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The three-party system in Dahomey: I, 1946–56

  • Martin Staniland (a1)

The ‘three-party system’ of Dahomey consists of a trio of regional fiefs, created by MM. Apithy, Maga, and Ahomadegbe in the early fifties. The development and persistence of regionalism can be attributed to a low level of economic change, an unusually high level of educational provision, a considerable diversity of ethnic groupings, and an exceptionally rapid process of enfranchisement.

Formal political organizations appeared in 1945 and 1946 in response to the constitutional innovations brought about by the Constituent Assemblies in Paris. Between 1946 and 1951 territorial politics were dominated by the Union Progressiste Dahoménne, a loosely structured body which, while claiming ‘mass’ membership, had many of the same leaders as pre-war élite associations and adopted a similar philosophy with regard to colonial reform. There was little attempt to ‘mobilize’ the hinterland or to get the support of the unenfranchised. The institutional arrangements of the period did not compel politicians to strive in either direction. They did encourage the consolidation of the personal authority of the deputy, over both his political associates and the voting public.

Regional parties were set up in and after 1951. Their creation was occasioned by a sudden, fivefold increase in the electorate, the granting of a second National Assembly seat to the territory, and a split within the U.P.D. leadership over the renomination of Apithy, deputy from 1946 to 1951.

Northern politicians, led by Hubert Maga, exploited the division within the U.P.D. and exploited also northern resentment over the party's indifference to the region. The northern component of the regional system came into existence (the G.E.N.D.—later M.D.D.), and was quickly followed by a south-eastern ‘bloc’, the undisputed property of Apithy. In the mid-fifties a third party, the U.D.D., appeared, to absorb the residual elements of regional (and urban) support left outside the Maga and Apithy fiefs.

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1 Glélé, Maurice-A., Naissance d'un Etat Noir. L'évolution politique et constitutionnelle du Dahomey, de la colonisation à nos jours (Paris, 1969).

2 Ibid. 71.

3 Ibid. 41.

4 Cornevin, Robert, Histoire du Dahomey (Paris, 1962), 465–7;Akindélé, A. and Aguessy, C., Le Dahomey (Paris, 1955), 95;Herskovits, M. J. and Harwitz, M. (eds.), Economic Transition in Africa (London, 1964), 258;Ministère de la France d'Outre-Mer, Direction des Affaires Politiques, zème Bureau, Le Syndicalisme dans les Territoires Africains (1954).

5 Ministère de la France d'Outre-Mer, Le Syndicalisme.

6 In 1951 the rate of school attendance in Dahomey was 15·4 per cent, compared with 7·6 per cent in the Ivory Coast, 5·6 per cent in Guinea, and 13 per cent in Senegal (Ministère de la France d'Outre-Mer, Service des Statistiques d'Outre-Mer, Outre-Mer 1958 (Paris, 1959), 188.

7 Thirty-five per cent of the population lived in Porto-Novo, Cotonou, and Ouidah cercles, as against 30·8 per cent in the four northern cercles.

8 Cornevin, Histoire du Dahomey, 490;République du Dahomey, Service de l'Information, Le Dahomey. Naissance d'une Nation (Porto-Novo, 1963), 54.

9 Akindélé and Aguessy, Le Dahomey, 95.

10 Ibid. 34; Cornevin, Histoire du Dahomey, 42–57, 59–60.

11 Cornevin, Histoire du Dahomey, 35–8, 57–8, 62–5.Cf. Lombard, Jacques, Structures de type ‘féodal’ en Afrique Noire. Etude des dynamismes internes, et des relations sociales chez les Bariba du Dahomey (Paris, 1965).

12 An official handbook lists fifty-nine ‘ethnic groups’ (Dahomey, République du, Le Dahomey, 15–16).Cf. F. M. Oké, ‘Survivance tribale ou problématique nationale en Afrique? Un cas concret, celui de la réalité dahoméenne’, Etudes dahoméennes, N.S., I, no. 12 (1968), 58.

13 Morgenthau, Ruth Schachter, Political Parties in French-speaking West Africa (Oxford, 1964), 4952;Thompson, Virginia and Adloff, Richard, French West Africa (London, 1958), 58.

14 Ibid. 58.

15 Born 1913, Porto-Novo, to Goun parents; educated at Catholic mission, Porto-Novo, secondary school in France; trained as accountant in France; returned to Dahomey, 1939; member of the Monnerville Commission on overseas representation, February 1945; elected member of first Constituent Assembly, October 1945, and of second Constituent Assembly, June 1946.

16 On the creation of the U.P.D., see Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 71–93, and F. M. Oké, ‘Des comités électoraux aux partis politiques dahoméens’, Revue française d'études politiques africaines, no. 45 (Sept. 1969), 45–61.

17 La Voix du Dahomey (Cotonou), 15 July 1946. At the 1947 Congress, Paul Hazoumé claimed that the U.P.D. had ‘over 55,000 members and (had) branches in all the towns, cells in the most insignificant villages’ (Le Phare du Dahomey (Cotonou), May 1947).

18 Le Phare du Dahomey, May 1947.

19 ‘… the majority of the canton chiefs are with us in spirit and some are even leaders of branches: [e.g.] three of the five canton chiefs in Abomey, two of the three in the subdivision of Zagnanado, plus others in Cotonou, Allada, Mono (Athiémé), and northern Dahomey.’

20 Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 97.

21 Le Phare du Dahomey, May 1947.

22 Ibid. In December 1946 the U.P.D. required each of its candidates for the General Council to sign a declaration promising to defend private education (Le Phare du Dahomey, special number, Dec. 1946).

23 Apithy was in fact censured by the Executive Committee in a resolution of 25 Apr. 1948, which noted that he had failed to consult the party before joining the R.D.A. It called on him ‘to make a positive choice between the U.P.D. and the R.D.A., in other words to leave the R.D.A. until such time as it (might be) free of attachment to a metropolitan party.’ This resolution was approved by a U.P.D. congress on a May 1948. The documents relating to this crisis were printed in Le Phare du Dahomey, May 1948, and Le Progressiste (Cotonou), no. 5, May 1948.Cf. Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 93–7.

24 France-Dahomey (Porto-Novo), 21 Apr. 1951, 28 Apr. 1951, 19 May 1951, 23 May 1951.

25 France-Dahomey, 28 Apr. 1951, 30 May 1955.Cf. Thompson, Virginia, ‘Dahomey’, in Carter, Gwendolen M. (ed.), Five African States. Responses to Diversity (London, 1964), 174–5; and Morgenthau, Political parties, 55–6.

26 Thompson and Adloff, French West Africa, 58. ‘Senate’ was an alternative title for the Council of the Republic.

27 L'Evidence (Cotonou), June 1951.

28 L'Etoile du Dahomey (Cotonou), 10 July 1951.Cf. Grivot, René, Réactions dahoméennes (Paris, 1954), 83–8.

29 L'Etoile du Dahomey, 10 July 1951; L'Evidence, June 1951.

30 L'Evidence, June 1951.

31 Thompson and Adloff, French West Africa, 60.

32 Le Progressiste, June 1951. Similar complaints appeared in L'Evidence, May 1951 and June 1951. After his break with the R.D.A., the latter accused Apithy of being a client of the administration (Reveil (Dakar), no. 343, 20 Dec. 1948).Cf. Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 100–2.

33 L'Etoile du Dahomey, 30 March 1949.

34 L'Ouémé (Porto-Novo), May/June 1949;L'Etoile du Dahomey, Nov./Dec. 1949.

35 This account is largely based on two leaflets issued by the main parties: La Dissidence de M. Apithy (Union Progressiste Dahoméenne, Cotonou, n.d.), and La Vérité sur l'éclatement de l'U.P.D. (Comité électoral de l'Union Française, Porto-Novo, 1951). The latter is reprinted in Glélé, op. cit. 102–4. Other sources include: L'Evidence, May 1951 and June 1951;Le Progressiste, June 1951;L'Etoile du Dahomey, 5 June 1951.

36 France-Dahomey, 25 Nov. 1948.

37 France-Dahomey, 24 Feb. 1949.

38 France-Dahomey, 30 May 1950.

39 France-Dahomey, 31 Mar. 1949. On French administration in the north, see Thompson, in Carter, Five African States, 169–71.

40 France-Dahomey, 30 May 1950. In a similar speech in November, Valluy said: ‘The permanent administrative organisation will include a large northern province, to be transformed into a department when a treasury and an accountancy division are set up in Parakou, a central province with headquarters at Abomey, and a coastal province’ (France-Dahomey, 28 Nov. 1950).

41 Peperty was identified in some circles as the promoter of the idea of a separate northern region. An article which appeared in L'Etoile alleged that by this stratagem he hoped to have ‘a fine palace at Parakou from which he might speak as “governor” before he retired’ (L'Etoile du Dahomey, 10 July 1951). Appointed commandant de cercle, Natitingou, in Feb. 1951, Peperty acquired the title of ‘King of the Atacoras’, after the mountains in the north-west (France-Dahomey, 7 Feb. 1951;Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 118;Cornevin, Histoire du Dahomey, 337 facing).

42 La Vérité sur l'éclatement de l'U.P.D.

43 La dissidence de M. Apithy.

44 Ibid. This demand is not mentioned in La Vérité sur l'éclatement de l'U.P.D.

45 L'Evidence, June 1951.

47 La Vérité sur l'éclatement de l'U.P.D., ‘Appel au Peuple Dahoméen’.

48 The three were Apithy (Goun), Hazoumé (Goun), and Pinto.

49 Le Progressiste, June 1951.

50 L'Etoile du Dahomey, 15 June 1951. The B.P.A. electoral address referred to the U.P.D.'s elected members as a ‘handful of more or less unknown arrivistes’.

51 Electoral address, Groupement Ethnique du Nord-Dahomey; L'Evidence, June 1951.

52 L'Etoile du Dahomey, 15 June 1951.

53 L'Evidence, July 1951.

54 L'Evidence, June 1951.

55 L'Etoile du Dahomey, 10 July 1951.

56 L'Evidence, July 1951.

58 L'Etoile du Dahomey, 10 July 1951.

59 Tardits, Claude, Porto-Novo. Les nouvelles générationi africaines entre leurs traditions et l'occident (Paris, 1958), 97.

60 Tardits, Porto-Novo, 96.

61 Statutes of Association des Ainonvi de Porto-Novo (submitted 18 Aug. 1947), on file at Direction des Affaires Intérieures, Cotonou.

62 Quoted from report on meeting held at Palais Royal de Houmé, 22 Dec. 1946 (Renseignement 506/E … 277/CPM, Direction des Affaires Intérieures, Cotonou). Other ethnic associations included the Fon Communauté des Houegbadjavis (president, Justin Ahomadegbe) and the northern Union Atacora (president, Hubert Maga).

63 Renseignement 506/E.

64 Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 113.

65 The Toffinou live in Abomey-Calavi and Porto-Novo.

66 France-Dahomey, 13 Oct. 1956.

67 Calculated from information in France-Dahomey, 12 Mar. 1952 and 31 Mar. 1952.

68 Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 114.Cf. Tardits, Porto-Novo, 99.

69 Six were teachers, four merchants, and two commission agents. The others included a doctor, a manufacturer, a civil servant, a nurse, a police officer, a beekeeper, and an accountant (Apithy).

70 On Maga and northern politics generally, see Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 119–31;Cornevin, Histoire du Dahomey, 512, 515–16;Thompson, in Carter, Five African States, 176, 239–40;Grivot, Réactions dahoméennes;Decalo, Samuel, ‘The politics of instability in Dahomey’, Acta Africana (Geneva), VII, no. 2 (1968), 532. On Bariba politics, see Lombard, Jacques, ‘La vie politique dana une ancienne société de type féodal: lea Bariba du Dahomey’, Cahiers d'études africaines, I, no. 3 (1960), 545, and Lombard, Structures de type ‘féodal’.

71 On the ‘Dendi’, see Lombard, ‘La vie politique’, 27 ff.;Marty, Paul, Etudes sur l'Islam au Dahomey (Paris, 1926), ‘Haut Dahomey’.

72 Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 128.

73 Lombard, ‘La vie politique’, 35–6;France-Dahomey, 12 Mar. 1952 and 31 Mar. 1952.

74 L'Eveil du Bénin (Cotonou), 15 Feb. 1953;Cornevin, Histoire du Dahomey, 516.

75 On Toko's conflict with Maga, see Lombard, ‘La vie politique’, 35–7;Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 125–7.

76 Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 122.

77 Ibid. 122.

78 Of the U.P.D. councillors elected in 1946, three (MM. Sani Agata, Ahouanménou, and Apithy) were elected on the P.R.D. ticket in 1952, and three (MM. Maga, Baba Moussa, and Congacou Tahirou) were elected on the G.E.N.D. ticket.

79 Namely, MM. Hazoumé, Covi, and Zinsou. Pinto stood for a first college seat but was defeated.

80 Among them were Azango, President of the U.P.D. Executive Committee, and Degbey, an ex-U.P.D. councillor.

81 On the B.P.A. and Abomey, see Lombard, Jacques, Autorités traditionnelles et pouvoirs européens en Afrique noire. Le déclin d'une aristocratie sous le régime colonial (Paris, 1967), 244–5. The B.P.A. claimed support by chiefs and civil servants (Rapport politique, 23 June 1951, on file, Sûreté, Porto-Novo; L'Etoile du Dahomey,, 1 May 1947).

82 The newspaper owner, Eugène D'Almeida, and Maximilien Quenum, a candidate in the 1951 elections, formed an independent party in 1952. They later joined forces with Apithy, arguing that he had been the victim of ‘a conspiracy framed by the rest of the south against Porto-Novo’ and that, whether the élite politicians liked it or not, Apithy had the support of the masses (L'Etoile du Dahomey, 15 Mar. 1952, June 1952, 15 Dec. 1955).

83 On Ahomadegbe and the R.D.A., see Lombard, Autorités traditionnelles, 245. Ahomadegbe was a representative of the Grand Council on the governing body of the Institut des Hautes Etudes, Dakar (later the University of Dakar) (L'Eveil du Bénin, 1 Mar. 1954).

84 Zinsou's reputation was slightly tarnished by his behaviour in 1955 on the occasion of the election of representatives to the Council of the Republic (the Senate). In 1953 Zinsou had failed to secure re-election to the Assembly of the French Union because of P.R.D. opposition and a disagreement with the other outgoing member, Hazoumé. In 1955 Zinsou stood for the first college seat in the Senate, against the opposition of his radical supporters, who thought that, as a declared opponent of the double college system, he risked the charge of hypocrisy and opportunism by so doing. Zinsou rejected their appeal to wait for the National Assembly elections of 1956. A circular letter which he distributed in 1953 suggests that he was most anxious to be returned to a Paris seat (see correspondence printed in L'Evil du Bénin, 1 Nov. 1953).

85 Adandé was in fact president of the Union and editor of its journal, Gbedjinonvi.

86 L'Eveil du Bénin, 15 Oct. 1952, 1 Dec. 1953;Franee-Dahomey, 9 Mar. 1956, 24 Apr. 1956. Ahomadegbe was a vice-president of the C.J.D.: his speech is reprinted in L'Eveil du Bénin, 15 Oct. 1952.

87 Zinsou and Pinto were co-directors.

88 Quoted in Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 133.

89 As was the independent, L'Opinion du Pays, organ of the Grand Parti d'Emancipation et d'Evolution, a one-man party, created by R. M. Akpan Yikpon, a journalist, described by Governor Biros as ‘a specialist in campaigns against the collection of taxes’. In October 1955 Akpan Yikpon was invited by Fenner Brockway to attend the World Congress of Colonial Peoples at Cliftonville, Bristol (L'Opinion du Pays, Oct. 1955; Governor of Dahomey to High Commissioner, French West Africa, 9 Apr. 1957, 155/APA (on file Direction des Affaires Intérieures, Cotonou)).

90 Lombard, Jacques, ‘Cotonou Ville Africaine’, Etudes dahoméennes, X, (1953), 191–2;L'Eveil du Bénin, 1, Oct. 1952;L'Etoile du Dahomey, Sept./Oct./nov. 1952;Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 132.

91 L'Opinion du Pays, 31 Oct. 1955;France-Dahomey, 22 Nov. 1955.

92 L'Etoile du Dahomey, July 1955, 15 Dec. 1955; personal communication.

93 Johnson, R. W., ‘The Parti Démocratique de Guinée and the Mamou “deviation”’ in Allen, Christopher and Johnson, R. W. (eds.), African Perspectives (Cambridge, 1970), 358 (q.v.).Cf. Morgenthau, , Political Parties, 14, 281.

94 Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 134; L'Etoile du Dahomey, 15 Dec. 1955; personal communication.

95 Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 142.

96 Glélé, Naissance d'un Etat Noir, 134; Daho-Matin (Cotonou), 4 Dec. 1959.

97 Daho-Matin, 4 Dec. 1959.

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