Benin, People’s Republic Of

Benin, People’s Republic Of
   Following 12 years of instability caused when France relinquished its colonial hold on Benin (then named Dahomey), in 1972 a coup d’état allowed military leader Major Mathieu Kerekou to assume power in the northwest African country. Kerekou oversaw the immediate creation of the People’s Republic of Benin, and directed the young nation’s ideological allegiance to MarxismLeninism.
   Having seized power in October 1972, Kerekou and his supporters installed the 11-man Military Council of the Revolution (MCR) in government. Kerekou himself was to be executive president, and he oversaw the official adoption of Marxism–Leninism in November 1974, a move that prompted a wave of nationalization of private enterprise, and overtures to communist countries in Eastern Europe and Asia for financial aid. A year later, the name Dahomey was formally abandoned and the People’s Republic of Benin asseverated. The MCR also announced the creation of the avowedly Marxist–Leninist Popular Revolutionary Party of Benin (Parti de la Révolution Populaire du Benin—PRPB), a marriage of far-left “La Ligue” Leninists and members of the decentralist Jeunesse Unie du Dahomey. A new constitution, enshrining the blending of military and civil authority, and asserting Kerekou’s unassailable position as leader of the sole political party, the PRPB, was pronounced. Under Kerekou’s stewardship, the PRPB immediately undertook further moves that signaled its adherence to Marxism–Leninism. Foreign- owned businesses were taken into state control, industry and agriculture were nationalized, and measures to undermine the authority of the church introduced. To accomplish this, the government initiated a number of campaigns, chiefly against “feudalism” in the majority countryside. This amounted to the replacing of regional leaders, who remained in power from the colonial era, with party approved henchmen. Their job was to oversee the application of the government’s development program, which aimed to collectivize rural land and expropriate crops for the state. In urban areas, the government’s interpretation of Marxism–Leninism meant the creation of a monolithic state sector that, though guaranteeing university graduates employment, left the budget massively unbalanced. Accordingly, by 1977 both civil and social spheres were largely controlled and subject to the direction of party and state.
   In common with each of the 12 governments that had attempted to control Benin after French withdrawal, the Kerekou regime was exposed to a number of coup attempts, principally the short-lived mercenary assault led by Bob Denard in 1977. While the government’s authority was rapidly reaffirmed on that occasion, it spurred Kerekou into further strengthening his grip on power. He did this by dissolving the MCR in 1979 and replacing it with the unicameral legislative National Revolutionary Assembly. In its opening sitting in February 1980, this pseudo-parliament elected Kerekou president of Benin. The constitutional changes prompted Kerekou’s resignation from the army amid proclamations that his was now officially a civilian government rather than a military one. In effect, it also heralded the end of the revolutionary period, and with growing economic unease resulting in the concurrent re-privatization of a number of state enterprises, the gradual repealing of Marxism–Leninism as the government’s official ideology had begun.
   As pragmatists emerged and began to assume positions of influence in the PRPB, this gravitation toward the political center was accentuated. Furthermore, with government borrowing levels escalating to subsidize a budget deficit caused by the gigantic public sector, and a crash in oil prices in neighboring Nigeria, the economy was at breaking point. A deep recession consumed Benin from the mid- 1980s, and with the country’s chief donors threatening to withhold aid until the budget was balanced, state employees were subject to mass redundancies. Those who retained their positions frequently went unpaid, and the number of university places available was vastly reduced. Inevitably, 1989 saw strikes and demonstrations break out across the nation, and with bitter disputes inside the government, Kerekou was forced to approach the International Monetary Fund/World Bank (IMF/WB) for aid. The IMF/WB consented to finance a rescue package so long as Kérékou agreed to drive Benin toward free market economics and democratization. Thus, in December 1989 the president proclaimed that he and the government had renounced Marxism–Leninism, the PRPB had been liquidated, and that multi-party elections were to be held imminently. The 1991 presidential election in the newly renamed Republic of Benin saw Kerekou soundly beaten, though he startled African politics by emerging victorious in both 1996 and 2001, albeit on a centrist ticket. That Kerekou announced his apostasy of Marxism in 1989 came as little surprise to those on both the right and the left of the Beninese political landscape, who regarded him as little more than a centrist military dictator. While there were some genuine attempts to implement Marxist–Leninist measures in the mid to latter parts of the 1970s, the PRPB government was neither consistently nor vigorously committed to the ideology. This was reflected through the 1980s, when pragmatism regularly and increasingly assumed primacy over idealism. The Marxism practised in Benin was one of rhetoric rather than genuine commitment to the practical application of Marxian economic and social concepts.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.