/be neen'/, n.
1. Formerly, Dahomey. a republic in W Africa: formerly part of French West Africa; gained independence in 1960. 3,197,000; 44,290 sq. mi. (114,711 sq. km). Cap.: Porto Novo.
2. Bight of, a bay in N Gulf of Guinea in W Africa.
3. a former native kingdom in W Africa: now incorporated into Nigeria.
4. a river in S Nigeria, flowing into the Bight of Benin.

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Introduction Benin
Background: Dahomey gained its independence from France in 1960; the name was changed to Benin in 1975. From 1974 to 1989 the country was a socialist state; free elections were reestablished in 1991. Geography Benin -
Location: Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Nigeria and Togo
Geographic coordinates: 9 30 N, 2 15 E
Map references: Africa
Area: total: 112,620 sq km water: 2,000 sq km land: 110,620 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Pennsylvania
Land boundaries: total: 1,989 km border countries: Burkina Faso 306 km, Niger 266 km, Nigeria 773 km, Togo 644 km
Coastline: 121 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 200 NM
Climate: tropical; hot, humid in south; semiarid in north
Terrain: mostly flat to undulating plain; some hills and low mountains
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m highest point: Mont Sokbaro 658 m
Natural resources: small offshore oil deposits, limestone, marble, timber
Land use: arable land: 15.28% permanent crops: 1.36% other: 83.37% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land: 120 sq km (1998 est.)
Natural hazards: hot, dry, dusty harmattan wind may affect north from December to March Environment - current issues: inadequate supplies of potable water; poaching threatens wildlife populations; deforestation; desertification Environment - international party to: Biodiversity, Climate
agreements: Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: sandbanks create difficult access to a coast with no natural harbors, river mouths, or islands People Benin
Population: 6,787,625 note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (July 2002 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 47.2% (male 1,616,138; female 1,585,463) 15-64 years: 50.5% (male 1,665,439; female 1,764,966) 65 years and over: 2.3% (male 65,877; female 89,742) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.91% (2002 est.)
Birth rate: 43.66 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate: 14.52 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.02 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 0.94 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.73 male(s)/ female total population: 0.97 male(s)/ female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 88.52 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.) Life expectancy at birth: total population: 49.69 years female: 50.61 years (2002 est.) male: 48.81 years
Total fertility rate: 6.14 children born/woman (2002 est.) HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 4.1% (2002) HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/ 160,000 (2002)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: 37,000 (2002)
Nationality: noun: Beninese (singular and plural) adjective: Beninese
Ethnic groups: African 99% (42 ethnic groups, most important being Fon, Adja, Yoruba, Bariba), Europeans 5,500
Religions: indigenous beliefs 50%, Christian 30%, Muslim 20%
Languages: French (official), Fon and Yoruba (most common vernaculars in south), tribal languages (at least six major ones in north)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 37.5% male: 52.2% female: 23.6% (2000) Government Benin
Country name: conventional long form: Republic of Benin conventional short form: Benin local short form: Benin former: Dahomey local long form: Republique du Benin
Government type: republic under multiparty democratic rule; dropped Marxism-Leninism December 1989; democratic reforms adopted February 1990; transition to multiparty system completed 4 April 1991
Capital: Porto-Novo is the official capital; Cotonou is the seat of government Administrative divisions: 12 provinces; Alibori, Atakora, Atlantique, Borgou, Collines, Couffo, Donga, Littoral, Mono, Oueme, Plateau, Zou
Independence: 1 August 1960 (from France)
National holiday: National Day, 1 August (1960)
Constitution: December 1990
Legal system: based on French civil law and customary law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Mathieu KEREKOU (since 4 April 1996); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government head of government: President Mathieu KEREKOU (since 4 April 1996); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president elections: president reelected by popular vote for a five-year term; runoff election held 22 March 2001 (next to be held NA March 2006) note: the four top-ranking contenders following the first-round presidential elections were: Mathieu KEREKOU (incumbent) 45.4%, Nicephore SOGOLO (former president) 27.1%, Adrien HOUNGBEDJI (National Assembly Speaker) 12.6%, and Bruno AMOUSSOU (Minister of State) 8.6%; the second-round balloting, originally scheduled for 18 March 2001, was postponed four days because both SOGOLO and HOUNGBEDJI withdrew alleging electoral fraud; this left KEREKOU to run against his own Minister of State, AMOUSSOU, in what was termed a "friendly match" election results: Mathieu KEREKOU reelected president; percent of vote - Mathieu KEREKOU 84.1%, Bruno AMOUSSOU 15.9%
Legislative branch: unicameral National Assembly or Assemblee Nationale (83 seats; members are elected by direct popular vote to serve four-year terms) election results: percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - RB 27, PRD 11, FARD-ALAFIA 10, PSD 9, MADEP 6, E'toile 4, Alliance IPD 4, Car- DUNYA 3, MERCI 2, other 7 elections: last held 30 March 1999 (next to be held NA March 2003)
Judicial branch: Constitutional Court or Cour Constitutionnelle; Supreme Court or Cour Supreme; High Court of Justice Political parties and leaders: African Movement for Democracy and Progress or MADEP [Sefou FAGBOHOUN]; Alliance for Democracy and Progress or ADP [Sylvain Adekpedjou AKINDES]; Alliance of the Social Democratic Party or PSD and the National Union for Solidarity and Progress or UNSP [Bruno AMOUSSOU]; Cameleon Alliance or AC [leader NA]; Car-DUNYA [Saka SALEY]; Communist Party of Benin or PCB [Pascal FANTONDJI, first secretary]; Democratic Renewal Party or PRD [Adrien HOUNGBEDJI]; Front for Renewal and Development or FARD- ALAFIA [Jerome Sakia KINA]; Impulse for Progress and Democracy or IPD [Bertin BORNA]; Liberal Democrats' Rally for National Reconstruction- Vivoten or RDL-Vivoten [Severin ADJOVI]; Movement for Citizens' Commitment and Awakening or MERCI [Severin ADJOVI]; New Generation for the Republic or NGR [Paul DOSSOU]; Our Common Cause or NCC [Francois Odjo TANKPINON]; Party Democratique du Benin or PDB [Col. Soule DANKORO]; Rally for Democracy and Pan-Africanism or RDP [Dominique HOYMINOU, Dr. Giles Auguste MINONTIN]; Renaissance Party du Benin or RB [Nicephore SOGLO]; The Star Alliance (Alliance E'toile) [Sacca LAFIA]; Union for National Democracy and Solidarity or UDS [Adamou N'Diaye MAMA] note: the Coalition of Democratic Forces, [Gatien HOUNGBEDJI], an alliance of parties and organizations supporting President KEREKOU Political pressure groups and NA
leaders: International organization ACP, AfDB, CCC, ECA, ECOWAS,
participation: Entente, FAO, FZ, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO (subscriber), ITU, MIPONUH, MONUC, NAM, OAU, OIC, OPCW, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNMEE, UNMIK, UPU, WADB (regional), WAEMU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Cyrille Segbe OGUIN FAX: [1] (202) 265-1996 telephone: [1] (202) 232-6656 chancery: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008 Diplomatic representation from the chief of mission: Ambassador Pamela
US: E. BRIDGEWATER embassy: Rue Caporal Bernard Anani, Cotonou mailing address: B. P. 2012, Cotonou telephone: [229] 30-06-50 FAX: [229] 30-06-70
Flag description: two equal horizontal bands of yellow (top) and red with a vertical green band on the hoist side Economy Benin -
Economy - overview: The economy of Benin remains underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Growth in real output averaged a stable 5% in the past five years, but rapid population rise offset much of this increase. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. In order to raise growth still further, Benin plans to attract more foreign investment, place more emphasis on tourism, facilitate the development of new food processing systems and agricultural products, and encourage new information and communication technology. The 2001 privatization policy should continue in telecommunications, water, electricity, and agriculture in spite of initial government reluctance. The Paris Club and bilateral creditors have eased the external debt situation.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $6.8 billion (2001 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 5.4% (2001 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $1,040 (2001 est.) GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 36% industry: 14% services: 50% (2001 est.) Population below poverty line: 37% (2001 est.) Household income or consumption by lowest 10%: NA%
percentage share: highest 10%: NA% Inflation rate (consumer prices): 3% (2001 est.)
Labor force: NA
Unemployment rate: NA%
Budget: revenues: $377.4 million expenditures: $561.8 million, including capital expenditures of $NA (2001)
Industries: textiles, food processing, chemical production, construction materials (2001) Industrial production growth rate: 8.3% (2001 est.) Electricity - production: 240 million kWh (2000) Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 16.67% hydro: 83.33% other: 0% (2000) nuclear: 0% Electricity - consumption: 523.2 million kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports: 300 million kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products: cotton, corn, cassava (tapioca), yams, beans, palm oil, peanuts, livestock (2001)
Exports: $35.3 million (f.o.b., 2000)
Exports - commodities: cotton, crude oil, palm products, cocoa
Exports - partners: Brazil, France, Indonesia, Thailand, Morocco, Portugal, Cote d'Ivoire (2001)
Imports: $437.6 million (c.i.f., 2000)
Imports - commodities: foodstuffs, capital goods, petroleum products
Imports - partners: France, US, China, Cote d'Ivoire, Netherlands, Japan (2001)
Debt - external: $1.18 billion (2000) Economic aid - recipient: $342.6 million (2000)
Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XOF); note - responsible authority is the Central Bank of the West African States
Currency code: XOF
Exchange rates: Communaute Financiere Africaine francs (XOF) per US dollar - 742.79 (January 2002), 733.04 (2001), 711.98 (2000), 615.70 (1999), 589.95 (1998), 583.67 (1997); note - from 1 January 1999, the XOF is pegged to the euro at a rate of 655.957 XOF per euro
Fiscal year: calendar year Communications Benin Telephones - main lines in use: 51,000 (2000) Telephones - mobile cellular: 55,500 (2000)
Telephone system: general assessment: NA domestic: fair system of open wire, microwave radio relay, and cellular connections international: satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean); submarine cable Radio broadcast stations: AM 2, FM 9, shortwave 4 (2000)
Radios: 660,000 (2000) Television broadcast stations: 1 (2001)
Televisions: 66,000 (2000)
Internet country code: .bj Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 4 (2002)
Internet users: 50,000 (2002) Transportation Benin
Railways: total: 578 km narrow gauge: 578 km 1.000-m gauge (2000 est.)
Highways: total: 6,787 km paved: 1,357 km (including 10 km of expressways) unpaved: 5,430 km (1997 est.)
Waterways: streams navigable along small sections, important only locally
Ports and harbors: Cotonou, Porto-Novo
Merchant marine: none (2002 est.)
Airports: 5 (2001) Airports - with paved runways: total: 1 1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2001) Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 4 2,438 to 3,047 m: 1 1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2001) Military Benin
Military branches: Armed Forces (including Army, Navy, Air Force), National Gendarmerie Military manpower - military age: 18 years of age (2002 est.) Military manpower - availability: males age 15-49: 1,509,760 note: both sexes are liable for military service (2002 est.) females age 15-49: 1,536,036 Military manpower - fit for military males age 15-49: 771,373
service: females age 15-49: 778,730 (2002 est.) Military manpower - reaching military males: 71,278
age annually: females: 70,088 (2002 est.) Military expenditures - dollar $27 million (FY96)
figure: Military expenditures - percent of 1.2% (FY96)
GDP: Transnational Issues Benin Disputes - international: Benin and Niger have refered to the ICJ the dispute over l'Ete and 14 smaller disputed islands in the Niger River, which has never been delimited; with Nigeria, several villages are in dispute along the Okpara River and only 35 km of the 436 km boundary are demarcated; the Benin-Niger-Nigeria tripoint remains undemarcated; Benin accuses Togo of moving boundary markers and stationing troops in its territory; two villages are in dispute with Burkina Faso
Illicit drugs: transshipment point for narcotics associated with Nigerian trafficking organizations and most commonly destined for Western Europe and the US

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officially Republic of Benin formerly Dahomey

Country, western Africa.

Area: 43,483 sq mi (112,621 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 6,788,000. Capital: Porto-Novo (official), Cotonou (de facto). The Fon people and related groups constitute three-fifths of the population; minorities include the Yoruba, Fulani, and Adjara. Languages: French (official), Fon. Currency: CFA franc. Religion: traditional religions (two-thirds of the population), Islam, and Christianity . Extending about 420 mi (675 km) inland from the Gulf of Guinea, the republic consists of a hilly region in the northwest, where the maximum elevation is 2,150 ft (650 km). There are plains in the east and north and a marshy region in the south, where the coastline extends about 75 mi (120 km). Benin's longest river, the Ouémé, flows into the Porto-Novo Lagoon and is navigable for 125 mi (200 km) of its 280-mi (450-km) length. Benin has a developing, centrally planned economy based largely on agriculture and is developing its offshore oil field. It is a republic with one legislative house; the head of state and government is the president, assisted by the prime minister. In southern Benin the Fon established the Abomey kingdom in 1625. In the 18th century the kingdom expanded to include Allada and Ouidah, where French forts had been established in the 17th century. In 1857 the French reestablished themselves in the area, and conflict between the French and Africans ensued. In 1894 Dahomey became a French protectorate; it was incorporated into the federation of French West Africa in 1904. It achieved independence in 1960. Dahomey was renamed Benin in 1975. Its chronically weak economy created problems for the country into the 21st century.
(as used in expressions)
Republic of Benin
Benin Bight of
Benin kingdom of

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▪ 2009

112,622 sq km (43,484 sq mi)
(2008 est.): 8,295,000
Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)
Head of state and government:
President Thomas Yayi Boni

      On March 7, 2008, ministers from Benin and Burkina Faso reached agreement on lowering tensions in a 68-sq-km (26-sq-mi) border area claimed by both. Meeting at Porga in northern Benin, the delegations agreed that neither would attempt to establish sovereignty over the disputed region and that joint border patrols would operate to maintain security.

      On February 16, U.S. Pres. George W. Bush began his five-nation tour of Africa in Cotonou, where he received the Grand Cross of the National Order of Benin from Pres. Thomas Yayi Boni. Local elections held on April 20 gave the presidential party, Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin, control of 66% of municipal councils. Former president Nicéphore Soglo's Benin Renaissance Party retained control in the capital.

      On March 5 a joint study conducted by the UN in conjunction with the Ministry of the Family and Children revealed that more than 40,000 children, 93% of whom were Beninese, were trafficked in 2006. The government vowed to stop the trade and give aid to its victims.

      Throughout the year, prices of basic foodstuffs rose sharply, more than doubling in the case of some commodities. Despite the government's May 1 removal of the value-added tax on food, consumers saw little improvement. Consequently, trade unions planned protest marches calling for higher wages. On July 15 President Yayi responded by calling for “economic patriotism” and wage restraint to help resolve the crisis. Violent crime against small businesses increased alarmingly as small-arms weaponry was readily available through local manufacturers or smugglers. Although the production of cotton, Benin's major export crop, rose by 12% and GDP was expected to achieve a growth rate of 7%, the explosion of global food and energy prices had offset economic progress.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2008

112,622 sq km (43,484 sq mi)
(2007 est.): 8,079,000
Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)
Head of state and government:
President Thomas Yayi Boni

      On March 15, 2007, the motorcade of Pres. Thomas Yayi Boni was attacked by armed gunmen as it passed near the town of Parakou in central Benin. Although Boni survived the assassination attempt without injury, several Presidential Guards were wounded by unknown assailants.

      In the March 31 legislative elections, the ruling Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE), a coalition of 20 parties supporting President Boni, won 35 of the 83 seats. The two major opposition parties also made strides; the Alliance for a Dynamic Democracy (which included the party of former president Nicéphore Soglo) gained 20 seats, and the Democratic Renewal party of Adrien Houngbédji garnered 10 seats. Minor parties took the remaining 18 seats. In this election, the fifth since the transition to multiparty democracy in 1990, voters ousted 80% of the incumbents. On May 3 Minister of Higher Education Mathurin Coffi Nago, a member of the FCBE, was elected parliamentary president.

      Boni and his cabinet organized a 10-km (6.2-mi) “march against corruption,” which took place on July 16. In a speech delivered on August 1, Benin's Independence Day, Boni made a stinging denunciation of corruption and vowed to fulfill his election promises by wiping it out.

      On June 3 it was announced that the French Institute of Patent Rights had granted Benin scientist Jérôme Fagla Médégan a patent for his discovery of a new treatment for a strain of sickle-cell anemia. This marked the first time that an African had been given a patent for a new drug.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2007

112,622 sq km (43,484 sq mi)
(2006 est.): 7,687,000
Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)
Head of state and government:
Presidents Mathieu Kérékou and, from April 6, Thomas Yayi Boni

      In the March 2006 presidential elections, 26 candidates stood to succeed retiring Pres. Mathieu Kérékou, who had ruled Benin for all but 5 of the past 34 years. Thomas Yayi Boni, former chief executive of the West African Development Bank, defeated Adrien Houngbédji in the March 19 runoff election and received nearly 75% of the vote.

      On June 24, 71 of the National Assembly's 83 deputies voted, in direct violation of the country's constitution, to extend their term of office by one year. Two weeks later the Constitutional Court nullified the Assembly's action. President Boni cut short a state visit to Belgium to try to resolve the crisis. After a series of negotiations with parliamentary leaders, on August 1 the president reaffirmed the government's commitment to holding the constitutional legislative and municipal elections in March 2008. On August 11 Minister of Justice Abraham Zinzindohoué announced that all citizens over the age of 15 would be given free birth certificates in order to allow them to obtain the identity cards required for voter registration.

      Togolese refugees and local residents turned to armed conflict on February 17 when fierce fighting broke out in the UN-administered Lokossa camp, 18 km (11 mi) from the Togo border. Thousands of refugees fled the violence.

      A tanker truck carrying smuggled petroleum from Nigeria caught fire and exploded on May 25, killing more than 35 people. Rocketing world oil prices and the inefficient domestic supply system had created serious fuel shortages throughout Benin. On August 11 the government announced plans to combat illegal petroleum sales by the introduction of new licensed distributorships.

      The U.S. and Benin on February 22 signed a five-year agreement that would provide $307 million in antipoverty aid. The World Bank granted $31 million on June 1 to establish a malaria-control project and on June 29 announced a further $6 million grant to assist Benin in managing its forestry resources.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2006

112,622 sq km (43,484 sq mi)
(2005 est.): 7,649,000
Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)
Head of state and government:
President Mathieu Kérékou

      In July 2005 Pres. Mathieu Kérékou stated that he would retire in 2006 and thus scotched rumours that he planned to reform Benin's constitution to allow him to stand for a third term in 2006.

      Although the 2005 budget predicted a 5.3% economic growth rate, Benin remained one of the world's poorest and most heavily indebted countries. On June 13 the Group of Eight summit canceled $800 million owed by the nation to the World Bank, an amount representing 63% of Benin's foreign debt. The following day the World Bank announced a new loan of $30 million for continuation of Benin's program of government decentralization. On August 5 the IMF announced a $9 million grant for the country's poverty-reduction initiatives.

      At a meeting held in Cotonou in May, Benin and other West African cotton producers demanded that industrialized nations discontinue export subsidies to their own growers. Falling world prices were seriously threatening domestic production in African countries.

      Benin continued to participate in UN peacekeeping operations and on April 9 sent a new contingent of 102 soldiers to Côte d'Ivoire. On July 12 the International Court of Justice resolved a 45-year boundary dispute between Benin and Niger as well as the ownership of 25 islands in the Niger River. Sixteen, including Lété, the largest, were awarded to Niger. Both countries agreed to abide by the ruling.

 The election on April 24 of Faure Gnassingbé (Gnassingbe, Faure ) (see Biographies) as the new president of Togo prompted more than 24,000 people from that country to take refuge in Benin. With reassurances from the new Togolese government, several thousand returned home.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2005

112,622 sq km (43,484 sq mi)
(2004 est.): 7,250,000
Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)
Head of state and government:
President Mathieu Kérékou

      The debate over the causes of Benin's worsening economic performance grew more intense in 2004. The government's goal of a 7% growth rate in 2004 was wildly optimistic, and clearly an even larger budget deficit loomed. Prices of staple foodstuffs such as corn (maize) had doubled, while prices of cotton, the country's main export good, tumbled. Government revenue fell sharply, largely owing to a huge decline in customs duties. Nigeria's continuing ban on overland imports of goods from Benin and its crackdown on illegal exports of cheap gasoline further contributed to the crisis, as did a steep fall in the volume of trade goods passing through the port of Cotonou en route to Niger. Opposition parties blamed the deficit on corruption.

      In June lengthy court proceedings in which 99 people, including 27 magistrates and 25 lawyers, were tried for embezzlement and subverting the legal system concluded. Thirty-seven defendants were found guilty and given prison terms of from 30 months to 5 years. Judges staged two strikes in June to protest the government's interference in the judicial system.

      In June the United Nations granted Benin and Niger $350,000 to help offset their costs in bringing to the International Court of Justice their dispute over the course of the Niger River boundary. In another border dispute, with Nigeria, the special joint commission meeting in July made progress in adjusting land and sea frontiers, and Benin was hopeful that it would gain access to contested offshore oil sites.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2004

112,622 sq km (43,484 sq mi)
(2003 est.): 7,041,000
Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)
Head of state and government:
President Mathieu Kérékou

      Under their coalition banner, the Union for the Future of Benin (UBF), parties supporting Pres. Mathieu Kérékou were victorious in the municipal elections of December 2002 and January 2003. In the March 30 legislative elections, the UBF again triumphed, taking 52 of the 83 legislative seats. The polls marked the first time since multiparty democracy was restored in 1990 that a president was able to work with an absolute majority in the National Assembly.

      Protesting an unacceptable increase in armed robbery and smuggling, Nigeria closed its border with Benin on August 10. Talks were held between the two presidents, and Nigeria agreed to reopen the border. In return, Benin prepared to extradite 44 persons wanted in Nigeria. On August 27 the National Assembly announced the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate cross-border crime.

      Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo signed a treaty in February establishing the framework for a 1,033-km (620-mi) gas pipeline budgeted at $500 million and expected to begin operation in June 2005. Later that month the government authorized the launching of 4 television channels and 35 radio stations, all of which were to be privately owned and operated. Signaling its approval of the nation's economic growth and policies, on March 25 the International Monetary Fund released $5.5 million of Benin's line of credit and forgave $460 million of its external debt.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2003

112,622 sq km (43,484 sq mi)
(2002 est.): 6,788,000
Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)
Head of state and government:
President Mathieu Kérékou

      The decision to introduce merit pay for Benin's civil servants in 2002 led to a series of strikes that paralyzed the government for much of January and February. An agreement with six of the seven main public service unions was reached on March 7, after the government agreed to reinstate the old system temporarily, to pay salary arrears, and to reconsider the entire question of replacing the automatic wage system with one based on merit. Periodic strikes continued, however, in the education sector. Students at the University of Abomey Calavi, near Porto-Novo, went on strike in February, protesting the expulsion of five of their leaders. On March 21 security forces used tear gas to disperse a demonstration, injuring several students and arresting more than a dozen.

      A demonstration on April 25 by members of the main opposition party, Benin Renaissance, who supported former president Nicéphore Soglo, was broken up by police using truncheons and tear gas. Nineteen members of the National Electoral Commission were named on August 19 to supervise local and regional polls scheduled for December.

      UNICEF and the Benin Health Ministry began a mass vaccination program on March 1 aimed at eliminating preventable childhood diseases. On June 29 the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Fund Agency agreed to provide $20 million for the upgrading of local fishing industries. The U.S. announced on August 8 that it would provide over $16 million for improvements in education, health, and local government. A week later the European Commission made it known that €275 million (about $270 million) would be made available over five years to fight poverty in Benin through sustainable economic and social development programs.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2002

114,760 sq km (44,300 sq mi)
(2001 est.): 6,591,000
Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)
Head of state and government:
President Mathieu Kérékou

      Mathieu Kérékou won a plurality the first round of the presidential elections held in Benin on March 4, 2001. His triumph in the second round was virtually ensured when two of the four candidates withdrew after citing the large number of votes that seemed to have disappeared. Kérékou took 84% of the vote in the second round of balloting on March 24, defeating the sole remaining candidate, cabinet minister Bruno Amoussou. There was, however, widespread criticism of the handling of the poll, and nine members of the national electoral commission resigned. Nonetheless, Kérékou was expected to maintain his grip upon a nation that he had ruled for all but five years since 1972. The National Assembly granted an amnesty on June 25 to all those arrested for allegedly having caused trouble during the election campaign.

      Two separate reports of child trafficking from Benin into Gabon and Côte d'Ivoire were investigated by government authorities. On April 17 a number of children believed to have been destined for slavery were said to have been removed from a Nigerian ship then docked in Cotonou. On May 9, 10 adults were arrested and charged with having attempted to smuggle another 23 children by bus across the Benin frontier. On June 26 Japan donated nearly $1 million to Benin to combat poverty and child trafficking.

      With at least one-third of the population living below the poverty line, much attention was focused in 2001 on boosting economic growth. Sixty experts from West African institutions met in Cotonou on May 15 to propose new development strategies.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2001

114,760 sq km (44,300 sq mi)
(2000 est.): 6,396,000
Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)
Head of state and government:
President Mathieu Kérékou

      As Benin marked its 40th year of independence in 2000, its beleaguered economy showed little signs of improving. Despite a slightly improved growth in gross domestic product, the impact of rampant inflation, low world prices for Benin's exports, and rapid population expansion left well over half of the country's people living below the UN poverty line. In January the World Bank approved a $30 million credit for export-diversification and income-support programs, but this did little to offset the effects of huge price increases in petroleum and other basic products.

      On July 3 Benin hosted a conference in Cotonou attended by delegates from the European Union (EU), Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. The event followed the June 23 signing with the EU of a new economic development agreement that replaced the Lomé Convention of 1990.

      On July 13 police broke up a demonstration by 2,000 workers who attempted to march on the presidential palace to protest the steep rise in oil prices. The march was halted, reportedly to protect Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, who was in Cotonou on a two-day state visit.

      Hubert Koutoukou Maga, the first president (1960–63) of independent Dahomey (renamed Benin in 1975), died in May. Maga was ousted in a 1963 coup, but he returned to power in 1970 as part of a triumverate that ruled until it was toppled in 1972.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 2000

112,680 sq km (43,500 sq mi)
(1999 est.): 6,306,000
Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)
Head of state and government:
President Mathieu Kérékou

      Parties in opposition to Benin Pres. Mathieu Kérékou won a narrow majority of the 83 seats in the elections to the National Assembly held on March 24, 1999. Supervised by the Autonomous National Election Commission, 35 eligible political parties and alliances participated. Benin Renaissance, the party of former president Nicéphore Soglo and the largest opposition coalition, took 27 seats. The Democratic Renewal Party of former prime minister Adrien Houngbedji won 11 seats, and smaller opposition groupings secured 7. On April 29, opposition parties joined forces to elect Houngbedji president of the National Assembly, giving him 45 votes against 38 for Kérékou's candidate, Bruno Amoussou. Kérékou reshuffled his Cabinet in June, appointing 5 new ministers to the new 19-member government but including no representatives of opposition parties.

      In May the government withdrew its 145 soldiers from the West African ECOMOG peacekeeping force in Guinea-Bissau, saying it could no longer justify its participation after an army coup there on May 7 overthrew Pres. João Bernardo Vieira. Benin continued to support the UN Observer Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

      Production of cotton, Benin's main export crop, fell by nearly 7%. Experts blamed bad weather, low-quality seed, disputes with the government, and unsuitable investments in ginning plants for the shortfall. Drops in world prices combined with overall poor quality of the 1999 crop virtually wiped out producer profits. Sonapra, the government overseer of the cotton industry, remained heavily in debt to both producers and transporters.

Nancy Ellen Lawler

▪ 1999

      Area: 112,680 sq km (43,500 sq mi)

      Population (1998 est.): 6,101,000

      Capital: Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)

      Head of state and government: President Mathieu Kérékou, assisted by Prime Minister Adrien Houngbedji until May 8 and, from May 14, government spokesman Pierre Osho

      Striking civil servants shut down the government of Benin on Feb. 16, 1998, when a four-day work stoppage was called by the nation's five main public-service unions. They were protesting the government's decision to accept the insistence by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that a merit system for promotion and pay raises be adopted. On February 19 the post and telecommunications union joined the walkout after new talks with both the government and officials of the IMF and World Bank had broken down earlier in the week. The unions, representing 40,000 civil servants, demanded not only that the merit system be dropped but also that salary arrears of $39 million arising from the automatic promotion system be paid. Two weeks later an agreement was reached, and a pay increase for the civil service, amounting to between 5% and 8%, was announced. Insisting that the pact would have no impact on inflation, as it would be funded from budget reserves, the government committed itself to a partial payment of salary arrears. Officially, however, it remained committed to salary and promotion reforms.

      Benin's ruling coalition was shattered on May 8, when Prime Minister Adrien Houngbedji, along with three other ministers from his opposition Party of Democratic Renewal, resigned from Pres. Mathieu Kérékou's Cabinet. Six days later Kérékou reshuffled his Cabinet and announced that the new 18-member government would no longer include a prime minister but would instead have a "government spokesman."


▪ 1998

      Area: 112,680 sq km (43,500 sq mi)

      Population (1997 est.): 5,902,000

      Capital: Porto-Novo (executive and ministerial offices remain in Cotonou)

      Head of state and government: President Mathieu Kérékou, assisted by Prime Minister Adrien Houngbedji

      Benin's chronically weak economy produced mixed results in 1997 as labour unions stepped up their resistance to the government's efforts at liberalization. Protesting the government's plans to transfer control of loading and unloading to four private firms, dockers staged a 24-hour walkout on February 14 that effectively shut down the country's main port at Cotonou, a major channel of foreign-exchange earnings. Two months later office workers went on strike in protest against Pres. Mathieu Kérékou's decision to replace the port authority's management team, labeling it another attempt to politicize the harbour. SONICOG, the state-owned edible oils, butter, and soap producer, was finally privatized in June, after buyers had agreed to the government's condition that all 870 workers be retained. The sale marked the eighth privatization in Benin since 1990, generating about $35 million to the government.

      The National Assembly agreed to issue private broadcast licenses for radio and television stations but incorporated into them harsh penalties for libel and defamation. Japan granted Benin $14 million for the construction of 65 new schools. Long a source of cheap, illegal child labour for neighbouring countries, Benin was preparing to stiffen penalties against exploiting minors. This followed the arrest in July of five traffickers preparing to ship 90 minors, some only eight years old, to Gabon.

      In March the army held joint military exercises with Burkina Faso and Togo. The Economic Community of West African States held its summit in Cotonou during the last week of August.

      This article updates Benin, history of (Benin).

▪ 1997

      The republic of Benin is on the southern coast of West Africa, on the Gulf of Guinea. Area: 112,680 sq km (43,500 sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.): 5,574,000. Cap.: Porto-Novo (executive offices remain in Cotonou). Monetary unit: CFA franc, with a par value of CFAF 100 to the French franc and (as of Oct. 11, 1996) a free rate of CFAF 518.24 to U.S. $1 (CFAF 816.38 = £ 1 sterling). Presidents in 1996, Nicéphore Soglo and, from April 4, Mathieu Kérékou.

      In a stunning rebuff to Nicéphore Soglo, the man who led Benin's transition to multiparty democracy, voters in Benin on March 18, 1996, elected the former head of the Marxist regime (1972-90), Mathieu Kérékou, as the country's new president. Although Soglo had a slight lead in the first round of the elections held two weeks earlier, Kérékou won 52.5% of the tally in the runoff.

      The Constitutional Court, which had declared 23% of the ballots cast in the first round invalid, rejected Soglo's charges of vote fraud and confirmed the results of the vote on March 24. Kérékou formed a government of national unity and appointed Adrien Houngbédji, leader of the majority Party of Democratic Renewal (PRD), prime minister. The new Cabinet was drawn from eight political groups.

      The economy remained extremely weak, with few prospects for sustained growth. In April the World Bank, indicating that Benin had made little progress toward economic reform, refused to renegotiate a proposed $98 million credit agreement that had been rejected by the National Assembly at the end of 1995. (NANCY ELLEN LAWLER)

      This article updates Benin, history of (Benin).

▪ 1996

      The republic of Benin is on the southern coast of West Africa, on the Gulf of Guinea. Area: 112,680 sq km (43,500 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 5,409,000. Cap.: Porto-Novo (executive offices remain in Cotonou). Monetary unit: CFA franc, with (from Jan. 12, 1995) a par value of CFAF 100 to the French franc and (as of Oct. 6, 1995) a free rate of CFAF 501.49 to U.S. $1 (CFAF 792.78 = £1 sterling). President in 1995, Nicéphore Soglo.

      In the March 28, 1995, elections for 83 National Assembly seats, there were 5,580 candidates representing 31 parties. Adrien Houngbedji's Democratic Renewal Party (PRD) and other opposition parties won an absolute majority of the 83 seats over Pres. Nicéphore Soglo's Benin Renaissance Party (PRB) and its allies. In April the Constitutional Court invalidated the results of 13 contests because of voting irregularities. Nevertheless, the opposition still held 43 of the 70 decided seats and dominated the new National Assembly, which was convened in April. On May 28 new elections for the 13 annulled districts gave the PRB five seats, the PRD two, and other opposition parties six. Benin's four-year-old democratic system thus faced a new challenge, with the opposition gaining control of the National Assembly.

      Inflation continued to weaken the economy, and in May food exports were banned in an attempt to halt the soaring increases in prices of basic necessities. Labour union leaders demanded higher salaries to offset the spiraling cost of living. The government, already under pressure from international donors to reduce expenditures, and with revenues down, refused. One bright spot was a record cotton crop.

      In April Benin responded to a UN request to dispatch soldiers to help keep order in Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire. Internally the refugee problem had eased considerably since 1993, when more than 150,000 people fleeing unrest in Chad, Togo, and Zaire traveled to Benin. In May the UN estimated that of the original number of refugees, some 44,000, mostly Togolese, still remained in the country.

      The biennial summit meeting of the Francophone states, held in Cotonou in December, called upon Nigeria, Benin's neighbour to the east, to return to democratic principles and the rule of law. (NANCY ELLEN LAWLER)

      This updates the article Benin, history of (Benin).

▪ 1995

      The republic of Benin is on the southern coast of West Africa, on the Gulf of Guinea. Area: 112,680 sq km (43,500 sq mi). Pop. (1994 est.): 5,235,000. Cap.: Porto-Novo (executive offices remain in Cotonou). Monetary unit: CFA franc, with (from Jan. 12, 1994) a par value of CFAF 100 to the French franc and (as of Oct. 7, 1994) a free rate of CFAF 526.67 to U.S. $1 (CFAF 837.67 = £1 sterling). President in 1994, Nicéphore Soglo.

      The impact of the 50% devaluation of the CFA franc relative to the French franc, which went into effect on Jan. 12, 1994, was mixed. Economic growth continued at a rate of nearly 4% as exports of cotton, Benin's only important cash crop, rose. Fears of inflation mounted, however, as import prices virtually doubled. The government continued its structural adjustment program, concentrating on encouraging the private sector and reforming and reducing the size of the public sector. Major donor nations signaled their approval of Benin's economic program. Germany provided development aid of $51 million, and the European Community granted ECU 9.4 million for improvements in Benin's infrastructure. Little progress was made toward economic diversification and industrialization.

      Pres. Nicéphore Soglo used executive powers to impose his own national budget, overriding that passed by the National Assembly in July on grounds that proposed increases in salaries and expenditures were economically unwise and politically motivated. In response, the Bureau of the National Assembly met in extraordinary session on August 2. Backed by a Supreme Court decision that Soglo's action was unconstitutional, the National Assembly passed a new budget on August 26. The struggle over the budget left vital development programs largely unfunded.

      In July the president assumed leadership of the Benin Renaissance Party, founded by his wife, Rosine, in 1992. Soglo's strategy was seen as a means of trying to ensure a majority in the municipal and legislative elections scheduled for February 1995. (NANCY ELLEN LAWLER)

      This updates the article Benin, history of (Benin).

▪ 1994

      The republic of Benin is on the southern coast of West Africa, on the Gulf of Guinea. Area: 112,680 sq km (43,500 sq mi). Pop. (1993 est.): 5,091,000. Cap.: Porto-Novo (executive offices remain in Cotonou). Monetary unit: CFA franc, with (Oct. 4, 1993) a par value of CFAF 50 to the French franc and a free rate of CFAF 283.25 to U.S. $1 (CFAF 429.12 = £ 1 sterling). President in 1993, Nicéphore Soglo.

      Increasing rancour developed between the press and the government of Benin's Pres. Nicéphore Soglo during 1993. Edgar Kaho, publisher of the independent Le Soleil, was jailed after being convicted of libeling the president's wife, Rosine. In July the president, who had remained officially above party politics, announced that he would join the Renaissance Party of Benin. Soglo lost his majority in the National Assembly in October, but two weeks later 11 groups rallied behind the president and formed the African Assembly for Progress and Solidarity.

      Pope John Paul II visited Benin in February and met with religious leaders, including a delegation of voodoo priests. On February 8 the International Voodoo Art and Culture Festival opened in Ouidah. Clashes between Muslims and voodoo followers in Porto-Novo in April resulted in 2 deaths and 24 injuries.

      In January diplomatic relations with South Africa were established, and the first Israeli ambassador since 1974 arrived. The annual summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was held in Cotonou on July 22-24. Benin's economy remained weak; Japan and the Nordic Development Fund were major aid donors.


      This updates the article Benin, history of (Benin).

* * *

▪ historical kingdom, West Africa
      one of the principal historic kingdoms of the western African forest region (fl. 13th–19th century).

      Tradition asserts that the Edo people became dissatisfied with the rule of a dynasty of semimythical kings, the ogisos, and in the 13th century they invited Prince Oranmiyan of Ife to rule them. His son Eweka is regarded as the first oba, or king, of Benin, though authority would remain for many years with a hereditary order of local chiefs. Late in the 13th century, royal power began to assert itself under the oba Ewedo and was firmly established under the most famous oba, Ewuare the Great (reigned c. 1440–80), who was described as a great warrior and magician. He established a hereditary succession to the throne and vastly expanded the territory of the Benin kingdom, which by the mid-16th century extended from the Niger River delta in the east to what is now Lagos in the west. (Lagos was in fact founded by a Benin army and continued to pay tribute to the oba of Benin until the end of the 19th century.) Ewuare also rebuilt the capital (present-day Benin City), endowing it with great walls and moats. The oba became the supreme political, judicial, economic, and spiritual leader of his people, and he and his ancestors eventually became the object of state cults that utilized human sacrifice in their religious observances.

      Ewuare was succeeded by a line of strong obas, chief of whom were Ozolua the Conqueror (c. 1481–c. 1504; the son of Ewuare) and Esigie (early to mid-16th century; the son of Ozolua), who enjoyed good relations with the Portuguese and sent ambassadors to their king. Under these obas Benin became a highly organized state. Its numerous craftsmen were organized into guilds, and the kingdom became famous for its ivory and wood carvers. Its brass smiths and bronze casters excelled at making naturalistic heads, bas-reliefs, and other sculptures. From the 15th through the 18th century Benin carried on an active trade in ivory, palm oil, and pepper with Portuguese and Dutch traders, for whom it served as a link with tribes in the interior of western Africa. It also profited greatly from the slave trade. But during the 18th and early 19th centuries the kingdom was weakened by violent succession struggles between members of the royal dynasty, some of which erupted into civil wars. The weaker obas sequestered themselves in their palaces and took refuge in the rituals of divine kingship while indiscriminately granting aristocratic titles to an expanding class of nonproductive nobles. The kingdom's prosperity declined with the suppression of the slave trade, and, as its territorial extent shrank, Benin's leaders increasingly relied on supernatural rituals and large-scale human sacrifices to protect the state from further territorial encroachment. The practice of human sacrifice was stamped out only after the burning of Benin City in 1897 by the British, after which the depopulated and debilitated kingdom was incorporated into British Nigeria. The descendants of Benin's ruling dynasty still occupy the throne in Benin City (although the present-day oba has only an advisory role in government).

officially  Republic of Benin,  French  République du Bénin,  formerly (until 1975)  Dahomey,  or  (1975–90)  People's Republic of Benin,  
Benin, flag of country of western Africa. It consists of a narrow wedge of territory extending northward for about 420 miles (675 kilometres) from the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean, on which it has a 75-mile seacoast, to the Niger River, which forms part of Benin's northern border with Niger. Benin is bordered to the northwest by Burkina Faso, to the east by Nigeria, and to the west by Togo. The official capital is Porto-Novo, but Cotonou is Benin's largest city, its chief port, and its de facto administrative capital. Benin was a French colony from the late 19th century until 1960.

      Prior to colonial rule, part of the territory that is now Benin consisted of powerful, independent kingdoms, including various Bariba kingdoms in the north and in the south the kingdoms of Porto-Novo and Dahomey (Dan-ho-me, “on the belly of Dan;” Dan was a rival king on whose grave Dahomey's royal compound was built). In the late 19th century French colonizers making inroads from the coastal region into the interior borrowed the name of the defeated Dahomey kingdom for the entire territory that is now Benin; the current name derives from the Bight of Benin.

Dov Ronen

The land


       Benin consists of five natural regions. The coastal region is low, flat, and sandy, backed by tidal marshes and lagoons. It is composed of, in effect, a long sandbar on which grow clumps of coconut palms; the lagoons are narrower in the western part of the country, where many have become marshes because of silting, and wider in the east, and some are interconnected. In the west the Grand-Popo Lagoon extends into neighbouring Togo, while in the east the Porto-Novo Lagoon provides a natural waterway to the port of Lagos, Nigeria, although its use is discouraged by the political boundary. Only at Grand-Popo and at Cotonou do the lagoons have outlets to the sea.

      Behind the coastal region extends the barre country—the word being a French adaptation of the Portuguese word barro (“clay”). A fertile plateau, the barre region contains the Lama Marsh, a vast swampy area stretching from Abomey to Allada. The landscape is generally flat, although occasional hills occur, rising to about 1,300 feet (400 metres).

      The Benin plateaus, four in number, are to be found in the environs of Abomey, Kétou, Aplahoué (or Parahoué), and Zagnanado. The plateaus consist of clays on a crystalline base. The Abomey, Aplahoué, and Zagnanado plateaus are from 300 to 750 feet high, and the Kétou plateau is up to 500 feet in height.

      The Atakora Mountains, in the northwest of the country, form a continuation of the Togo Mountains to the south. Running southwest to northeast and reaching an altitude of 2,103 feet (641 metres) at their highest point, they consist of a highly metamorphosed quartzite interior.

      The Niger plains, in the northeast of Benin, slope down to the Niger River valley. They consist of clayey sandstones.

      Apart from the Niger River, which, with its tributaries the Mékrou, Alibori, and Sota, drains the northeastern part of the country, the three principal rivers in Benin are the Mono (Mono River), the Couffo, and the Ouémé. The Mono, which rises in Togo, forms the frontier between Togo and Benin near the coast. The Couffo, near which stands Abomey, flows southward from the Benin plateaus to drain into the coastal lagoons at Ahémé. The Ouémé (Ouémé River) rises in the Atakora Mountains and flows southward for 280 miles; near its mouth it divides into two branches, one draining to the east into Porto-Novo Lagoon and the other to the west into Nokoué Lake. The Atakora Mountains form a divide between the Volta and Niger basins.

      Two climatic zones may be distinguished—a southern and a northern. The southern zone has an equatorial type of climate with four seasons—two wet and two dry. The principal rainy season occurs between mid-March and mid-July; the shorter dry season lasts to mid-September; the shorter rainy season lasts to mid-November; and the principal dry season lasts until the rains begin again in March. The amount of rain increases toward the east. Grand-Popo receives only about 32 inches (800 millimetres) a year, whereas Cotonou and Porto-Novo both receive approximately 50 inches. Temperatures are fairly constant, varying between about 72° and 93° F (22° and 34° C), and the relative humidity is often uncomfortably high.

      In the northern climatic zone, there are only two seasons, one dry and one rainy. The rainy season lasts from May to September, with most of the rainfall occurring in August. Rainfall amounts to about 53 inches a year in the Atakora Mountains and in central Benin; farther north it diminishes to about 38 inches. In the dry season the harmattan, a hot, dry wind, blows from the northeast from December to March. Temperatures average about 80° F (27° C), but the temperature range varies considerably from day to night. In March, the hottest month, diurnal temperatures may rise to 110° F (43° C).

Plant and animal life
      The original rain forest, which covered most of the southern part of the country, has now largely been cleared, except near the rivers. In its place, many oil palms and rônier palms have been planted and food crops are cultivated. North of Abomey the vegetation is an intermixture of forest and savanna (grassy parkland), giving way farther north to savanna. Apart from the oil and rônier palms, trees include coconut palms, kapok, mahogany, and ebony.

      In the extreme north is the “W” National Park (1,938 square miles), which extends into Burkina Faso and Niger. Its varied animal life includes elephants, leopards, lions, antelope, monkeys, wild pigs, crocodiles, and buffalo. There are many species of snakes, including pythons and puff adders. Birds include guinea fowl, wild duck, and partridge, as well as many tropical species. The Pendjari National Park (1,062 square miles) borders on Burkina Faso.

Settlement patterns
      The southern provinces make up one-fourth of the total area but are inhabited by more than two-thirds of the total population. Many of these people are clustered near the port of Cotonou, which is the focus of the commercial and political life of the country, and Porto-Novo, the official capital. The cultivation of subsistence crops, such as corn (maize), cassava, and yams, is intensive on the outskirts of the towns. The barre region and the Benin plateaus are planted with oil palms (oil palm), which form the cash crop, as well as with subsistence crops. To the north, the aspect of the countryside changes as savanna vegetation increases and the population diminishes; some areas are uninhabited, except by Fulani nomads. Villages, instead of being encountered frequently as in the south, become scattered. Parakou is an important northern market town, dating from colonial times.

      The towns exhibit traditional African, colonial European, and modern influences. Traditional African (or precolonial) mud houses, markets, shrines, and statues are found in small towns as well as in Abomey, Porto-Novo, and, to a lesser degree, Cotonou, and the Somba region in the northwest has traditional thatched-roof, turreted houses. Colonial European styles dominate in most towns, especially in Cotonou. Colonial buildings, some dating from the 18th century, include train stations, official buildings, and private homes, as well as such structures as the former Portuguese fort at Ouidah that was used in the slave trade. Modern architecture is found in private homes, port facilities, and hotels.

Stanislas Spero Adotevi Dov Ronen

The people
      Despite attempts at greater national unity and integration since 1960, differences among Benin's (Benin) ethnic groups survive to a marked degree.

      The Fon, who make up nearly 40 percent of the population, live in various parts of the country and especially in Cotonou. The Yoruba, who are related to the Nigerian Yoruba, live mainly in southeastern Benin and constitute about one-eighth of Benin's population. In the vicinity of Porto-Novo the Goun (Gun) and the Yoruba (known in Pobé and Kétou as Nago, or Nagot) are so intermixed as to be hardly distinguishable. Among other southern groups are various Adja peoples, including the Aizo, the Holi, and the Mina.

      The Bariba, the fourth-largest ethnic group, comprise several subgroups and make up about one-twelfth of Benin's population. They inhabit the northeast, especially towns such as Nikki and Kandi that were once Bariba kingdoms. The Somba (Ditamari) are found in Natitingou and in villages in the northwest. Other northern groups include the Dendi, the Djougou, the Pila (Pilapila), and the nomadic Fulani (Peul). Several thousand French (French language), Lebanese, and other nationals reside in Benin, primarily in Cotonou and Porto-Novo.

      French is the official language and the language of instruction, but each ethnic group has its own language, which the educated also speak. Most adults living in the various ethnic communities also speak the dominant language of each region. The most widely spoken languages are Fon, Ge (Mina), Bariba, Yoruba, and Dendi.

Religious groups
      Although Christian missions have been active in the coastal region since the 16th century, only one-fifth of the total population is Christian; of the Christians, about four-fifths are Roman Catholic. Islām has adherents in the north and southeast; about one-sixth of the total population is Muslim. Most of the population adheres to traditional religions. In the south, animist religions, which include fetishes (objects regarded with awe as the embodiment of a powerful spirit) for which Benin is renowned, retain their traditional strength.

Demographic trends
      Benin's rate of population growth is high for western Africa, resulting primarily from a birth rate that is higher than the regional average and a death rate that is lower. Moreover, nearly one-half of the population is less than 15 years of age, assuring the country's continued high growth rate. Life expectancy for males is about 49 years and for females about 52 years. Only about one-fifth of the population is urban, concentrated mostly in Cotonou, the only city with a population of more than 400,000.

Dov Ronen

The economy
      Since independence, Benin's regular and developmental budgets have been dependent on external support, primarily from France and international organizations. This support has rendered a little less painful the formidable economic stagnation and low standard of living of the overwhelming majority of the population.

      The regime that came to power in a 1972 coup attempted from 1975 to restructure the economy more or less along socialist principles and to disengage from dependence on France. Most sectors of the economy were nationalized or otherwise turned over to government control, and economic relations were established with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, as well as with Benin's neighbours. By the early 1980s it was clear that—though the economy was restructured and, at least on paper, more efficient and diversified and France's contribution to Benin's economy diminished—corruption persisted and that the overall economic situation had not improved. “Liberalization” of the economy in the mid-1980s also failed to produce positive results. Accompanying changes in the constitution and regime in the early 1990s, the remnants and slogans of Marxism were wiped out, and privatization of the economy began.

      The few stretches of tropical forest that remain in Benin, mostly in the southwest and central areas, contain mahogany, iroko, teak, samba, and other tropical hardwoods. The rivers and lagoons are rich in fish. Mineral deposits include iron ore both in the Atakora Mountains and northeast of Kandi, limestone deposits at Onigbolo, chromium ore and a little gold in the northwest near Natitingou, marble at Dadjo, an important deposit of pottery clay at Sakété, and ilmenite (a mineral source of titanium) near the coast. Offshore oil was discovered in 1968 in the Sémé field near Cotonou and has been exploited since 1982.

Agriculture and fishing
      About 70 percent of the working population depends on agriculture. Since the mid-1980s Benin has produced yams, cassava, corn (maize), millet, beans, and rice to achieve self-sufficiency in staple foods. Among cash crops, the formerly predominant palm product output declined considerably in the 1980s, but cotton output rose. The output of karité, peanuts (groundnuts), cacao beans, and coffee also has increased. Livestock include cattle, sheep and goats, pigs, horses, and poultry. Substantial quantities of fish are caught annually in the lagoons and rivers, while coastal fishing produces a smaller, but growing, amount. Most of the fish is exported to Nigeria or Togo. Shrimp and deep-sea fishing are developing, using modern vessels.

      Manufacturing plants and secondary industries include several palm-oil-processing plants in Ahozon, Avrankou, Bohicon, Cotonou, Gbada, and Pobé; cement plants at Onigbolo and Pobé; several cotton-ginning facilities in the north; a textile mill at Parakou; a sugar refining complex at Savé; a soft-drink plant; a brewery; and two shrimp-processing plants.

      Electricity is generated thermally by plants located at Bohicon, Parakou, Cotonou, and Porto-Novo. About half of Benin's demand for electricity is met by importing power from Ghana's Volta River Project at Akosombo. In 1988 operations commenced at the hydroelectric installation of the Mono River Dam, a joint venture between Benin and Togo on their common southern boundary.

      Liquidation of Benin's three state-owned banks took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s as part of economic privatization, and four private banks opened, including the Bank of Africa-Benin. Citizens of Benin began to transfer their savings from foreign banks. With the advent of privatization, foreign aid and assistance grew, particularly funding for developmental projects from the United States and the Commission of the European Community, the latter of which also agreed to help pay the wages of civil servants. France continues to provide financial assistance. The currency of Benin is the CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine), which is fully guaranteed by and pegged to the French franc.

      Benin's export earnings rely on agricultural products, such as cotton, palm oil, cocoa, and coffee, exported to such countries as Portugal, Italy, France, Thailand, Taiwan, and the United States. Informal trade (smuggling) across the border with Nigeria has also affected Benin's negative trade balance. One of Benin's main, albeit underexploited, trade assets is the deepwater port at Cotonou, which serves as a sea outlet for the Republic of Niger and as a secondary port for Nigeria and thus holds a potential to earn lucrative customs duties. Benin has traditionally imported various manufactured products, machinery, chemicals, beverages, and tobacco, as well as cereals.

      There are two paved, mostly two-lane, road networks. One runs parallel to the coast of the Gulf of Guinea from the Togolese border, through Cotonou and near Porto-Novo, to the Nigerian border. The other road runs north from Cotonou, near Abomey and Dassa, to Parakou in the north. Roads from Parakou to Niger's border and from near Abomey to Burkina Faso's border are unpaved and are barely passable in the rainy season.

      There is a railroad from Cotonou to Parakou. Another railroad, parallel to the coast, does not extend to either the Togolese or the Nigerian border.

      Interconnected coastal lagoons are navigable by small craft known as pirogues. The Ouémé, Couffo, and Mono rivers are navigable by small boats for several dozen miles. The country's only port is at Cotonou. An international airport in Cotonou links Benin with other countries of Africa and with Europe. There is also limited domestic airline service.

Stanislas Spero Adotevi Dov Ronen

Administration and social conditions
      Benin has experienced much political instability and unrest. It suffered through 12 years of unstable government, including several coups d'état, beginning three years after independence. The regime of President Mathieu Kérékou, who came to power in a 1972 coup, enjoyed almost two decades of fragile but unprecedented stability. The Marxist rhetoric introduced in 1974 culminated in repressive military rule in the late 1970s, but this had largely ceased by the early 1980s. During this period, however, the Benin People's Revolutionary Party (PRPB) was the only legal political party. A National Revolutionary Assembly, elected by citizens, chose the president, who was also head of state.

      Benin was the first African country to make a post-Cold War transition away from Marxism-Leninism. Kérékou himself abandoned in December 1989 the Marxist-Leninist ideology that he had promulgated in the mid-1970s. In December 1990 a new constitution was approved, guaranteeing human rights, freedom to organize political parties, the right to private property, and universal franchise. While multiparty elections, a National Assembly, and a presidency were provided for, the country's poor economy and history of fractured political alliances lent an element of uncertainty to the political future. Benin has a transitional constitutional court, a high court of justice, and a supreme court.

      The public education system has followed the French pattern since colonial times. A six-year primary school cycle (for children ages 6–11) is followed by six years of secondary education (ages 12–17). In the mid-1970s major reforms were introduced both to conform to the then-prevalent Marxist-Leninist ideology and to shed French influence. The reforms failed as teachers, parents, and university-bound students objected to the lowering of standards, and the reforms were largely abandoned by the late 1980s. School enrollment levels for boys in the late 1980s were at least double those for girls. In the early 1990s the National University of Benin, founded in 1970, enrolled approximately 9,000 students. The university's student body has been, along with workers, the main political force in the country since the early 1980s.

Health and welfare
      Benin has a national health-care system that maintains hospitals in Cotonou, Porto-Novo, Parakou, Abomey, Ouidah, and Natitingou, in addition to medical dispensaries, maternity centres, and other small, specialized health-care facilities in these and smaller towns. Financial aid from international organizations provides resources to compensate for a shortage of medical personnel and medications. Malaria, guinea worm, and river blindness are widespread.

Cultural life
      French colonial rule and subsequent close ties with France have left a deep impact on all aspects of cultural life, especially among the educated segments of the population and in the southern cities. Each ethnic group also has its own centuries-old tradition, which itself often mixes with the French influence. These cultural traditions are clustered in two distinct regions, the largely Muslim north and the largely animist and Christian south.

      In Cotonou one finds many kinds of commercial enterprises, often with a French flavour, such as restaurants, cafés, and discotheques. Diplomats of foreign governments and many of Benin's elite live in newer residential sections. There are several movie theatres and several hotels that provide entertainment. Most other towns have modern sections on a smaller scale.

      In other sections of the towns, however, tradition dominates cultural life. Extended families live in family compounds in distinct neighbourhoods, where they practice religious rites and celebrate festivals with music and dance. Markets where foodstuffs, clothing, and traditional medicines and arts are sold are important centres of daily life.

The arts
      Artistic traditions in Benin are very old and are represented in practically every village. Plastic art is the most prominent, as carved wooden masks representing images and spirits of the departed are made and used in traditional ceremonies. Other artistic items are bronze statuettes, pottery, appliquéd tapestries recounting the history of kings of precolonial Dahomey, and fire engraving on wooden bowls, which often have religious meaning. Probably the best-known art objects are the Yoruba wooden masks called guelede from the region of Porto-Novo. Street musicians are found in various neighbourhoods, and modern dance ensembles perform at clubs.

Cultural institutions
      An artisan village is attached to the Historical Museum of Abomey (formerly the Royal Palace). There is an excellent ethnographic museum in Porto-Novo, a historical museum in Ouidah, and the Open-Air Museum of Ethnography and Natural Sciences in Parakou. The National Library is in Porto-Novo. Art galleries are the Cultural and Artistic Centre and the French Cultural Centre, both in Cotonou, and the CAZAM in Porto-Novo. Cultural centres sponsored by the French and American governments maintain libraries and organize lectures, concerts, and other cultural activities.

      The national sport played by several teams is football (soccer). There is a modern sport stadium in Cotonou.

Press and broadcasting
      Radio programs are broadcast from Cotonou in French, English, and a number of local languages. There is also a limited television service. A daily newspaper, La Nation, is published in Cotonou and is controlled by the government; there are also two other dailies and several weekly or biweekly publications. Newspapers published in Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire (in French) and newspapers and magazines from elsewhere may be found in bookstores and newsstands.

Dov Ronen

      As a political unit, Benin was created by the French colonial conquest at the end of the 19th century. In the precolonial period, the territory comprised a multiplicity of independent states, differing in language and culture. The south was occupied mainly by Ewe-speaking (Ewe) peoples, who traced their traditional origins to the town of Tado (in modern Togo). During the 16th and 17th centuries, the most powerful state in this area was the kingdom of Allada (Ardra), but in the 18th and 19th centuries its place was taken by Dahomey. In the north, the largest group was the Bariba, the most important state being the kingdom of Nikki, which formed part of a confederacy including other Bariba states located in what is today Nigeria. The Somba, in the northwest, did not form a kingdom.

The slave trade
      The Portuguese first explored the coast of Benin in 1472 but did not begin trading there until 1553. During the 17th century the Dutch, English, French, and other Europeans also entered the trade. The principal export before the mid-19th century was always slaves (Slave Coast). The volume of slave exports was at first small, but it increased rapidly in the second half of the 17th century, when this area became known to Europeans as the “Slave Coast,” and remained high until the 1840s. The principal centre for the trade was the coastal kingdom of Ouidah (Whydah), which was originally a tributary of Allada but had become an independent state by the 1680s. The slaves exported were predominantly war captives and were drawn from the entire area of modern Benin, including northern peoples such as the Bariba as well as communities near the coast. The Atlantic slave trade had a substantial and deleterious impact in Benin, causing the depopulation of certain areas as well as a general militarization of society. The prominence of slaves from this area in the transatlantic trade is reflected in the survival of elements of its culture in black communities of the New World, especially in the “voodoo (Vodou)” religion of Haiti, which incorporates many spirit cults and deities of the Ewe-speaking peoples.

The kingdom of Dahomey
      Dahomey (also called Abomey, after its capital city) was the state of the Fon people. It was originally a dependency of Allada, but during the 17th century a ruler called Wegbaja declared himself king and made Dahomey an independent state. Under King Agaja (reigned 1708?–40) Dahomey overran the coastal area, conquering Allada in 1724 and the commercial centre of Ouidah in 1727, thus establishing itself as the dominant power in the area. A section of the royal family of Allada, however, founded the new kingdom of Porto-Novo, on the coast to the east, which successfully resisted Dahomean authority and competed with Ouidah for control of the Atlantic trade. Dahomey itself was attacked and defeated by the kingdom of Oyo (Oyo empire), to the northeast (in modern Nigeria), to which it was obliged to pay tribute from 1730 onward. Dahomey attained the height of its power under the kings Gezo (1818–58) and Glélé (1858–89). Gezo liberated Dahomey from its subjection to Oyo by defeating the latter in 1823. Dahomean attempts at expansion eastward, however, brought it up against the powerful state of Abeokuta (also in Nigeria). Dahomean attacks upon Abeokuta in 1851 and 1864 were decisively defeated.

      Dahomey was a despotic and militaristic kingdom. Its power was based upon a highly trained standing army, which included a female contingent (called the “Amazons” by Europeans) drawn from the king's wives. The king's authority was buttressed by an elaborate cult of the deceased kings of the dynasty, who were honoured by the offering of human sacrifices at yearly public ceremonies (the “annual customs”). Its rulers succeeded in uniting the disparate communities which they absorbed into a new national identity, so that the conquered subjects of Dahomey came to regard themselves as Fon. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, Dahomey was a major supplier of slaves for the transatlantic trade, but by the mid-19th century the volume of the slave trade was in decline. In 1852 King Gezo was forced by a British naval blockade to accept a treaty abolishing the slave trade, although this was evaded in practice. From the 1840s onward Gezo promoted the export of palm oil, produced by slave labour on royal plantations, as a substitute for the declining slave trade.

The French conquest and colonial rule
      During the 17th century several of the European nations engaged in the Atlantic slave trade maintained trading factories in the Dahomey area, and during the 18th century the English, French, and Portuguese all possessed fortified posts in Ouidah. The French first established a factory in Allada in 1670 but moved from there to Ouidah in 1671. Although this factory was abandoned in the 1690s, the French built a fort (known as Fort Saint Louis) in Ouidah in 1704. The European forts in Ouidah were, however, all abandoned about the end of the 18th century, the French establishment being withdrawn in 1797.

      In 1842 the French fort at Ouidah was reoccupied as a base for the new trade in palm oil, and in 1851 the French government negotiated a commercial treaty with King Gezo of Dahomey. Subsequently fears of preemption by British colonial expansion led to the extension of formal French rule in the area. A protectorate was briefly established over the kingdom of Porto-Novo in 1863–65 and was definitively reestablished in 1882. Treaties purporting to secure cession of the port of Cotonou, between Ouidah and Porto-Novo, were also negotiated with the Dahomean authorities in 1868 and 1878, though Cotonou was not actually occupied until 1890. King Behanzin, who had succeeded to the Dahomean throne in 1889, resisted the French claim to Cotonou, provoking the French invasion and conquest of Dahomey in 1892–94. Behanzin was then deposed and exiled, and the kingdom of Dahomey became a French protectorate.

      French ambitions to extend their control into the interior, north of Dahomey, were threatened by the rival expansionism of the British, who were established in what was to become their colony of Nigeria to the east, and in 1894 both the British and French negotiated treaties of protection with the kingdom of Nikki. The Anglo-French convention of 1898, however, settled the boundary between the French and British spheres, conceding Nikki to the former. The boundary with the German colony of Togo to the west was settled by the Franco-German conventions of 1885 and 1899. The present frontiers of Benin were established in 1909, when the boundaries with the neighbouring French colonies of Upper Volta and Niger were delimited. The colony was at first called Benin (from the Bight of Benin, not the precolonial kingdom of Benin, which is in Nigeria), but in 1894 it was renamed Dahomey, after the recently incorporated kingdom. From 1904 Dahomey formed part of the federation of French West Africa, under the governor-general in Senegal. Descendants of Portuguese settlers, freed slaves returning from Portuguese colonies in the Americas (called Brésiliens, or Brazilians), and missionaries were instrumental in spreading Christianity and Western education in the south but not in the Muslim north; by the 1950s Dahomey was known as the “Latin Quarter” of French West Africa.

Decolonization and independence
      In 1946 Dahomey became an overseas territory of France. It was created an autonomous republic within the French Community in 1959 and achieved complete independence on August 1, 1960. During the period of decolonization, the nationalist movement in Dahomey became fragmented, with the emergence of three regionally based political parties—led by Sourou-Migan Apithy (president in 1964–65), Justin Ahomadégbé (1972), and Hubert Maga (1960–63 and 1970–72), drawing their principal support respectively from Porto-Novo, Abomey, and the north. After independence in 1960, these political problems were exacerbated by economic difficulties, reflected in student and trade union unrest. The ensuing instability resulted in six successful military coups d'état between 1963 and 1972 and periods of army rule in 1965–68 and 1969–70. In a last military coup, on October 26, 1972, power was seized by Major (later General) Mathieu Kérékou. From 1974 Kérékou pursued a Marxist-Leninist policy, based on nationalizations and state planning of the economy. The country was renamed the People's Republic of Benin in 1975.

      The late 1980s and early 1990s were a turbulent period for Benin. In 1989 Kérékou proclaimed that Marxism-Leninism would no longer be the state ideology, and there followed a period of transition in the direction of greater democratization, including the promulgation of a new constitution in 1990 and the liberalization of the economy. The first multiparty elections were held in 1991, and Kérékou was defeated by Nicéphore Soglo, a former cabinet member.

      Soglo's administration worked hard to improve the country's economy, implementing fiscal policies that garnered international respect, and Benin started to make economic gains. Unfortunately, the feeling among many Beninese was that economic progress came at too great a cost to the country—the disregard for democratization and the social well-being of its citizens—and Soglo's support slipped. In the 1996 presidential election, Soglo was defeated by Kérékou, as he was again in 2001 when the two leaders ran against each other.

      During Kérékou's tenure the economy continued to be a concern among the Beninese. Workers went on strike several times in the late 1990s and early 2000s to protest issues—some resulting from economic reform measures—such as low wages and the change to merit-based salary increases and promotions. Corruption was also an issue Kérékou had to address, with two unrelated investigations in 2003 and 2004 implicating many police, judiciary, and finance ministry officials.

      At the beginning of the 21st century, Benin's economy was still underdeveloped and its political transformation was incomplete, despite much progress having been made since the late 1980s.

Robin Law Dov Ronen Ed.

Additional Reading
Ethnographic studies include Jacques Lombard, Structures de type “féodal” en Afrique noire (1965); William J. Argyle, The Fon of Dahomey (1966); and Paul Mercier, Tradition, changement, histoire: les “Somba” du Dahomey septentrional (1968). Patrick Manning, Slavery, Colonialism, and Economic Growth in Dahomey, 1640–1960 (1982), is a detailed study. Robert Cornevin, La République Populaire du Bénin: des origines dahoméennes à nos jours (1981), is an indispensable reference. For a treatment of the traditional Dahomey kingdom, see Melville J. Herskovits, Dahomey: An Ancient West African Kingdom, 2 vol. (1938, reprinted 1967). Dov Ronen, Dahomey (1975), is the only general history of the independent country available in English. I.A. Akinjogbin, Dahomey and Its Neighbours, 1708–1818 (1967), is the principal published study of the precolonial kingdom of Dahomey. C.W. Newbury, The Western Slave Coast and Its Rulers (1961, reprinted 1983), is a study of the development of European commerce and imperialism in the 19th century. Samuel Decalo, Historical Dictionary of Benin, 2nd ed. (1987), has an extensive bibliography.Dov Ronen Robin Law

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Universalium. 2010.

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