The Journal of African History

Research Article

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

Martin Stanilanda1

a1 University of Glasgow

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.