A descendant of the Yoruba princes of Sabe, Thomas Boni Yayi (born 1 July 1951) is a Beninese banker and politician who was President of Benin from 2006 to 2016. He took office after winning the March 2006 presidential election and was re-elected to a second term in March 2011. He also served as the Chairperson of the African Union from 29 January 2012 to 27 January 2013.
Early life and banking career
Boni was born in Tchaourou, in the Borgou Department in northern Benin, then the French colony of Dahomey. He received his education first in the regional capital of Parakou before moving on to earn a master’s degree in economics at the National University of Benin. He then pursued an additional master’s degree in economics at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal, and then earned a doctorate in economics and politics at the University of Orléans in France and at Paris Dauphine University, where he completed a doctorate in economics in 1976.
At the end of his education, Boni began a long career in banking. From 1975 until 1979 he worked at the Benin Commercial Bank before moving to work at the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) from 1977 until 1989. From 1992 until 1994, he served as an economic adviser to the President of Benin Nicéphore Soglo. In 1994 he left this position to become the President of the West African Development Bank (BOAD).
Boni stood as one of 26 candidates in the March 2006 presidential election. The sitting president, Mathieu Kérékou, had been a dominant force in the politics of the country since the early 1970s and there were serious doubts about him agreeing to allow a transition of power. Boni surprised many by earning 35.8% of the vote in the first round as an independent candidate. The main parts of his campaign were to improve governance, stimulate the private sector, improve educational opportunities for women, and modernize the agricultural sector. His closest competitor was Adrien Houngbédji of Soglo’s Party for Democratic Renewal who received 25 percent. In the runoff between Boni and Houngbédji on 19 March 2006, Boni won with almost 75 percent of the vote. He took office on 6 April 2006. The 2006 election saw high voter turnout and was considered free and fair by independent election observers.
In the 2007 parliamentary elections, a coalition that was led by the Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) and supported Boni earned the largest share of seats. This coalition broke apart by 2010 and prevented the passage of many parts of Boni’s agenda. By August 2010, an increasingly unified coalition was able to get a majority of the parliament to vote to impeach Boni for his involvement in a Ponzi scheme that took the savings of 100,000 people in Benin.While they did not get the required two-thirds majority to remove Boni from power, the opposition agreed to organize around Houngbédji in the 2011 presidential election.
A new voter system in the country was widely criticized by the opposition, and with the assistance of international organizations, Boni agreed to a two-week delay in the 2011 presidential election. The result of the election, deemed free and fair by international election monitors, was a victory for Boni on the first round with 53.8% of the vote. Houngbédji, who received 36%, challenged the election and took the case to the Constitutional Court. The court named Boni as the winner on March 21, 2011, resulting in large-scale protests and police repression of those demonstrations. Although protests continued, the opposition had largely fractured and Boni’s coalition earned 49 of the 83 seats in the parliamentary elections that followed. Boni was the first president since the restoration of democracy to win the presidency in a single round.
Having served two terms in office, Yayi Boni was constitutionally required to step down in 2016. His preferred successor, Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, was defeated in the March 2016 presidential election by Patrice Talon, and Yayi Boni was succeeded by Talon on 6 April 2016.
Soon after leaving office, he headed the African Union’s observer mission for the April 2016 presidential election in Equatorial Guinea.
On March 15, 2007, Yayi Boni survived an ambush on his convoy near the village of Ikemon while returning from an election campaign rally in the town Ouesse for the upcoming parliamentary elections. The attackers blocked the road with downed trees, and fired upon the vehicle that usually carries the President; however President Boni was traveling in a separate vehicle. Several of his entourage were wounded in the ensuing crossfire between the presidential guard and the would-be assassins. However this information remains unproven since all sources claiming the assassination attempt come from the president’s camp. The verification of such information remains impossible to date.
On October 23, 2012, the BBC reported that the president’s doctor, niece, and former commerce minister had been arrested in a plot to poison the president. Patrice Talon, a former ally of the president and businessman, had reportedly paid the niece to substitute the President’s medicine with a “toxic substance” while he was on a state visit to Brussels.
Originally from a Muslim family, Boni is now an Evangelical Protestant. He has five children, and his wife Chantal (née de Souza), a native of the coastal city of Ouidah, is the niece of the former President Paul-Émile de Souza and the great granddaughter of Francisco Felix de Sousa, also known as Chacha de Souza, who was a Brazilian slave trader and the Viceroy of Ouidah. A descendant of the Yoruba princes of Sabe in his own right, both Yayi Boni and his wife were awarded chieftaincy titles by the Nigerian king of Ile-Ife in 2008.
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