Soglo, Nicéphore 1935–
Nicéphore Soglo 1935–
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Nicéphore Soglo has played a key role in guiding the mostly agricultural and extremely poor nation of Benin away from a totalitarian Marxist dictatorship to a democracy. When he was elected president of Benin in 1991, he became the first democratically elected civilian leader of a nation in the history of the entire African continent. Soglo’s election was the culmination of more than two decades of service in positions involving international, financial, and economic issues related to the development of Africa. As president he helped turn Benin’s economy around during his five-year term of office, which led to the country being “regarded as a model by a new generation of leaders on the continent,” according to Jet magazine. Despite his success, Soglo lost his position in the next election due to accusations of nepotism and a lack of concern for the poor of Benin.
Soglo was educated in France, attending the Sorbonne University, the University of Paris, and the University School of Administration there to receive degrees in French literature, as well as in private and public law. In 1963 he began a 15-year tenure in the Benin Ministry of Finance, eventually rising to the position of Minister of Economy and Finance. He later became executive director of the Central Bank of West African States. His international visibility increased when he became executive director on the board of the World Bank in 1979. Soglo used his position to launch the World Bank’s efforts to promote economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa, helping to bring about a complete economic program to spur investment in new commercial and business ventures in the region. He also played a major role in the creation of the African Development Banks.
Severe problems in Benin’s economy helped launch Soglo to the top of his government. After the Marxist Mathieu Kerekou was reelected to the presidency of Benin in 1989, his support eroded as the economy continued to falter. In 1990, a constitutional document was approved that required elections in March of 1991. When Soglo was appointed prime minister of the transitional period before the next election, it put him in a prime position to seek election himself.
A split of the vote between five coalition groups resulted
At a Glance…
Born 1935, in Lome, Togo; married Rosin Vieyra; children: two sons.Education: Sorbonne University, Paris, France; University of Paris, degree in private and public law, Paris, France; University School of Administration, Paris, France, postgraduate work.
Benin Ministry of Finance, inspector and later minister of economy and finance for 1963-78; Central Bank for West African States, executive director; National Monetary Commission, Benin, president; served as head of Office of General Inspection and Finance, Benin; taught at the National University of Benin; World Bank, executive director, 1979-89; Benin, prime minister and minister of defense, 1990-91, president, 1991-96; Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), chair; Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs, fellow, 1996-97.
Addresses: Home-Cotonou, Benin.
in no clear majority in the election held in March of 1991. In a runoff election the following month, Soglo emerged the victor with 68 percent of the vote, thus defeating the incumbent Kerekou. But Soglo could depend on little loyalty within the government, since the National Assembly was split between the five factions and his supporters made up less than 25 percent of the legislature.
Putting his economic know-how to work, Soglo enlisted the financial support of foreign nations to salvage the Beninese economy and instituted policies that earned him the support of international lending institutions. As president he established a growth rate averaging 4 percent per year, with a 6 percent annual growth expected by 1996. During his term of office he played an active role in international affairs, serving as chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He contributed to international peacekeeping by sending 35 Beninese Gendarmes to Haiti as police monitors to help maintain order during the changeover to a democratic government there in the 1990s. Soglo also brought color and style to the presidency with his flamboyant appearance, typically attired in flowing African boubous and colorful hats. He and his wife, Rosin Vieyra, often jogged together in the capital city of Cotonou and were designated “the continent’s new jet setters” in Jet.
A coup against Soglo was planned in 1992, but the plotters were caught and imprisoned. Soglo ran into more trouble during his term of office due to accusations of nepotism, or favoring relatives for jobs. At different times, Soglo’s son served as a senior presidency official and communications director, his brother-in-law as Defense Minister and Secretary of State, and his brother as ambassador to Germany. Other critics resented the fact that he was schooled in Paris, accusing him of arrogance because of his refined education. In 1993 he lost his parliamentary majority due to a rift in the Renewal faction, but was bailed out when three of the factions combined into a coalition called the Benin Renaissance Party, formed by his wife, that supported his presidency. In 1994 Soglo assumed control of the Renaissance Party, which had been formed by his wife. Soglo’s wife won her own seat in the National Assembly in 1995.
In the summer of 1994, Benin’s parliament rejected Soglo’s budget and passed a revised version that called for greater increases in wages and student grants. Determined to meet his commitments to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Soglo passed his budget version by decree. This development further increased agitation among the masses, which were already reeling from worker and student strikes that had followed a 50 percent devaluation of the country’s currently in the beginning of the year.
Soglo made the first working visit by a Beninese chief of state to the United States in the summer of 1995, spending most of his time meeting with entrepreneurs, reporters, elected officials, and those who were interested in providing aid to African children. The following year he asked the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) to provide support for programs to conserve Benin’s forests, coasts, and lands.
Increasingly under the gun for supposedly not doing enough about youth unemployment and inflation, Soglo found himself in a weakened position when it came time for reelection in 1996. More than 30 parties or coalitions ran for seats in the 1996 election, 20 of them opposing Soglo. His major opponent became the former Marxist Kerekou, who had purportedly become a born-again Christian. Kerekou condemned the president as a dictator who cared little for the common man in Benin, while the incumbent Soglo tried to play up his role in bringing democracy to the country. “The foundations of democratic renewal have been solidly laid, and Benin has made progress in areas,” Soglo told a crowd of some 50,000 supporters in Cotonou a few weeks before his election, according to the News African website. “Let’s not stop the movement,” he added. Stressing job creation and the provision of water supplies for all as his priorities, Soglo also tried to win over voters along Benin’s coast by making an official holiday for Vodoun, that region’s ancestral religion. He designated a provincial town as an “international voodoo centre, “according to the International Herald Tribune.
Despite concerns about local militias inciting violence on voting day, a high turnout was evident at the first round of presidential elections in which voters could choose among seven candidates. Soglo’s Benin Renaissance Party led the round with 35.6 percent of the vote, while Kerekou of the Fard Alafia party finished a close second at 34.9 percent. A runoff election on March 18th toppled Soglo, as Kerekou received 52.5 percent of the vote for a clear majority. Some analysts lamented that the election was determined more by ethnic differences than policy. As Will Reno, a political scientist at Florida international University noted in the New York Times, ”Soglo has had a long enough track record so that one would have hoped he could have been voted for or against more on the basis of what he has delivered rather than on the basis of ethnicity.”
After his defeat, Soglo was appointed a fellow at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University for the academic year to follow. He intended on using that year to reflect on his last six years, write about the challenges and problems of bringing democracy to African countries that were recently stabilized, and plan economic reforms. Soglo’s other affiliations with academia included teaching at the National University of Benin.
Dostert, Pierre Etienne, editor, Africa 1995, 30th edition, Stryker-Post Publications, 1996.
Dostert, Pierre Etienne, editor, Africa 1994, 29th edition, Stryker-Post Publications, 1996.
International Herald Tribune, March 21, 1996.
Jet, July 31, 1995, p. 39.
New York Times, March 17, 1996, Section 4, p. 4.
News Times, February 29, 1996.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from websites for AFRO-AM ARCHIVES, the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, News African, the Journal of Democracy, and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) on the Internet.
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