The Journal of African History

Research Article

The three-party system in Dahomey: II, 1956–1957

Martin Staniland

By the end of 1955, territorial politics in Dahomey were dominated by three parties, the P.R.D. of S. M. Apithy, the M.D.D. of Hubert Maga, and the U.D.D. of Justin Ahomadegbe and others. Each party relied upon electoral support in clearly defined regions: the P.R.D. depended on the south-east, the M.D.D. on the north, and the U.D.D. on the residual areas of central and south-western Dahomey. The U.D.D. claimed, however, to be a new kind of party, transcending the narrow regionalism of its rivals and commanding ‘mass’ support rather than the uncertain and conditional support provided by ‘vote contractors’.

The loi-cadre reforms of 1956—7 led to an intensification of party activity, since they provided for the creation of territorial executives founded on electoral majorities and at the same time introduced universal suffrage. The 1957 Territorial Assembly elections were therefore a testing-ground for the tactics and strength of the three parties. Under pressure from the P.R.D., the U.D.D. adopted selection procedures like those of its rival. Outside the main towns, its campaigning was similar, concentrating on local issues to the exclusion of the wider questions on which the U.D.D. had hoped to take its stand.