Benin Politics; International Influence vs Local Advantage

Although this article focuses on more recent happenings in Benin Politics, it would serve us to go by a more circuitous route and consider briefly the history of politics in Benin. The Kingdom of Dahomey whose borders encompassed Benin was initially ruled by Oba’s from the 17th century up until the Colonial Period.

The French became the colonial power from 1892 to 1960 when independence was finally attained. In the years that followed, ending in 1972, there was a succession of military coups in Benin which at the time was known as the Republic of Dahomey until 1975. These coups brought about many changes in government, with the last of the coups seeing Major Mathie Kerekou as the head of the regime.

Revolutionary Party of the People of Benin (PRPB) remained in complete power until the beginning of the 1990’s. Kerekou, encouraged by France and some other democratic powers called for a national conference introducing a new democratic constitution. A presidential and legislative election was then held with Kerekou’s primary opponent and Prime Minister at the time, Nicephore Soglo emerging as the President in 1991. Benin’s incumbent President, Thomas Bon Yayi in 2006, took the reign from, Mathie Kerekou, who was re-elected in 1996.

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With Benin’s position as one of the first African countries to democratize at the end of the Cold war, it has gained quite a reputation for being the laboratory of democratization in Africa, hence the spotlight is on the current nomination of Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou by Benin’s ruling coalition, the Forces Cauris pour un Bénin Emergent (FCBE), as the only candidate to succeed the incumbent President, Thomas Bon Yayi. Zinsou, is a Franco-Beninese who had been an adviser to former French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, an investment banker at Rothschild and the head of PAI Partners in Paris, only just receiving the appointment of Benin’s Prime Minister six months ago.

Lionel Zinsou

Considering this and the fact that two Presidents (Nicephore Soglo and Thomas Yayi) out of the three that have ruled since the 1990’s constitution was introduced have likewise stemmed from Benin’s diaspora (people of Benin origin living outside), there is what appears to be a continuing trend of International characters holding the highest office in Benin.

I believe it raises some interesting questions, like; are political parties in Benin unable to select and groom an acceptable candidate, in one of the freest democracies in Africa, from their own ranks? Is the corruption in the nation so widespread that the people must look outside for someone untainted by financial scandal? Is there any truth to perceptions by some Beninese that Lionel Zinsou’s appointment as Prime Minister and more recent selection for Presidential candidacy is a choice imposed by France and an expression of its neocolonial ambitions?

Whatever the answers may be, it will be interesting to see if a worthy local contender will emerge and where the people will cast their votes when the first round of elections are held on 28th February, 2016.