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Dahomey was a French colony of and a part of French West Africa from 1904 to 1958. After World War II, by the establishment of the French Fourth Republic in 1947, Dahomey became part of the French Union with an increased autonomy. On 11 December 1958, the French Fifth Republic was established and the French Union became the French Community. The colony became the self-governing Republic of Dahomey within the Community, and two years later on 1 August 1960 it gained full independence (and in 1975 it changed its name to Benin).
During the 13th century, the indigenous Edo people of the west Niger area were run by a group of local chieftains, but by the 15th century a single ruler known as the 'oba' had asserted control. (See Kingdom of Benin) Under the dynasty established by Ewuare the Great, the most famous of the obas, Benin's territory expanded to cover a region between the Niger River delta and what is now the Nigerian city of Lagos. The obas brought great prosperity and a highly organized state to Benin. They also established good relations and an extensive slave trade with the Portuguese and Dutch who arrived from the 15th century onwards.
The decline of the obas began in the 18th century when a series of internal power struggles began which lasted into the 19th century, paving the way for the French takeover and colonization of the country in 1872. In 1904, the territory was incorporated into French West Africa as Dahomey.
Under the French a port was constructed at Cotonou, and railroads were built. School facilities were expanded by Roman Catholic missions. In 1946, Dahomey became an overseas territory with its own parliament and representation in the French national assembly; and on 4 December 1958, it became the République du Dahomey, self-governing within the French Community.
On 1 August 1960, the Republic of Dahomey gained full independence from France. The first president was Hubert Maga, who bore the title Prime Minister during the country's last year under French rule.
- Chafer, Tony. The End of Empire in French West Africa: France's Successful Decolonization. Berg (2002). ISBN 1-85973-557-6