Sourou Migan Apithy

Sourou Migan Apithy (1913-1989) was a political leader in Dahomey (now Benin). He led one of the three power blocs which contributed to Dahomean instability.

Sourou Apithy was born in Porto Novo on April 8, 1913 and attended local mission schools. He studied in France, where he received a university degree in political science. He immediately found employment in France as an accountant and later operated his own accounting firm. In 1946 he was chosen to represent Dahomey in the Constituent Assembly and later was elected deputy to the French Assembly. He attended the founding meeting of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA) at Bamako, Mali, and was elected one of its vice presidents. Two years later he broke with the RDA and associated himself and his party, the Parti Républicain Dahoméen (PRD), with the socialist aims of Senegal's Léopold Senghor. He was reelected a deputy in 1951 and again in 1956 and became mayor of Porto Novo in 1956.

In the 1957 elections for the legislature Apithy's party was opposed by the Union Démocratique Dahoméene (UDD), which was based in Abomey and was led by Justin Ahomadegbe, and by the northern Mouvement Démocratique Dahoméen (MDD) of Hubert Maga. Apithy's party won 35 of the 60 seats, and he became vice president of the Council. All parties campaigned for the De Gaulle plebiscite in 1958, but Apithy's plan to join Dahomey to the Mali Federation was blocked by Ivory Coast pressure and opposition from UDD.

In the Territorial Assembly elections of 1959, Apithy's party won 37 seats, the MDD 22, and the UDD 11 despite the fact that UDD candidates had received 30,000 more votes than the PRD. Violent protests caused Apithy to concede 9 of the PRD seats to the UDD and to agree to serve under Maga's leadership. Later that year Apithy was forced out of the government by a coalition of Maga and Ahomadegbe.

Troubled Presidency

Dahomey achieved independence in 1960, and Maga became its first president. However, he could not check inflation and unemployment, and he was deposed by a military coup in 1963. The coup leader, Col. Christophe Soglo, reorganized the government and then resigned, and in January 1964 Apithy became president of a civilian coalition government. Economic problems continued, the Bariba in the north revolted, there were strikes, and Apithy and his vice president, Ahomadegbe, differed on policies such as the recognition of Red China. The regional factions inherent in Dahomean politics during this time contributed to the government's instability. In November 1965 Soglo once more intervened and attempted to force the three major parties to cooperate. After fruitless discussions Soglo reestablished a military regime, and Apithy fled the country.

From his exile in France, Apithy played no significant role in the later overthrow of Soglo in 1967, the military regime of Col. Alley, the restoration of civilian government under Emile Derlin Zinsou, and its overthrow in December 1969. After the last coup Apithy joined his old opponents Maga and Ahomadegbe in Dahomey and offered his services to the new regime.

Part of Presidential Council

In an alliance known as the triumverate, the three leaders formed the Presidential Council in May 1970 with the plan to rule Dahomey successively in two-year terms. Maga was the first chairman of the Council. However, the Council's power struggles made them vulnerable to a coup by Major Mathieu Kérékou in 1972, before Apithy's term had begun. He was placed under house arrest, as were Maga and Ahomadegbe.

The 1972 coup marked a distinct break from the previous systems of government, symbolized in the changing of the country's name in November 1975 to the People's Republic of Benin. Kérékou continued to rule and in 1981 released the three former presidents. In poor health on his release, Apithy died on November 12, 1989.

Further Reading on Sourou Migan Apithy

More information may be found in Ronald Segal, Political Africa (1961); the section on Dahomey in Gwendolen Margaret Carter, ed., Five African States (1963); Ruth Schachter Morgenthau, Political Parties in French-Speaking West Africa (1964); and John Hatch, A History of Postwar Africa (1965). Also see Allen, Chris, "Benin" in Benin, The Congo, and Burkina Faso (Pinter Publishers, 1989), and Decalo, Samuel, Historical Dictionary of Benin, 3rd edition (Scarecrow Press, 1995).