Benin History: French Colonial Era (1882-1960)

French colonial Dahomey
Figure 1.--This photo was taken in the Dahomey (today Benin) village of Toffo. It was a postcard sent on December 13, 1907.

Benin is the former French colomy of Dahomey. The British-French rivalry was finally resolved. The French began to seize control and putting an end to the slave trade (1872). The French established a protectorate based on Porto-Novo (1882). The French moved to completely end the slave trade (1885). The British established posts to the West at various points, but these were turned over to the French under he Anglo-French agreements of 1888–89. The border with German Togo to the west was delineated with in treaties (1885 and 1899). Abomey itself remained outside French control and continued to tax French and other European trade. Fighting broke out between Abomey and the French in Porto-Novo broke (1889). The issue was France's rights of sovereignty over Cotonou. Béhanzin, who became chief of Abomey, attacked the French in Cotonou. His army included a group of about 2,000 Amazons (women soldiers). He then attacked Porto-Novo and Grand Popo (1891). The French landed a large, well-armed expeditionary force commanded by Dodds (1893). They quickly seized control of Abomey. The French Government declared a protectorate. Béhanzin attempted to resist from the interior, but finally surrendered (1894). The French exiled him to Martinique where he died in 1906. His successor was his brother Agoli Agbo who was also exileded (1899). It is unclear wether this was because he crefused to cooperate with the French or for corupt administration as the French claimed. Whatever the reason, this ended the Abomey Kingdom. French Dahomey achieved the borders of modern Benin (1892-98). The French launched exploratory and military expeditiins into the interior and the north. They began to contruct a railway into the interior (1900). The objective was to connect the coast with the Niger river. The railway of course had economic, military, and political consequences. In an administrative reorganization, Dahomey became one constiuent part of the federation of French West Africa with an admiistrative capital in Dakar (1904). When World War I broke out in Europe, British and French troops moved into German Togo and partioned it (1914). The French obtained the larger portion and after the War the League of Nations apprioved a mandate. Dahomey during World War II supported the Free French. After the War, a new French constitution granted Dahomey a deputy and two senators in the French parliament. It also created an elected Territorial Assembly with real input in the budget. Further reforms expanded the powers of the Territorial Assembly (1956-57). A major step was creating a Council of Government elected by the Assembly which was given executive control of domestic administration. Other reforms included universal adult suffrage and the creation of a single, unified electorate. Dahomey voted to accept Gen. de Gaulle's new French constitution (1958). Provision in the Constitution addressed the status of the colonies. Dahomey chose to become an autonomous republic within the French Community.


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Created: 7:41 AM 7/12/2011
Last updated: 7:41 AM 7/12/2011