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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August, 2003, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Benin's 'magical' leader
By Karim Okanla
BBC, Benin

President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin
Many accuse Kerekou of inconsistency

The first time I met Mathieu Kerekou in person was back in December 1972.

He had just seized power, after a bloodless military coup.

I still remember the red colour of his eyes and his domineering attitude.

That day, he was visibly cross at journalists of the ''Voice of the Revolution'', as Benin's national radio was then called.

A reporter had apparently said something that he did not like, and he made a brief appearance at the back gate of the presidential palace to voice his anger.

Mr Kerekou was feared because he is said to possess magical powers.

Voodoo still thrives in Benin, and many use it for different purposes.

Thus it is not a surprise that he has survived many coup attempts.


But in the 1991 presidential elections, Mr Kerekou was elbowed out of office by Nicephore Soglo and many still wander what went wrong with his charms.

But after seven years he made a comeback.

Boy selling voodoo fetishes in Togo
Voodoo is widely practiced in Benin
However more and more people here believe that Mr Kerekou is not really in control of what is going on in the country.

Some say he is being held hostage by the people who brought him back to power in 1996.

In the past, he said he was a Marxist leader, but admitted knowing very little about Marxist ideology.

Before long, Mr Kerekou embraced liberal economic ideas.

He also proclaimed himself a born-again Christian.


Many believe there is a lot inconsistency about Mr Kerekou.

And last week he told Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo he knew very little about the illegal cross border trade between Benin and Nigeria.

If Mathieu Kerekou, a former army general who will turn 70 in a few weeks' time, is not aware of the security situation within the borders of his country, what on earth is he doing in the presidential seat, some wonder.

All the same, Mr Kerekou is said to be a man who utterly dislikes social injustice and ethnic bias.

He is also said to enjoy the company of a closed circle of faithful friends, among them, Pierre Osho, the incumbent minister of state for defence.

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31 Mar 03  |  Africa
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11 Jan 02  |  Africa
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09 Aug 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Benin
25 Apr 03  |  Country profiles

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