Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Dahomey (now Benin)
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 892-893
DAHOMEY (now Benin): The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

A narrow country running north-south along the western boundary of Nigeria but with access to the sea, Dahomey was long governed as a French colony. Under the French constitution of 1946, Dahomey obtained a deputy (shared with Togo) in the French Assembly and a territorial assembly of its own with budgetary powers. Politics in Dahomey became marked with regional overtones, with the basic division being between the north and the more populous south. A southerner, Sourou Apithy, was the first deputy elected to the French National Assembly in 1946, when the franchise was restricted to some 50,000 voters.

In 1951, the electorate was enlarged to over 300,000 and the number of deputies to the National Assembly was increased to two. Apithy organized the Parti Républicain du Dahomeeén (PRD) to support his reelection. He was joined in victory by Herbert Maga, a northerner who soon countered with his own Groupement Ethnique du Nord Dahomey (GEND). Another southerner, Justin Ahomadegbe, whose support was based in the labor unions of Cotonou (and on ethnic support from Abomey in the center), formed the third major political force in Dahomean politics when he developed his Union Démocratique Dahomeénne (UDD). These three men and their political organizations dominated the political scene during the remainder of our time period.

As a result of the 1956 French Overseas Reform Act (loi cadre), Dahomey acquired control of most territorial matters, and universal adult suffrage was in effect for the 1957 elections. Apithy's PRD won a majority of the seats, with the remainder divided between Maga's GEND and Ahomadegbe's UDD. Apithy led the government until the elections of 1959, when disputed results led to an agreed division of seats that gave no party a majority. Maga, whose party had changed its name to the Ressemblement Democratique Dahomeén (RDD), became premier in coalition with the UDD. After Dahomey achieved full independence from France in 1960, Maga's RDD and Apithy's party, now called the Parti des Nationalistes Dahomiens (PND), formed a coalition party called the Parti Dahomeén de l'Unité (PDU). The PDU, however, was little more than a coalition of the RDD and PND, with both parties retaining their separate identity. With Maga and Apithy as PDU candidates for president and vice president in the 1960 elections, the PDU list won all the seats, and Dahomey became a one-party state. Maga headed the government throughout our time period and until a military coup in 1963.

Continuity and Change since 1962

Maneuverings among the three major party leaders in Dahomey continued after the coup of 1963 just as before. Having served as vice president in Maga's government just before the coup, Apithy became president in 1964 and had Ahomadegbe as his vice president. After a series of coups in 1965, 1967, and 1969, the realities of regionalism and leadership in party politics were recognized with the creation of a civilian government in which Maga, Apithy, and Ahomadegbe were to take turns being president in a Presidential Council. A leftist army officer, Major Mathieu Kerekou, overthrew the squabbling triumvirate in 1972 and placed all three party leaders under house arrest, effectively ending their parties. None of our three original parties continued to 1978, and one new party qualified for study.

Original Parties, Terminated

 802 Nationalist Party. Although its identity was camouflaged under different titles in different party coalitions (e.g., PDU, and PDD), Apithy's party remained essentially his party regardless of its name. Therefore, we do not regard his PND as having terminated until 1972, when Major Mathieu Kerekou overthrew the triumvirate and arrested Apithy.

803 Democratic Union. The same analysis applies for Ahomadegbe's UDD, which coalesced with Apithy's party to form the governing Dahomean Democratic Party (PDD) in 1964 and 1965. This alliance was ended by a coup, but Ahomadegbe retained his personal party until 1972 when Kerekou took control of the government and arrested Ahomadegbe as one of the former governing triumvirate.

804 Democratic Rally. Maga's RDD coalesced with Apithy's party in 1960 to form the governing Dahomean Party of Unity (PDU), which governed until a coup in 1963. Maga's personal party organization ended with the 1972 military coup and his detention.

NewParty, Continuing

805 People's Revolutionary Party. This party was organized in 1975 by Kerekou, who renamed the country Benin and proclaimed it a "people's republic." Keredou had governed without a legislature until the elections of 1978, in which his PRPB took all the seats.


It appears that Kerekou put an end to the three-cornered game that Apithy, Ahomadegbe, and Maga had made of party politics in Dahomey. It remains to be seen how well his single-party state will govern Benin.

1. Our study of party politics in Dahomey is based on a file of 434 pages from 19 documents, 11 in English and 8 in French. Most of the pages in the file, however, are in French (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by James Stephens and Jean Jacobsohn. Larry Higgins used the file to code the Dahomean parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Our outside consultant was George Martens.