey for a history before colonial rule.
Portugal retained the old slave trade fort of Ouidah (Whydah) after independence. It was called São João Baptista da Ajudá and was ruled from São Tomé e Príncipe. It was absorbed by Dahomey in 1961.
The old kingdom of Benin, not the same as the kingdom of Dahomey giving rise to modern Benin, is famous for its magnificent bronze sculpture
. Old Benin was in what is now Nigeria
, centred on Benin City
. Bronze casting
technology is said to have been brought to Benin from Ife
in the late fourteenth century by a sculptor
. It became much more stylized
than the Ife style. Most Benin bronzes glorify the Oba
They are created with the lost mould technique: sculpted in wax, encased in clay, fired, and filled with molten bronze. The clay mould is then broken away.
Sir Richard Burton led an expedition to try to suppress human sacrifice in 1863, and the kingdom was placed under a British Resident in 1899, after a "punitive expedition" to avenge deaths of British emissaries led to the defeat and deposition of Oba Ovonramwen in 1897. The fabulous wealth of Benin City, including many great bronzes, was carried off and much of it is now in the British Museum.