Political issues in Benin after independence

Hello everyone,

Welcome back again on my blog. I am glad to have been learning about the Republic of Benin and how far it had gone since its independence. If you might recall in my previous blog, I was discussing about this article which was talking about Benin in 1978 and how it faced different issues like a war caused by Gabon as it was seeking to take over Benin’s economy. In addition, we saw how the Benin population was being deported from Gabon to Benin and how that became a problem to the country as it started to deal with refugee crisis. Today, I am very interested in taking a step back to what Benin was like a few years after its independence, 1963.

As you may recall, the Republic of Benin gained its independence in 1960, so it is important for people who learn about history to also get exposed to what an independent nation looked like just a few years after its independence. I found a paper called Benin written by Dr. Horace Sègnonna Adjolohoun and it went deep in discussing about different political structures of Benin since it fought for their freedom from colonialists. During 1963 – 1972, I really was surprised to see how disturbed and chaotic the political powers of Benin were like.

First of all, I was very surprised to see that “Between 1963 and 1972 the country experienced eight coups, adopted ten constitutions, and had ten Presidents” (Dr. S Adjolohoun 1). After reading this I was like, this sounds strange!!! Let us look closely to why that might have happened. In my previous class Africa since 1800, I learned that when African countries became independent, everyone wanted to be in higher positions of power. Even though they would be elected, many did not fulfill their responsibilities because of going to the throne and taking advantage of it for their own benefits and not for the citizens. In addition, plenty of political parties got created and this truly created conflicts because we get to see so many coups back and forth.

In the Republic of Benin, I wouldn’t say that it was any different from other countries in terms of fighting for power. I would actually add on saying that the hunger to rule was at a high level!!! It is important for us to know how hard it must have been for a country, disturbed by colonialism, to rebuild itself. Dr. Adjolohoun says that “The 1960–1972 decade was one of political instability and successive regime changes. Civilian and military regimes alternated.” (Dr. Adjolohoun 1). When a country has political issues, I would imagine how hard it must be for citizens who have to follow rules and regulations coming from an unstable government.

So where did these conflicts and unstable governments come from? Well, Dr. Adjolohoun says that “The frequent change of constitutions between 1960 and 1972 had its roots in political and ideological disputes among the elite” (Dr. Adjolohoun 2). I might say that the elites were very involved in making decisions which weren’t necessarily for the best of the people of Benin and that quote also shows us the facts that people wouldn’t even be able to give their opinions if they didn’t fall under the higher and elite categories.

Furthermore, it is very interesting that Benin had also conflicts in terms of region such as the North-South divide which would also cause political tensions from one place to the other. These led to so many coups as one region didn’t want to be ruled by someone from another region. The paper mentions that those suspicions and divides “led to the unusual phenomenon of a collegial presidency with three heads of state, known as ‘presidential triumvira’, experienced between 1970 and 1972” (Dr. Adjolohoun 2). I can’t even imagine living in a country with three presidents! This is very crucial for us to know because it helps us to see how bad and hard it is for people to rebuild themselves as one nation after having been controlled by European powers for so long.

The paper discusses about constitutions and talks about how Benin had major changes in their constitutions. For example, according to Dr. Adjolohoun, the first Benin constitution of 1959 was put in place by the president of France who was at the same time the president of the Africa French Union. I believe that this constitution was full of laws and rules that matched with what colonialists wanted. However, after Benin’s independence, there was a change to a second constitution whose main goal was to grant privileges to the people of Benin. However, there came another coup before the first constitution would even last for a year. We see another constitution change of 1963, 1964, and four other more. We can clearly see that a country that keeps changing constitutions wouldn’t be stable at all which is problematic to the entire Benin population.

The President of Benin: Matthieu Kerekou who went to power in 1972

Dr. Adjolohoun keeps talking about political instabilities saying “Political tension increased between civilian leaders until 1972” (Dr. Adjolohoun 3). It is very important for us to see that civilians also chose to stand up to raise issues that were present in their government. In 1972, the Republic of Benin had president Mattieu Kerekou whom the paper describes as having been a dictator who removed hte constitution that supported freedom and liberty. Dr. Adjolohoun says that during Kerekou’s leadership, “Political violence and systematic rights violations were the main characteristics of the state” (Dr. Adjolohoun 3). It is very interesting how later in the paper the author discusses how the dictatorial rule contributed in Benin’s political stability. This to me sounds very problematic because people did not have any rights to do what they wanted and the present government at the time planted strict rules and laws which did not allow anyone to oppose the government. I believe that this is very important for us to know because if shows us the effects of dictatorship and the violation of rights.

I would keep digging deeper into this paper, but in a nutshell, it goes on talking about how in 1990, the National Conference opposed the leadership constitutions and suggested new ones that will move toward the protection of human rights and building a democratic nation. I was very glad to share about Benin’s post independence political issues and how an unstable government leads to an unstable nation.

 

Adjolohoun, Horace S. Benin.

http://www.icla.up.ac.za/images/country_reports/benin_country_report.pdf