Benin's newly-elected president, Thomas Yayi Boni , has been sworn into office. He replaces Mathieu Kerekou, who ruled the small West African nation nearly continuously over the past three decades.

President Yayi's slogan during the election campaign was "change," and he repeated the message at his open-air swearing-in ceremony in Benin's administrative capital, Porto Novo.

"If people want to change their future, they must first change themselves," he said.

Infrastructure and the economy have been deteriorating, while corruption has been on the rise since Mathieu Kerekou won two elected terms as a born-again Christian. Mr. Kerekou had previously been in power two decades as a Marxist coup leader.

He was barred from running in the March elections, because of a term and age limit.

President Yayi, a political novice who headed the West Africa Development Bank to much acclaim from other African leaders, won a second round run-off with about three-quarters of the vote.

In his speech Thursday, he pledged to be a servant of the people, and to fill his contract with all citizens, from farms, towns and villages to city slums.

The U.S. Undersecretary of State For Public Affairs, Karen Hughes, was among foreign dignitaries who attended festivities in Porto Novo.

A journalist who was also present, Gerard Guedegbe tells VOA the mood was serene, but also full of hope.

"It was a very quiet and peaceful atmosphere here. We can also see this in the message that has been delivered by the president," he said. "This is a message of hope, hope for development, hope for a good management of public affairs. He also spoke of the development and cooperation that needs to be developed with the neighboring countries to step further in the road to development."

Guedegbe says it will take a while for many to get used to having Mr. Yayi as president, rather than Mr. Kerekou, who did not attend the ceremony. The two men did meet for several hours last week.