Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu Kerekou has been President of the people's Republic of Benin (formerly known as Dahomey) since he seized power on October 26th, 1972.
Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu Kerekou has been President of the people's Republic of Benin (formerly known as Dahomey) since he seized power on October 26th, 1972. His government has been the most long lasting the country has ever had. In the 12 years that followed independence from France in 1960, there had been five previous coups.
SYNOPSIS: Major Kerekou, ad he then was, was 38, and Deputy Chief of Staff at the time he seized power. He had been active as a paratroop leader in a previous army coup in 1967, but had not held any government office.
President Kerekou lost no time in improving relations with his country's immediate neighbours, Nigeria and Ghana. He visited General Gowon, then the ruler of Nigeria, early in 1973, to discuss economic co-operation. Benin needs outlets for its skilled manpower, for whom it has little work at home.
A month later, he was in Conakry, visiting President Sekou Tours of Guinea. The two leaders were united in their leanings to the left and their distaste for France's continuing influence in her former African colonies.
Madame Kerekou took part in a demonstration in January 1975 in support of the President. He had just put down an attempted coup, led by a former minister. Two more alleged anti-government plots were unmasked in the same year.
By this time, President Kerekou had formally adopted the Marxist-leninist creed, and extended state control over the economy.
President Kerekou is explaining his programme for revolution and reconstruction, based on national independence. He had just set up a new system of local administration, with district and village committees, which he said would both strengthen the country and make it more democratic. He went on to explain the essential role that the younger generation of Benin citizens should play in making sure that the revolutionary programme was carried out successfully.
In July of last year, President Kerekou visited Peking, where he was welcomed by the Chinese Prime Minister (and later, Communist Party Chairman) Hua Kuo-feng. China has given Benin a substantial loan, which is used mainly for agricultural development, particularly rice production. The Soviet Union is also interested in aiding Benin, but more in the educational field.
Early this year, a party of mercenaries, black and white, made a brief raid on Cotonou, the capital of Benin. At a ceremony to honour five Benin officers killed in resisting the invasion, President Kerekou laid the blame on a former President, Emile Zinzou, now living in Paris, and denounced "Western imperialists", with the implication that France was involved. President Kerekou's military-backed regime has survived longer than any other since the country became independent, and enjoys substantial popular support. But it has had to contend with at least four apparent plots against it, and has had a constant struggle to maintain its stability.