Benin’s former president Mathieu Kerekou, nicknamed “the chameleon” who ruled the tiny west African nation for a total of 30 years after a coup then democratic elections, died on Wednesday at the age of 82.
The government said there would be one week of national mourning from Friday, with Benin’s flags to be flown at half-mast across the country.
He was born on September 2, 1933 in the then-Dahomey, he was one of the country’s towering political figures and led as both as a Marxist-inspired military ruler and a democratically elected president.
Kerekou was a commander when he seized power in 1972 after a period of instability marked by a succession of coups since Dahomey gained independence from France in 1960 and changed its name to Benin.
Kerekou earned his peculiar nickname when he first came to power in 1972, famously said in a statement that he was planning on moving slowly and surely — like a chameleon — in the running of Benin.
The name stuck and later was used to describe his ability to adapt to the changing times in order to stay in power.
In 2006, he stepped down aged 72, having reached the constitutional age limit to serve as president.