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Africa 2006,

The Abomey kingdom of the Dahomey or Fon peoples was established in 1625. Its rich cultural life found expression in wooden masks, bronze statues, tapestries and pottery that have gained world renown in recent years. The Portuguese and the Dutch conducted slave trade from Porto Novo until the mid-19th Century before the French, with the approval of Britain and Germany, appropriated a colony extending from the Niger to the sea and named it Dahomey. Early in the 20th Century it became part of French West Africa and on 1 August 1960, was one of 14 former French African colonies granted independence. Several coups led to the assumption of power by Major Mathieu Kérékou in 1974.
During his 17-year rule Kérékou turned Dahomey into the People's Republic of Benin under a Marxist dictatorship. In 1989, President Kérékou was forced by widespread opposition to his failed centralized economy to renounce Marxism-Leninism and implement a major privatization program. His cuts in the government payroll and reduction of social services promoted student and labor unrest. Fearing revolution Kérékou agreed to a new constitution and free elections in 1991. He lost to Nicéphore Soglo, who introduced economic reforms but failed to win reelection in 1996 when Kérékou made a dramatic comeback. Thus Benin became not only the first one-party state in Africa to vote an incumbent ruler out of office but also to return the same former authoritarian ruler to the presidency by popular vote. In the March 2001 presidential election Kérékou, who leads the Front d'action pour le rénouveau et le développement (FARD) scored a comfortable victory in an election boycotted in part by originally declared contenders.