Benin - or Dahomey, which the country was named until 1975 -
is among the poorest countries in the world. It is located
in an area dominated by the Yoruba culture of Ife, where the
Ewe people of the same linguistic tradition established two
kingdoms in the 17th century: Hogbonu, today Porto Novo, and
the more well-known Abomey, in the interior of the country.
These kingdoms were built during the period when the slave
trade was at its peak, and the population nourished
themselves as intermediaries for the slave buyers.
the Fon kings of Abomey founded a centralist state that
extended beyond Benin's present borders. A modern,
disciplined army, equipped with European weapons - an army
that probably included a large number of women, which lasted
until the end of the 19th century! - allowed the people to
break through the defense of Alafin de Oyo, in Nigeria , and
occupy a number of Yoruba cities. English, French and
Portuguese traders from the 17th century used the port of
Ouidah, which was the center of the slave trade , as a
gathering place for the Negro slaves.
The kingdom of Abomey suffered a severe blow when the
English banned the trade in slaves in 1818, but King Ghezo,
1818-1856, secretly continued the transports to Brazil and
Cuba . He also supported the development of agriculture and
introduced a rigid, state monopoly on foreign trade.
His grandson Benhazin inherited a wealthy nation in 1889,
which, however, threatened colonization. French troops
landed in 1891; they were met by the fonts, unable to
prevent the conquest of the capital in 1892. The king and
army retreated to the jungle, from which they continued the
resistance struggle until 1894. Benhazin, who became a
symbol of anti-colonial resistance, died in exile at
Martinique in 1906.
The first thing the colonizers did was to destroy the
central, political structures of the phon monarchy. All the
rules of the old society were abolished, and a social system
was introduced which allowed the crude exploitation of
labor. The French monopolized the trade in palm oil, which
ruined the families that, for almost a century, had resisted
the foreign influence.
The colony of Dahomey, which had its name from the
French, could no longer feed its own inhabitants in the
early 20th century. When the country gained independence in
August 1960, it exported the same amount of palm oil as in
1850 and now had a population that was 3 times larger.
Independence was partly a result of the weakness of
France after World War II and was partly due to the efforts
of a group of nationalists, educated in Europe. They were
led by Louis Hunkanrin and fought for 20 years the
systematic forced labor imposed by the French
administration. Despite the ban on any local political
organization, Hunkanrin founded the League for Human Rights,
which was met by fierce repression by the French. Hundreds
of villages were burned, nearly 5,000 people were killed and
Hunkanrin fled to Mauritania.
In 1960, the French were no longer able to support
Dahomey financially and decided to offer the country
independence. The autonomous government took over a
collapsed economy and a society, deeply divided by
corruption. It marked the beginning of a period of great
instability, with no less than 12 civilian and military
governments in 16 years.
The elite of the colonial era had completely disappeared
when Major Mathieu Kerekou, on October 26, 1972, as leader
of a group of young officers, conducted a coup d'état in
protest against corruption and despotism. Two years later,
Marxism-Leninism was introduced , the country's name changed
to Benin and a municipal organized political and economic
system was introduced. All foreign possessions were
nationalized and Benin's popular Revolutionary Party was
founded, the only party in the country.
The revolutionary society soon fell victim to numerous
foreign organized attacks. In January 1977, an unsuccessful
invasion attempt was made with the participation of French
mercenaries and inspired by Gabon and Morocco.