Angelique Kidjo: Daughter of Independence

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Angelique Kidjo
By Angelique Kidjo

Like a true revolutionary, I was born on Bastille Day (July 14), 1960, in Dahomey, which was then a part of the French Empire in West Africa. A few days later, on August 1st, 50 years ago this month, my country was declared independent: I was French for just 18 days! It is not easy for me to judge the 50 years of independence of my small country, now called Benin. I feel that my life has been shaped in many ways by the political tribulations of West Africa. I consider myself a true daughter of my country's recent independence.

As a French colony, Dahomey provided lots of civil servants for much of the West African region. It used to be called the “Latin Quarter" of Africa because of its number of intellectuals and doctors. And so although I was already making a living as a teenager with my singing career, my parents insisted that I dedicate myself to school because we lived in such a great educational and cultural environment. By the 10th grade, I was already studying philosophy, and debating the merits of Rousseau and Camus with my friends.

One could expect that independence would be an easy path for my country. But Dahomey was plagued with the same problems that affected other African countries. Colonists had drawn the borders of these countries without any ethnic or historical consideration. Different traditional nations were forced to coexist and the French rulers always favored a particular group—in Dahomey's case, the people from its Southern region—to help them govern the country. I was from the South, and, though my family was not rich, we were privileged.

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