Small groups of Bushmen (pygmies) presumably lived in the area of what is now Benin as hunters and gatherers before the Christian era. After the first millennium AD Different tribes settled: presumably in the north the Somba, in the northeast the Bariba and Fulbe, while in the south the Fon belonged to the Ewe people. Several small kingdoms emerged over the centuries.
From the 16th century onwards, the empires in the south began to trade with Portuguese seafarers (ivory, pepper, slaves), and later English and French were added as traders. The Adja founded the empires Allada and Adjatsche, the latter was renamed Porto-Novo by the Portuguese . Later, the Fon founded the empire Dahome in the center of what is now Benin, which rose to become the region’s most powerful kingdom and expanded south and north. Women’s regiments (admired by the Europeans) were also created to expand the armed forces required for this.
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In the 19th century, Dahome reached its peak under King Ghezo and dominated, among other things, the slave trade. Britain had been trying to stop trade in people in Africa since 1807, but it was only after 1830 that trade in palm oil and cotton could spread.
In the middle of the 19th century, France began to establish itself in the coastal areas of what is now Benin. Until the end of the century, the existing kingdoms were subjugated or bound by corresponding protectorate contracts. In 1894 the kingdoms of Allada, Porto-Novo and Dahome were united to form the “Dahomey” colony and annexed to the General Government of French West Africa.
After the end of the Second World War, Dahomey was declared an overseas territory within the French Union and received limited internal autonomy. 12 years later, the country was declared an autonomous republic within the French community (Communaut¨¦ Française). Until then, the “Parti du Regroupement Dahom¨¦en” (PRD), “Rassemblement D¨¦mocratique Dahom¨¦en” (RDD) and the “Union D¨¦mocratique Dahom¨¦en” (UDD) had established themselves as leading political parties. In August 1960 the Republic of Dahomey gained full sovereignty. The capital became Porto Novo, the seat of government in the port city of Cotonou.
Due to the large ethnic contrasts in the country, coupled with different religions (Islam prevailed in the north, while predominantly natural religions were practiced in the south or Christians lived), the new state proved to be extremely unstable in terms of domestic politics. From 1960 to 1972 there were five changes of government due to coups. The constitution was amended five times, ten different presidents were in office during this period.
In 1972 the military putsch again, this time under the leadership of General Mathieu K¨¦r¨¦kou. Two years later, he appointed himself head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces and proclaimed a Marxist-Leninist-oriented state (1975 “People’s Republic of Benin”, after the old Kingdom of Benin, whose center, however, was on the territory of the neighboring state of Nigeria). The “Parti de la Revolution Populaire du B¨¦nin” (PRPB) replaced the opposition and a large part of all the factories in the country were nationalized. The state principle of the unicameral and one-party system was enshrined in the 1977 constitution.
After the country was on the brink of economic ruin at the end of the 1980s (estimated foreign debt of $ 1.5 billion), the government of Benin, under pressure from the donor countries (especially France), had to declare its departure from Marxism- Leninism and initiate a process of democratization. In 1991 the form of government was changed back to the parliamentary presidential republic and a new constitution was proclaimed. In the presidential election, Mathieu K¨¦r¨¦kou was beaten by his opponent Nic¨¦phore Soglo.
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The new government tried to quickly reprivatize the factories and increase economic performance. The austerity measures enacted by the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) resulted, among other things, in an increase in unemployment, particularly among the rural population. Soglo was voted out in 1996 and Mathieu K¨¦r¨¦kou took over Benin’s leadership again, this time as President-elect. He maintained his predecessor’s reform policy. Despite stable growth rates of around 5% since the beginning of the 1990s, Benin is still one of the poorest countries in the world, partly due to the rapid growth in population.
In March 2001 Mathieu K¨¦r¨¦kou was again able to prevail against his challenger Nic¨¦phore Soglo in the election for the office of President: After a short election became necessary due to the short result, Soglo withdrew his candidacy. According to AbbreviationFinder, K¨¦r¨¦kou was sworn in for another five-year term in April 2001 and, after not being allowed to run again, was replaced in April 2006 by former President of the West African Development Bank BOAD, Boni Yayi. In May 2011, a prime minister (not provided for in the constitution) was elected for the first time. This has a coordinating function and performs tasks that are assigned to him by the President.