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Republic of Benin

République du Bénin

CAPITAL: Porto-Novo

FLAG: Two equal horizontal bands of yellow (top) and red with a vertical green band on the hoist side.

ANTHEM: L'Aube Nouvelle (The New Dawn).

MONETARY UNIT: The Communauté Financière Africaine franc (CFA Fr), which was originally pegged to the French franc, has been pegged to the euro since January 1999 with a rate of 655.957 CFA francs to 1 euro. The CFA franc has coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 CFA francs, and notes of 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 CFA francs. CFA Fr1 = $0.00208 (or $1 = CFA Fr480.56) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Anniversary of Mercenary Attack on Cotonou, 16 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Independence Day, 1 August; Armed Forces Day, 26 October; National Day, 30 November; Harvest Day, 31 December. Most religious holidays have been abolished, but Good Friday, Easter Monday, Christmas, 'Id al-Fitr, and Id al-'Adha' remain public holidays.

TIME: 1 pm = noon GMT.


The People's Republic of Benin (formerly Dahomey) is situated in West Africa on the northern coast of the Gulf of Guinea, and has an area of 112,620 sq km (43,483 sq mi), extending 665 km (413 mi) ns and 333 km (207 mi) ew. Comparatively, the area occupied by Benin is slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania. Roughly wedge-shaped, Benin is bounded on then by Niger, on the e by Nigeria, on the s by the Gulf of Guinea (Atlantic Ocean), on the w by Togo, and on the nw by Burkina Faso, with a total boundary length of 1,989 km (1,233 mi). The capital city of Benin, Porto-Novo, is located in the southeastern corner of the country.


Difficult to access because of sandbanks, the coast has no natural harbors, river mouths, or islands. Behind the coastline is a network of lagoons, from that of Grand Popo on the Togo border (navigable at all seasons) and joined to Lake Ahémé, to that of Porto-Novo on the east, into which flows Benin's longest river, the Ouémé, navigable for some 200 km (125 mi) of its total of 459 km (285 mi). Besides the Ouémé, the only other major river in the south is the Kouffo, which flows into Lake Ahémé. Lake Ahémé is the largest lake in the country with an area of 100 sq km (39 sq mi). The Mono, serving from Parahoué to Grand Popo as the boundary with Togo, is navigable for 100 km (62 mi) but subject to torrential floods in the rainy season. Benin's northern rivers, the Mékrou, Alibori, and Sota, which are tributaries of the Niger, and the Pandjari, a tributary of the Volta, are torrential and broken by rocks.

North of the narrow belt of coastal sand is a region of lateritic clay, the main oil palm area, intersected by a marshy depression between Allada and Abomey that stretches east to the Nigerian frontier. North of the hills of Dassa, the height ranges from 60 to 150 m (200500 ft), broken only by the Atakora Mountains (Chaine de L'Atakoria), stretching in a southwesterly direction into Togo.


South of Savalou, especially in the west, the climate is typically equatorialhot and humid, with a long dry season from December to March, in which the dry harmattan blows in a northeasterly to southwesterly direction. Temperatures range between 22°c (72°f) and 35°c (95°f), with the average 27°c (81°f). The great rains fall from March to July; there is a short dry season from July to September and a short wet season from mid-September to mid-November. In the southwest, average rainfall is considerably lower and the dry season longer: at Grand Popo, for example, average rainfall is about 82 cm (32 in) as compared with about 127 cm (50 in) in Porto-Novo and Cotonou. Northern Benin has only one wet season (May to September, with most rain in August) and a hot dry season in which the harmattan blows for three or four months. Temperatures range from a maximum of 40°c (104°f) in January to a minimum of 13°c (56°f) in June.

Although rainfall, which is highest in central Benin (135 cm/53 in), decreases as one moves northward, it remains high (97 cm/38 in) in most of northern Benin. In the southwest region, average rainfall drops to 82 cm (32 in) per year. This region is sometimes referred to as the "Benin window." The uncharacteristically low level of precipitation here is attributed to the destruction of native rain forest, which in turn caused a decrease in the evaporation of moisture into the air, resulting in fewer convection rains.


Apart from small isolated patches, little true forest remains. The coconut plantations of the coastal strip give way to oil palms and ronier palms growing as far north as Abomey; these are in turn succeeded by savanna woodland, in which the vegetation of the Guinea forest and the vegetation of the southern Sudan are intermingled, and then by characteristic Sudanic savanna. Trees include coconut, oil palm, ronier palm, ebony, shea nut, kapok, fromager, and Senegal mahogany.

Among the mammals in Benin are the elephant, lion, panther, monkey, and wild pig, as well as many kinds of antelope. Crocodiles and many species of snakes (including python, puff adder, and mamba) are widely distributed. Partridge, guinea fowl, and wild duck, as well as many kinds of tropical birds, are common. Insects include varieties of tsetse fly and other vectors of epidemic disease.


Benin has two national parks and several game reserves. In addition, the government has set aside 5,900 hectares (14,580 acres) for nurseries to foster reforestation. As of 2000, 6.9% of Benin's natural areas were protected. Among the government organizations with responsibility for the environment are the National Commission for Combating Pollution and for the Protection and Improvement of the Environment, which is under the Ministry of Public Health, and the Ministry of Rural Development and Cooperative Action.

The main environmental issues facing the people of Benin are desertification, deforestation, wildlife endangerment, and water pollution. The spread of the desert into agricultural lands in the north is accelerated by regular droughts. Benin has also lost 59% of its forests from uncontrolled agricultural practices and fires. Between 1983 and 1993 alone, forest and woodland was reduced by 12%. For the period between 19901995, deforestation occurred at an average rate of 1.25% per year. Benin has 10.3 cu km of renewable water resources. About 74% of the city dwellers and 55% of rural residents have access to safe drinking water.

Factors which contribute to the endangerment of the wildlife in Benin are the same as those which threaten the forests. As of 2002, there were at least 188 species of mammals, 112 species of birds, and over 2,500 species of plants. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 6 types of mammals, 2 species of birds, 1 type of reptile, 8 species of fish, and 14 species of plants. Threatened species include the cheetah, the sandbar shark, the green turtle, and the roan antelope.


The population of Benin in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 8,439,000, which placed it at number 89 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 44% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 102 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 2.9%. The government has been encouraged by international organizations to implement programs to reduce population growth and to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The number of AIDS orphans grew from 22,000 in 1999 to 34,000 in 2003. The projected population for the year 2025 was 14,254,000. The population density was 75 per sq km (194 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 40% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 4.11%. The capital city, Porto-Novo, had a population of 238,000 in that year. Cotonou, the administrative and economic center and port, had a population of about 734,600. Other important towns are Abomey, Ouidah, and Parakou.


Seasonal labor migration to both Nigeria and Ghana is considerable and of long duration, but estimates of its extent are not available. In 1995, there were 70,000 refugees from Togo in Benin. In June 1998, Benin and Burkina Faso became the first African countries to take in refugees approved by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for resettlement. The total number of migrants living in Benin in 2000 was 101,000.

The total number of refugees living in Benin in 2004 was 5,855. The net migration rate for 2005 was estimated as zero. Worker remittances totaled $101 million in 2003.


The population of Benin is 99% African. However, even though several of the larger groups in southern Benin are culturally and socially closely related, Benin is not ethnically or linguistically homogeneous, and there is a particularly marked division between the peoples of the south and those of the north. The largest ethnic group is that of the Fon or Dahomeyans (about 25%), the closely related Adja (about 6%), and the Aizo (about 5%), who live in the south of the country and are predominantly farmers. The Goun (about 11%), who are related to the Adja, are concentrated around Porto-Novo. The Bariba (about 12%) are the dominant people in northeast Benin. The Yoruba (more than 12%), essentially a farming people, came from Nigeria and are settled along the southeastern boundary of the country. In the northeast, the Somba (more than 4%) subdivide into a number of distinct groups. The Fulani (about 6%), traditionally nomadic herders, gradually are becoming sedentary. Other groups include the Holli, the Dendi, the Mina, and the Pilapila (or Yowa). The remaining 1% of the population is largely European, numbering about 5,500 in 2005.


The official language is French. However, many African languages are spoken. Fon and Yoruba are the most important in southern Benin. In the north there are at least six major tribal languages, including Bariba (a subgroup of the Voltaic group in which the Mossi language is most important) and Fulani.


An estimated 50% of the population follow traditional African religions. Even some who identify themselves as Christian or Muslim are likely to observe some traditional indigenous customs as well. The most common indigenous religion is Vodoun. Vodoun spread to the Americas with slavery and later became a source for African-inspired religions such as Santeria (in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean), voodoo (in Haiti), and Candomble (in Brazil). The Vodoun religion is based on a belief in one supreme being who rules over a number of lesser deities, spirits, and saints.

About 30% of the population are nominally Christian, with a majority belonging to the Roman Catholic church. Other denominations include Methodists, Baptist, Assemblies of God, Jehovah's Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, Celestial Christians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Rosicrucians, the Unification Church, Eckankar, and the Baha'i faith. About 20% of the population are Sunni Muslim.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and this right is generally respected in practice. There is no state sponsored religion. Certain Christian and Muslim holidays are officially observed, along with one traditional indigenous holiday. An Ecumenical Day is celebrated in Ouidah each year on the first Wednesday of May.


In 2004, Benin had 578 km (359 mi) of narrow-gauge railroad. The Benin-Niger Joint Railway and Transport Organization, a public corporation, operates the passenger and freight railroad. The main line runs north from Cotonou to Parakou, with a branch to Segboroué in the west. The eastern line runs from Cotonou to Porto-Novo and Pobé.

Of Benin's 6,787 km (4,217 mi) of roads (excluding tracks) in 2002, only about 1,357 km (843 mi) are paved. The major roads are the coastal highway linking Benin with Lagos in Nigeria and Lomé in Togo; the road from Cotonou to Parakou (terminus of the railroad) and its extension via Kandi to Malanville on the Niger River; and the road north from Tchaourou that links Benin with Burkina Faso. In 2003, Benin had about 9,400 passenger cars and 14,900 commercial vehicles.

As of 2004, Benin had only 150 km of navigable waterways, which consisted of its portion of the River Niger, which forms the country's northern border. Regular transportation services from Parakou to Malanville and thence to Niamey (in Niger), either by road or, in the season when the Niger River is navigable, by river steamer, are important for the movement of produce to and from Niger via Cotonou, Benin's one port. Until 1965, the port was serviced by a wharf built in 1891. In 1965, a new deepwater port, constructed with French and European Development Fund assistance and capable of handling 1 million tons annually, was opened. In the mid-1980s, the port was expanded to handle 3 million tons a year. Landlocked Niger has a free zone in the port area of Cotonou. Because of overcrowded conditions at the port of Lagos, Cotonou has served as a relief channel for goods destined for Nigeria. It also serves as the chief port for Niger. There is boat traffic on the lagoons between Porto-Novo and Lagos, Nigeria, as well as on the rivers. Benin has no merchant marine.

In 2004, there were five airports, only one of which (as of 2005) had a paved runway, Cadjehoun Airport. Located at Cotonou, Cadjehoun Airport, has direct international jet service to Accra, Niamey, Monrovia, Lagos, Ouagadougou, Lomé, and Douala, as well as connections to other West African cities. Direct services also link Cotonou to Paris. International airlines include UTA and Air Afrique. There is a major airport at Parakou, and airfields of lesser importance at Natitingou, Kandi, and Abomey. Transports Aériens du Bénin (TAB), offering domestic services to Parakou, Natitingou, Djougou, Savé, and Kandi, and abroad to Lagos, Lomé, Ouagadougou, and Niamey, was founded in 1978. Benin also has a share in Air Afrique. In 2003, a total of about 46,000 passengers flew on domestic and international flights.


Benin (formerly Dahomey) has no geographical or historical unity and owes its frontiers to Anglo-French rivalry in the late-19th-century partition of Africa. This is especially marked in northern Benin, whose affinities are rather with the neighboring countries of West Africa than with the peoples of the south. Southern Benin has some historical unity, owing to the existence there of several kingdoms, all traditionally related and peopled by Fon and Adja (related to the Ewe of southern Togo and southeastern Ghana). Traditionally, the kingdoms of Allada, Abomey (or Dahomey), and Adjatché (later Porto-Novo) were founded when two brothers of the king of Allada created new states, respectively, north and southeast of Allada. Abomey conquered Allada in 1724, seized the port of Ouidah in 1727, and became a famous slave-trading kingdom. At this time, women soldiers ("Amazons") were recruited by Abomey for regular service.

The Portuguesethe first Europeans to establish trading posts on the West African coastfounded the trading post of Porto-Novo on what is now the Benin coast. They were followed by English, Dutch, Spanish, and French traders as the slave trade developed. The French established posts at Ouidah and Savé in the middle of the 17th century, and the English and Portuguese also built forts nearby in the early 18th century. The Portuguese fort at Ouidah, which remained Portuguese territory until 1961, was built in 1727. French, English, and Portuguese coastal trade continued, and as Yoruba power weakened, Abomey continually raided the Yoruba and westward toward the Ashanti. Prisoners seized in these campaigns were sacrificed or exported as slaves until the latter half of the 19th century. European traders were closely controlled by the yevogan of Ouidah, the Abomey functionary stationed there, and subjected to substantial levies. It was not until the mid-19th century, with the gradual replacement of the slave trade by trade in palm oil, that European activity brought forth new developments. In 1857, the French established themselves in Grand Popo. In 1868, the French made a treaty with the king of Abomey by which they were permitted to establish a trading post at Cotonou. The British meanwhile established themselves in Lagos, which they annexed in 1861 in order to eliminate the slave trade. Anglo-French rivalry in Porto-Novo, in which successive local kings took different sides, eventually ended with a French protectorate there (1882) and British posts at various points farther west, which were abandoned by the Anglo-French agreements of 188889. But Abomey remained outside French control, and its levies on European trade became increasingly irksome. War between Abomey and Porto-Novo broke out in 1889 over France's rights of sovereignty to Cotonou, and Béhanzin, who succeeded to the throne of Abomey in that year, attacked the French posts there. His forces included some 2,000 Amazons. Béhanzin next attacked Porto-Novo and Grand Popo in 1891. In 1893, a French expeditionary force commanded by Dodds took Abomey, and a French protectorate was declared. Renewed hostilities were followed by Béhanzin's surrender to the French in 1894. (He died in exile in Martinique in 1906). His successor, his brother Agoli Agbo, was exiled in 1899 for misadministration, and the kingdom of Abomey finally came to an end.

From 1892 to 1898, the territory took its modern shape with the exploration and extension of French control in the north. The construction of the railroad to the north was begun in 1900. Dahomey became a component colony of the federation of French West Africa in 1904. In 1946, under the new French constitution, it was given a deputy and two senators in the French parliament, and an elected Territorial Assembly with substantial control of the budget. Under the reforms of 195657, the powers of the Territorial Assembly were extended, and a Council of Government elected by the Assembly was given executive control of most territorial matters. Universal adult suffrage and a single electorate were established at the same time. In September 1958, the territory accepted the French constitution proposed by General de Gaulle's government and opted for the status of an autonomous republic within the French Community, as provided by the new constitution.

On 4 December 1958, the Territorial Assembly became a national constituent assembly and the Republic of Dahomey was proclaimed a member of the French Community. On 14 February 1959, a constitution was adopted; the first Legislative Assembly was elected on 3 April. Hubert Maga, chairman of the Dahomeyan Democratic Rally, was named prime minister on 18 May 1959. On 1 August 1960, Dahomey proclaimed its complete independence, and on 25 November a new constitution, calling for a strong unitary state, was adopted. Other constitutions were adopted in 1963, 1965, 1968, and 1990.

After independence, the country suffered from extreme political instability, with military coups in 1963, 1965 (twice), 1967, 1969, and 1972. The numerous and often ingenious efforts at constitutional government, including, from 197072, a three-man presidential council with a rotating chairman, failed for a number of reasons. The major ones were regionalism, especially the northsouth differences, and the country's poor economy; unemployment was high for the relatively large number of educated Beninese, and economic growth minimal.

The coup on 26 October 1972 established Maj. Mathieu Kérékou as the leader of a military regime. It represented a clear break with all earlier Dahomeyan administrations, introducing revolutionary changes in the political and economic life of the country. In late 1974, President Kérékou said that the national revolution would follow a Marxist-Leninist course, and the state sector was rapidly expanded by nationalization. As of 1 December 1975, the country's name was changed to the People's Republic of Benin by presidential proclamation.

On 16 January 1977, about 100 persons, including 27 Africans and 62 European mercenaries, made a poorly organized assault on Cotonou. After directing small-arms fire on the presidential palace, they departed three hours later on the DC-8 jet on which they had arrived. The government blamed "international imperialism" in general and France, Morocco, and Gabon in particular. Until 1990, the government routinely dealt with political opponents by incarcerating themoften without trial.

In 1979, a National Revolutionary Assembly was elected from the single list of candidates offered by the Party of the People's Revolution of Benin, the only legal political organization. This body elected Kérékou to a new term as president in 1980. In that year, in the course of an official visit to Libya, he converted to the Islamic faith in the presence of the Libyan leader, Col. Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi, and accordingly took the first name Ahmed. During the visit the two countries signed a major bilateral cooperation agreement.

In February 1990, after weeks of unrest and economic disorder, Kérékou convened a National Conference of Active Forces of the Nation to discuss Benin's future. The National Conferencethe first of its kind in Africabecame a public critique of Kérékou's 17 years of rule. On 2 December 1990, a new constitution was adopted by popular referendum, and Kérékou was forced to turn over power to a transitional government. Presidential and parliamentary elections were held on 10 March 1991, and runoffs on 24 March resulting in a victory by Prime Minister Nicephore Soglo. The conferees also changed the name of the country to the Republic of Benin. Referred to popularly as a "civilian coup", Benin's National Conference spawned several similar conferences throughout the continent.

Following a period of considerable tension between the executive branch and the legislature, and in the wake of protests caused by the devaluation of the CFA currency, a second National Convention of Forces of Change was held, and calls were issued for new elections to be administered by a national electoral commission. After some delay, elections were held on 28 March 1995 and were considered to be generally free and fair, although the Constitutional Court heard complaints of irregularities in April and invalidated 13 seats. New elections for those seats were scheduled for May, amid opposition complaints that Soglo's dominance of the PRB would again lead to irregularities. After the squabbling, the PRB did in fact emerge with a plurality, holding 20 seats along with 13 held by parties aligned with Soglo and the PRB. In the presidential elections that followed in 1996, Soglo was defeated by his old rival Kérékou, who won the runoff garnering 52.49% of the vote to Soglo's 47.51%. In sum, the 1990s proved quite remarkable for Benin with two transfers of presidential and legislative power freely and fairly at the ballot box, one of which marked the first successful transfer of power in Africa from a dictator to a democratically elected leader.

In the new millennium, Benin held fresh rounds of elections for president and parliament. In presidential elections on 4 and 22 March 2001, Kérékou received 45.4% of the vote to Soglo's 27.1. Adrien Houngbedji, president of the National Assembly, won 12.6%, and Bruno Amoussou, who was minister of state to Kérékou, received 8.6% of the vote. Following the first round, Soglo and Houngbedji withdrew from the second round, charging electoral fraud. Nine members of the National Autonomous Electoral Commission (CENA) and the Constitutional Court resigned after severe criticism that the election results they authorized were false. In the second round of voting, Kérékou won a landslide victory, taking 84.1% of the vote to Amoussou's 15.9%.

In December 2002 the country launched its decentralization program as three million people went to the polls to elect mayors and municipal councilors, who were previously appointed by the government. They were the first municipal and communal elections since the end of one-party rule in 1990. Soglo was elected mayor of Cotonou by its council in February 2003, and Houngbedji was elected mayor of Porto Novo. On 30 March 2003, legislative elections were won by the Presidential Movement, which took 52 of the 83 seats in the National Assembly.

As March 2006 approached, Benin once again was caught up in the fever of an election campaign. Having confirmed that he would step down after his term, President Kérékou put an end to the national debate over a constitutional review that potentially would have removed the upper age limit of 70 and allowed him to run for a third consecutive term. However, the sharp divisions in the Parliament and indeed all over the country triggered by this prospect as well as the practical difficulties of budgeting for a national referendum, caused Kérékou, who was 72 to take a decision to stand down. Former president, Niéphore Soglo, also exceeding the 70-year age limit for candidates, was ineligible to run.

Leading candidates to replace Mr. Kérékou included Bruno Amoussou of the governing coalition, Union du Bénin (UBF); Adrien Houngbédji of the PRD, and Antoine Idji Kolawolé of MADEP, who was also president of the National Assembly. Daniel Wawéma of Fard-Alafia, the leading political party in the north was also considered a front-runner. Despite his decision to step down, President Kérékou failed to endorse any candidate by early 2006.


Maj. Mathieu Kérékou assumed the presidency after the military coup of October 1972 and ruled essentially by decree. In 1973, the National Council of the Revolution, headed by President Kérékou, became the ruling authority. The country's name was changed to the People's Republic of Benin in December 1975. The council disbanded itself in 1979 in accordance with a fundamental law it issued in 1977. The supreme authority of the state became the 336-member National Revolutionary Assembly (NRA), elected from a single list in November 1979 and June 1984. In 1984, this body was reduced to 196 members. The NRA elected the incumbent president, Mathieu Kérékou, as president on 5 February 1980 and reelected him on 31 July 1984. On 29 July 1988, the cabinet was restructured. Cabinet ministers, as well as six prefects (provincial governors) made up the National Executive Council.

The 1990 constitution enshrined multiparty elections, a unitary republic, and changed the country's name to The Republic of Benin. The 1990 constitution stipulates that the president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term, reelectable only once. A directly elected National Assembly of 83 seats elected by direct universal suffrage (at age 18) has a maximum term of four years.


The political evolution of Benin since the end of World War II (193945) was largely outside the main currents of French West African politics and determined mainly by local factors. The leading political figures in the 1950s and 1960s were Sourou Apithy and Justin Ahomadegbé in the south and Hubert Maga in the north.

As a result of the first Legislative Assembly elections in April 1959, Apithy's Dahomeyan Republican Party (Parti Républicain du DahomeyPRD) obtained 28 seats; Maga's Dahomeyan Democratic Rally (Rassemblement Démocratique DahoméenRDD), 22; and Ahomadegbé's Dahomey Democratic Union (Union Démocratique DahoméenneUDD), 20. A coalition of the three parties took office, with Maga as prime minister. In November 1960, after losing a vote of confidence, the UDD ministers resigned, and the PRD and RDD united first in the Dahomeyan Nationalist Party (Parti des Nationalistes de Dahomey) and then in the Dahomeyan Unity Party (Parti Dahoméen de l'UnitéPDU), again under Maga as prime minister. At the end of 1960, the PDU's single list of candidates won overwhelmingly over the UDD and thereby gained complete control of the executive and the legislature. In 1961, the UDD was banned, and Dahomey became a one-party state.

After the fall of the Maga government in October 1963, the PDU was disbanded and replaced by the Dahomeyan Democratic Party (Parti Démocratique Dahoméen), which was in turn dissolved following the 1965 military coup. The Union for Dahomeyan Renewal (Union pour le Renouveau du Dahomey) was later formed, but it was dissolved after the military coup of December 1969.

The Kérékou regime, which took power in 1972, appeared at first to be unwilling to return to party government, but following the adoption of a Marxist-Leninist policy in 1974, the government formed a political organization as the basis of a one-party state. This organization, which became known as the Party of the People's Revolution of Benin (Parti de la Révolution Populaire du BeninPRPB), was the sole legal party until 1990. An illegal opposition group, the Front for the Liberation and Rehabilitation of Dahomey, was reportedly responsible for the 1977 coup attempt. The three major political and regional leadersMaga, Apithy, and Ahomadegbéremained under house arrest in Benin until 1981, when they were allowed to leave the country. In 1986, President Kérékou began to modify his Marxism-Leninism and, by December 1989, the ideology was officially abandoned.

The 1990 multiparty general elections produced a National Assembly in which the largest bloc of votes (12 of 64) were held by a Coalition of Democratic Forces (RFD), made up of The Forces of Progress (UDFP), the Movement for Democracy and Social Progress (MDPS), and the Union for Liberty and Development (ULD). This group was renamed the Union Pour le Triomphe du Renouveau Democratique (UTRD-Union for the Triumph of Democratic Renewal) in March 1992. At its peak, it could count on 34 deputy votes. It was replaced on 30 October 1993 by the African Assembly for Progress (RAP) and was composed of 11 parties and associations. The second-largest bloc, with nine seats, was the Alliance of the National Party for Democracy and Development (PNDD) and the Démocratic Renewal Party (PRD). Kérékou's PRPB was reduced to one of a number of opposition groups, although it was popular in the armed forces.

The National Convention for the Forces of Change, formed in February 1993, was an alliance of opposition groups. The Communist Party of Benin was registered in October 1993. In 1994 the Party for the Renaissance of Benin (PRB) was founded by then- President Soglo's wife. Soglo, who had previously aligned himself with no party, was quickly elected head of the party. In the 1995 legislative elections, the PRB emerged with the largest bloc of seats (20) in the newly expanded National Assemblynow made up of 84 seats. Parties closely allied with the PRB won an additional 13 seats. The remainder was split among 25 smaller parties, with the largest opposition bloc being the PRD, which won 19 seats. Kérékou's newly formed Action for Renewal and Development (FARDALAFIA) took 10 seats; PSD, 7; Our Common Cause, 3; Liberal Democrats, 3; Communist Party, 2; Alliance Chameleon, 1; RDP, 1; Alliance for Democracy and Progress, 1; and others, 16.

The March 1999 elections produced 70% turnover in the National Assembly where opposition party candidates held a slim majority. Overall, they took 42 of 83 seats, leaving 41 seats to be shared among pro-Kérékou parties. Adrien Houngbedji (PRD) became president of the National Assembly. In November 1999, the Ministry of the Interior registered Benin's 118th party, the PRD-Arc-en-ciel, which was led by Kamarou Fassassi, formerly campaign director for Houngbedji. Soglo made his comeback as the PRB presidential candidate in 2001. His party won 27 seats in the March 1999 elections. Also winning seats were the PRD, 11; FARD, 10; PSD, 9; African Movement for Democracy and Progress (MADEP), 6. Eleven other parties took the remaining seats.

In the 30 March 2003 legislative elections the Presidential Movement comprising the UBF, MADEP, FC, IDP, and four small parties won 52 of the 83 seats in the National Assembly. Opposition parties including the PRB, PRD, E'toile, and 5 other small parties took the remaining 31 seats. President Kérékou, as head of the Presidential Movement, declared that he would not run for reelection in March 2006. Legislative elections were due in March 2007.


The country is divided into 12 provinces for administrative purposes, and these in turn are divided into districts. There are elected provincial, district, commune, town, and village councils. Benin must place greater emphasis on local government capacity, including more collaboration among the local governments and civil society to formulate, implement, and enforce policy decisions, and to help education and health providers involve communities and their residents in decision-making.

Benin has been slow to decentralize. In December 2002, the country held its first municipal and communal elections since the end of one-party rule in 1990. However, central government has resisted devolution of budget authority to the communes and several mayors were removed by municipal councils allegedly for mismanagement.


The legal system in Benin was formerly based on French and customary law. However, on 4 September 1981, Kérékou announced the creation of people's courts presided over by a Central People's Court that would control all judicial activities under the supervision of the executive and legislature. Each district has a court with the power to try cases, and each province has a court that acts as an appeals and assizes court. At the lowest level, each commune, village, and city ward has its own court.

The 1990 constitution provided for establishment of a new Constitutional Court responsible for judicial review of the constitutionality of legislation and for deciding disputes between the president and the National Assembly. This court began functioning in 1993. It also established a High Court of Justice to be responsible for hearing charges of crimes against the nation committed by the president or other government officials. However, the highest court for nonconstitutional judicial review under the new constitution was the Supreme Court. In general, the judiciary retains its independence from the government.

Human and civil rights are also enshrined in the constitution. Citizens have the right to a fair public trial, and criminal defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, and the rights to confront witnesses and have access to government-held evidence. The members of the military may be tried in case of minor offenses at military disciplinary councils. These councils have no power to try civilians.

The constitution also prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence. Police need a judicial warrant before entering a private home. Although these basic procedural rights are respected, the judiciary in Benin is curtailed by executive powers, is inefficient, and susceptible to corruption at all levels.


In 2005, Benin's armed forces had 4,550 active personnel. The Army of 4,300 members included 3 infantry battalions. Equipment included 18 light tanks and 16 artillery pieces. There were 150 personnel in the Air Force, whose major equipment included 13 transports, and one utility and two support helicopters. There were no combat aircraft. The Navy numbered an estimated 100 personnel with one patrol boat. A paramilitary gendarmerie totaled 2,500. The defense budget in 2005 totaled $70.8 million.


Benin was admitted to UN membership on 20 September 1960, and is a member of ECA and several nonregional specialized agencies. The country joined the WTO on 22 February 1996. It is a member of the African Development Bank, the ACP Group, the West African Economic and Monetary Union, ECOWAS, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), G-77, and the African Union. The nation is part of the Franc Zone and the Community of Sahel and Saharan States (CENSAD).

Benin has joined with Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Togo in the Conseil d'Entente, a loose grouping of like-minded states with a common loan guarantee fund. Benin, as a member of the Niger Basin Authority, cooperates with other riparian states of the Niger River in planning the further use and development of the river for fishing, transportation, flood control, and hydroelectricity. The Organization Commune Bénin-Niger regulates common problems of transportation and communications. Benin became a member of the Association of African Petroleum Producers in 1987. The country is part of the Nonaligned Movement and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

In environmental cooperation, Benin is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Benin's economy is recovering from the economic problems that led to the collapse of the socialist government in power between 1974 and 1989. However, as of 2005, the West African nation remained severely underdeveloped. Although the country's economic output grew by an average of 5% between 1999 and 2005, rapid increases in population offset those gains. The government was expected to continue efforts to privatize telecommunications, water, electricity, and agricultural companies that had been publicly owned through the former socialist economy.

Much of Benin's fate also is influenced by the much larger Nigerian economy, where trade barriers ban a growing list of imports from Benin and other nations. This effect has caused Benin's GDP to fluctuate between recovery and decline. Benin's debt situation has been eased due to measures undertaken by the Paris Club and other creditors, and the IMF agreed in late 2005 to provide 100% debt relief to Benin under its Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative.

Agriculture is the most important sector in the Benin economy, accounting for 33.9% of GDP in 2004. About 90% of this output is produced on family farms using low-technology inputs and focusing primarily on domestically consumed crops, such as cashews, corn, sorghum, millet, paddy rice, pineapples, cassava, yams, and beans. Typically, Benin is self-sufficient in food. Cotton, palm oil, and peanuts are grown and exchanged for cash. However, the reliance on agriculture has kept much of Benin's population in poverty; about one-third of the population lived below the poverty line, according to a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assessment in 2005.

Benin's livestock population increased an estimated 40% during the late 1980s and early 1990s, though it still does not satisfy local demand. Wood production for local fuel consumption also falls behind national demand. The fishing sector, made up of artisanal fishers, has overfished the stock and is in decline.

Benin's mineral resources are limited. Limestone, marble, and petroleum reserves are exploited commercially. Gold is produced at the artisanal level. Phosphates, chromium, rutile, and iron ore have been located in the north but remain undeveloped resources.

In January 1994 France devalued the CFA franc, causing its value to drop in half overnight. The devaluation was designed to encourage new investment, particularly in the export sectors of the economy, and discourage the use of hard currency reserves to buy products that could be grown domestically. In the short term, the move left the economy reeling and provoked anger and confusion among the population. Price-gouging by local merchants and a sharp rise in inflation to 55% led the government to impose temporary price controls on existing stocks of imports. By 2001, however, inflation was back down to 3% and was estimated at 3.2% in 2005. Real GDP growth was estimated at 4.2% in 2005.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Benin's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $8.7 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $1,200. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 4.2%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 3.2%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 33.9% of GDP, industry 13.6%, and services 52.5%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $84 million or about $12 per capita and accounted for approximately 2.4% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $294 million or about $44 per capita and accounted for approximately 8.5% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Benin totaled $2.80 billion or about $417 per capita based on a GDP of $3.6 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 4.1%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 52% of household consumption was spent on food, 15% on fuel, 5% on health care, and 3% on education. It was estimated that in 2001 about 33% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


The total labor force was about two million in 1999 (the latest year for which data was available) of which 56% were primarily engaged in agriculture. Less than 2% of the labor force is salaried. There is a great disparity between the income of the wage earner and that of the uneducated traditional laborer, whose yearly income is less than the average monthly income of the salaried worker.

Trade union activity is concentrated in urban areas and particularly in the south, where most wage and salaried workers are employed. The constitution gives workers the right to organize, join unions, meet, and strike. As of 2005, around 75% of government workers were unionized, but the percentage is much smaller in the private sector.

The fundamental labor legislation provides for collective agreements between employers and workers, for the fixing of minimum wages by the government on the advice of advisory committees, and for a 40- to 46-hour basic workweek, with a 24 hour rest period per week. Domestic and agricultural workers generally work more than 70 hours per week. The legislation also provides for paid annual leave and for family allowances for children. These arrangements affect only the small proportion of the total labor force that is in wage-paid employment. Although health and safety standards have been established, enforcement has been ineffective. The minimum wage was about $50 per month in 2005, but was only enough to provide rudimentary food and shelter for a family. Most workers earn more than the minimum wage by engaging in subsistence farming or informal sector trade. Although the labor code prohibits employment for children under age 14, child labor remains a huge problem. A 2000 study shows that an estimated 75% of apprentices working as seamstresses, hairdressers, carpenters, and mechanics were under the legal employment age.


Benin is predominantly an agricultural country. About 51% of the economically active population was engaged in the agricultural sector in 2003, which accounted for 36% of GDP that year. Small, independent farmers produce 90% of agricultural output, but only about 17% of the total area is cultivated, much of it in the form of collective farms since 1975. The agricultural sector is plagued by a lack of infrastructure, poor utilization of rural credit, and inefficient and insufficient use of fertilizer, insecticides, and seeds. Smuggling of crops for export or the domestic black market results in understating of crop figures. An estimated 20% of output is informally traded with Nigeria. The main food crops are manioc, yams, corn, sorghum, beans, rice, sweet potatoes, pawpaws, guavas, bananas, and coconuts. Production estimates for the main food crops for 2004 were yams, 2,500,000 tons; manioc, 4,000,000 tons; corn, 803,000 tons; sorghum, 190,000 tons; rice, 70,000 tons; dry beans, 105,000 tons; sweet potatoes, 75,000 tons; and millet, 40,000 tons. Benin is self-sufficient in food crops, given favorable weather conditions.

Palm products were long Benin's principal export crop, but cotton has increased in importance, with production increasing since 1981. Despite improved production, however, cotton storage and ginning capacity are still insufficient. Production of most cash crops fell between the 1970s and 1980s because of drought and state mismanagement. Cotton is grown on some 175,000 hectares (432,400 acres), and the crop is managed by the National Agricultural Society for Cotton. Cotton production was 150,000 tons in 2004, down from 175,000 tons in 1999. Peanut production has also recently become important; in 1999, 121,000 tons of shelled groundnuts were produced from 145,000 hectares (359,000 acres). These statistics are distorted by the smuggling of cash crops to and from Nigeria, depending on which country's prices are more attractive. Some 400,000 hectares (990,000 acres) of natural palms are exploited, and there are 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of palm plantations, the largest of which is managed by SOBEPALH, a government enterprise producing palm oil and cottonseed oil. Palm oil production was 13,500 tons in 2004 and palm kernel output was 22,000 tons. Other crops with their 2004 production figures were cashews, 10,000 tons; bananas, 13,000 tons; mangoes, 12,000 tons; and coconuts, 20,000 tons.


In 2004 there were an estimated 1,745,000 head of cattle; 700,000 sheep; 1,350,000 goats; 309,000 hogs; and 13 million chickens. Most of Benin's cattle are in the north beyond the main trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) zone inhabited by the tsetse fly, but there is also a small hardy type in the lagoon area. Horses are rare owing to the ravages of trypanosomiasis. Poultry are mainly confined to the south of the country.

Estimated output of livestock products in 2004 included 21,100 tons of beef and veal; 6,800 tons of sheep and goat meat; and 3,900 tons of pork. Although the livestock population had increased by 40% in the 1990s, Benin still imports substantial amounts of meat and poultry to meet local demand.


Ocean fishing, which had been carried on largely by Ghanaian fishermen, is gaining importance at Cotonou (where a fishing port was opened in 1971) and other coastal centers. Under an agreement with the Senegal government, Senegalese fishermen introduced deep-sea-fishing methods to the Beninese, and a national fishing company was established as a joint venture with Libya. Exports of fish commodities amounted to nearly $1.9 million in 2003. Lagoon and river fishing remain of primary importance; of an estimated catch of 41,900 tons in 2003, 30,000 tons were from inland waters. The production of fish steadily declined during the 1980s due to over fishing and ecological degradation, but started increasing by the mid-1990s. In 2003, fishery products accounted for 2.8% of agricultural exports.


There are about 3.4 million hectares (nearly 8.4 million acres) classified as forest and woodland, about 31% of the total land area. Most forests are in northern Benin, and exploitation is subject to public control. Timber production is small. Firewood, charcoal, and building wood for local use are the most important forest products. In 2003, 494,000 cu m (17.4 million cu ft) of roundwood were produced, down from 6.2 million cu m (218 million cu ft) in 2000. However, the value of forest product exports increased from $1.18 billion in 2000 to $8.59 billion in 2003. American Peace Corps volunteers have assisted with the development of the forestry sector, with special attention on the dilemma between ecological balance and fuelwood production.


With the exception of oil, Benin was relatively poor in mineral resources, all of which belonged to the government. Sedimentary phosphate deposits were located along the Mekrou River in the north. There was low-grade iron ore at Loumbou-Loumbou and Madekali, in the Borgou district, where surveys discovered resources of more than 500 million tons. Development of the hydroelectric power station was seen as a key factor in the future potential development of the iron ore and phosphate deposits. Limestone was quarried for use in cement plants. There was potential for small-scale gold mining in the Atacora gold zone, in the north-west. Other mineral resources included chromium, rutile, and diamonds; small quantities of industrial diamonds were exported. In 2004, the country produced 250,000 metric tons of hydraulic cement, 21,000 metric tons of clay, 20 kg of gold, and 29,000 cubic meters of gravel.


Production from the Sémé offshore oil field began in October 1982 by Saga Petroleum, a Norwegian firm working under a service contract. The field yielded 1.35 million barrels of oil in 1991. In 1990, Benin exported an estimated 1.27 million barrels of crude oil. In 1986, the contract was transferred to Pan Ocean Oil (Panoco), a Swiss-based US firm, but loans to Benin from international development agencies were frozen because the company could not furnish satisfactory financial and capability statements; it withdrew, forcing Benin to take over oil production. Reserves, which were estimated at 44 million barrels, were considered sufficient to meet domestic needs, but there is currently no refinery in Benin; consequently, refined petroleum products have to be re-imported. In 2002, imports of refined petroleum products amounted to 12,600 barrels per day.

Electrical generating capacity in 2002, totaled 0.122 million kW. Total domestic power output in that same year was 0.055 billion kWh, of which hydropower accounted for 0.002 billion kWh and fossil fuels for the rest. Electricity consumption in 2002 was 0.488 billion kWh. An agreement was signed with Togo and Ghana in 1967 under which Benin receives low-cost electric power from the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River in Ghana. Total electricity imports for 2002 were estimated at 0.4370 billion kWh. Togo and Benin are constructing a dam on the Mono River, along the Togo border, that will feed a power station to supply the southern regions of both countries.


Benin's industrial sector accounted for 13.6% of GDP in 2005. Industrial activity centers primarily on construction materials, chemical production, textiles, and the processing of agricultural products. Enterprises such as the Onigbolo cement factory and the Savé sugar refinery have characterized Benin's industrial sector.

Production of crude steel ceased in 1993. Production of crude oil began in 1982 but ceased in the 1990s. The Sémé oil field near Cotonou was shut down in 1998, but there were plans to redevelop it. Exploration of oil is ongoing. Benin imports refined petroleum from Nigeria, and is involved in a planned $500 million West African natural gas pipeline that will run 385 miles between Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire. Gas delivery from the pipeline was expected to begin in 2005. Although work began at the pipeline's final terminus in late 2005, political questions about multinational oil companies' roles in the project have raised new concerns.

A textile factory at Parakout was revitalized with financing from the West African Development Bank. Benin's industrial electricity needs are met by hydroelectric power from Akosombo dam in Ghana and the Nangbeto dam on the Mono River in Togo. The Société Beninoise d'Electricité et d'Eau (SBEE) controls most electrical production within Benin (which is minimal), and the Communauté Electrique du Benin (CEB) imports the electricity from Ghana through Togo.

Together with other countries belonging to the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), Benin adopted the common external tariff in 2000, which was designed to encourage domestic production. Revenues from the cotton sector are substantial, comprising 90% of Benin's foreign currency earnings.

Although the cotton industry remains state-owned, Benin has privatized its cement, textile, tobacco, and public transportation enterprises in recent years, in addition to breweries. Efforts to privatize SONAPRA, Benin's state-owned cotton enterprise, were scheduled to be completed in mid-2004. However, delays have prevented that from occurring.


Much of the scientific and technical research conducted in Benin is directed toward agriculture and is supported by France. The Benin Office of Mines, which is attached to the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Tourism, is located at Cotonou; the Institute of Applied Research, founded in 1942, is at Porto-Novo. The National University of Benin in Cotonou has faculties of scientific and technical studies, health sciences, and agriculture. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 18% of college and university enrollments.


Despite the economy's reliance on subsistence agriculture, Benin has developed into a West African trading center. Except in Cotonou and Porto-Novo, retailers deal in a wide variety of goods rather than specializing in a few products. In the two larger towns, some shops specialize in such lines as dry goods, foodstuffs, and hardware. In the smaller towns, bazaars and individual merchants and peddlers deal in locally grown products and a few imported items. Domestic trade is generally on a cash basis, but in the countryside barter is common. Advertising is not widely used.

Many small business are privately owned by Beninese residents, but a number of enterprises are held by foreigners, particularly French nationals. Since 2001, there has been a somewhat reluctant effort on behalf of the government for greater privatization of industries such as telecommunications, utilities, and agriculture.

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 304.0 727.0 -423.0
Nigeria 67.6 27.8 39.8
India 43.3 14.1 29.2
Ghana 26.5 40.4 -13.9
Indonesia 24.1 5.2 18.9
China 16.9 46.7 -29.8
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 12.8 23.5 -10.7
Pakistan 12.8 0.8 12.0
Thailand 12.6 20.4 -7.8
France-Monaco 11.9 174.3 -162.4
Morocco 9.0 9.0
() data not available or not significant.

Business hours are from 9:30 am to 1 pm and from 4 to 7 pm Monday through Friday, from 3 to 7 pm on Saturday, and from 9 to 11 am on Sunday. Banks are open on weekdays from 8 to 11 am and 3 to 5 pm Monday through Friday.


Benin consistently runs a trade deficit. The leading exports are cotton, uranium and thorium ores, cottonseeds, and cigarettes. Leading imports are foodstuffs, petroleum products, beverages, tobacco, capital goods, and light consumer products.

As of 2004, Benin's main trading partners for exports were: China (29.5%), India (18.8%), Ghana (6.4%), Niger (6%), Indonesia (4.3%) and Nigeria (4.3%). Benin imports products primarily

Current Account -160.5
    Balance on goods -179.5
        Imports -553.0
        Exports 373.5
    Balance on services -44.8
    Balance on income -13.5
    Current transfers 77.3
Capital Account 70.0
Financial Account 40.5
    Direct investment abroad -2.3
    Direct investment in Benin 43.9
    Portfolio investment assets 3.1
    Portfolio investment liabilities -0.4
    Financial derivatives -0.2
    Other investment assets -34.4
    Other investment liabilities 30.8
Net Errors and Omissions 3.6
Reserves and Related Items 46.4
() data not available or not significant.

from China (32.2%), France (13%), Thailand (6.7%), and Côte d'Ivoire (5.3%).


Large annual transfers from the French government and other sources are necessary for Benin to offset its chronic trade deficit. As producer prices declined in the late 1980s, Benin's export revenues fell sharply. By 1989 and 1990, foreign aid matched export earnings. Benin's current account deteriorated sharply from the years of high prices for crude oil exports, and since oil production slowed down in the 1990s. A growing dependence on imports also increased the deficit, but official statistics do not include substantial amounts of informal trade flows to neighboring countries.

Benin accepted an IMF structural adjustment program in the early 1990s. The IMF formula called for modest real GDP growth, reducing public sector employment, improving tax collection and privatizing of public-sector enterprises. In addition, Benin's government initiated tariff reforms and lifted price controls. While debt cancellations by the United States and France helped bring the debt-service ratio down to 7.0%, Benin still has a serious debt problem that has only partially been resolved.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2005 the Benin's exports were $826.2 million while imports totaled $1.043 billion resulting in a trade deficit of $155.1 million.


In 1959, the Central Bank of the West African States (Banque Centrale des États de l'Afrique de l'Ouest-BCEAO) succeeded the Currency Board of French West Africa and Togo as the bank of issue for the former French West African territories. In 1962, it was reorganized as the joint note-issue bank, and in 2000 included Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. BCEAO notes, known as CFA francs, are unreservedly guaranteed by France. Foreign exchange receipts of the member states go into the franc area's exchange pool, which in turn covers their foreign exchange requirements.

In December 1974, the government nationalized the banking sector, amalgamating the three main commercial banks into the Commercial Bank of Benin. There is also the Benin Development Bank. Other commercial banks include the Bank of Africa Benin, Banque Internationale du Benin, Ecobank-Benin, the Financial Bank, Equibail-Benin, Credit du Benin, Continental Bank Benin, and Credit Promotional Benin.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $548.1 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $734.7 million. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 4.95%. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 6.5%.

There is no securities market in Benin.


Insurance companies were nationalized in 1974, and the National Society of Insurance and Reinsurance (SONAR) is the state agency.


Benin has both an ordinary and a development budget. High personnel costs have been a continuing problem in Benin, which has a surfeit of civil servants. Many government-backed enterprises are near bankruptcy and some are barely functioning. The fiscal year follows the calendar year. Most investment expenditure is financed by foreign loans and grants. During the 1980s, the external debt nearly tripled, and stood at $909 million by 1988. In 1989, the government rescheduled its arrears through the Paris Club. Since 1991 Benin has been implementing a structural adjustment program supported by the World Bank. The program calls for reduced fiscal expenditures, deregulation of trade, and the privatization of money losing state-owned enterprises. Economic aid amounted to $265 million in 2003, although Benin was eligible to receive debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Benin's central government took in revenues of approximately $766.8 million and had expenditures of $1 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$250.2 million. Total external debt was $1.6 billion.


Indirect taxes provide almost 60% of government revenues, and direct taxes, about 25%. The corporate tax rate had been reduced to 35% from 38% in 2003. The top marginal rate for personal income tax was reported to have increased to 60% in 2003, from 35%, although the marginal rate for the average taxpayer was 6%.

A value-added tax (VAT) with a standard rate of 18% was introduced in 1991. In 2003, an estimated three-fourths of VAT collected was collected on imports, despite the fact that most imports, including those pursuant to all government contracts and most investments, are exempt from VAT. There is also a 1% community solidarity levy.


Benin enacted a common external tariff, which has eliminated most nontariff trade barriers. A fiscal import duty has rates of: 0%; 5%; 10%; 15%; and 20% according to tariff class. Port security is an issue of pressing concern, with theft as a major problem. Bonded warehouses are available, but difficult to come by. A port police was established in 1999 to combat the crime problems, but it has had little impact on the situation.


With government privatization of the nationalized industrial sector well under way, the 1980s90s were a period of considerable investment activity in Benin. In the financial sector, Rasmal Finance, a Swiss banking interest backed by American Express and Citicorp; Ecobank, based in Togo and correspondent for the Midland Bank; the Bank of Africa, a Malian financial interest; and the Banque Internationale de Bénin, a Nigerian consortium, have operated in Benin since 1989.

Rothmans-UK invested in the formerly state-run cigarette factory. An American private investor has entered the steel industry, manufacturing reinforcing bars and roofing materials. While current oil reserves are negligible, investments in further exploration possibilities offshore have been considerable. Formerly state-owned cement, auto parts, and stationery supply operations have also been privatized. La Beninoise (brewery) brought us$13.7 million; Sotraz (public transportation), brought us$73,752. In terms of legislation, Benin adopted an investment code in 1990 designed to attract private sector investment. The Beninese government requires that nationals partly own privatized companies.

Other arenas of interest to foreign investors are the potential for building apparel factors in Benin and investments in tourism. A Chinese-European joint venture was reportedly considering plans for an apparel factory in Seme. Tourism investment has been increasing, with plans to establish a tourism investment zone along the country's breathtakingly beautiful coastline. Bidders were sought in 2004 for the Benin Marina Hotel, which previously had been managed by Sheraton.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Benin has been steadily increasing since Benin's transition to a democratic government in the early 1990s. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, FDI averaged $39 million between 1985 and 1995. Since then, it has risen from $44 million in 2001 to $60 million in 2004. Benin reported holdings of $291 million in FDI stocks in 2004, accounting for about 7% of its GDP.


Benin's economic development goals rest on the government's ability to carry out privatization schemes mapped out initially in 2001. Although progress has been slow in some sectors, privatization efforts are ongoing in telecommunications, water, electricity, and agriculture.

Economic development was conducted within the context of a 20002004 International Monetary Fund (IMF) Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF), and the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative with the IMF and the World Bank. The devaluation of the CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) franc, the local currency, in 1994, made imports more expensive and brought the CFA Fr closer in value to the Nigerian currency. This was meant to inhibit imports while stimulating local production and raw material exports, but little progress was made in these areas by 2003.

While privatization efforts were mixed, an IMF assessment completed in 2004 noted Benin's willingness to shift its macroeconomic policies to comply with market-oriented reforms. Foreign investment in the country remains relatively strong, and the receipt of a B+ rating by Standard & Poor's was expected to encourage more private sector interest.

The economy has grown steadily in the early 21st century and most social indicators of standard of living have shown improvement. Nevertheless, a high incidence of poverty, a continued reliance on agriculture and political resistance to structural reforms may continue to hinder growth for the long term.


A social insurance system provides benefits to employed persons with a special system for public employees. The first law was established in 1970, and was updated in 2003. It is funded by contributions from employees and employers. It provides pensions for old age, disability, and survivorship. Maternity benefits, worker's compensation, and a family allowance program, financed entirely by employers, are also offered. The majority of the population, however, are self-employed or work in the agricultural sector and fall outside the scope of these programs.

Although the law provides for equality for women, they are victims of discrimination in most areas of society. Domestic violence and spousal abuse are common and the police generally hesitate to interfere.

Although outlawed in 2003, female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation, is still widely practiced in Benin. This practice is both physically and psychologically harmful to girls and women, and in some cases may cause death. Some traditional practices inflict hardship and violence on children, and child labor remains a serious problem. In 2004, trafficking of women and children continued to be widespread.

Human rights are somewhat protected in Benin. Reports of killings and beatings by police, arbitrary arrests and detentions continue. Prison conditions continue to be harsh.


Most serious epidemic diseases have been brought under control by mobile health units and other facilities. Yaws has been almost totally eradicated in the northern part of the country. Sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis) has also been greatly reduced in the north and yellow fever has all but disappeared. Meningitis, once endemic in the north, now appears only sporadically and measures against tuberculosis have been intensified. In 2002, 203 new cases of cholera were reported. Malnutrition was prevalent in an estimated 25% of children under five years old. Access to safe water had improved to 63% by 2000 (between 1990 and 1995, only 20% had access to safe water), but only 23% of the population had adequate sanitation. Estimated average life expectancy in 2005 was 53 years.

As of 2004, there were an estimated 6 physicians and 20 nurses per 100,000 people. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 3.3% of GDP.

About 16% of married women (age 15 to 49) used contraception in 2000. The maternal mortality rate was estimated at 500 per 100,000 live births. The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 81 per 1,000 live births. The total fertility rate was 6.4 per woman in 1999. Nearly half of the women in Benin undergo female genital mutilation.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 1.90 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 68,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 5,800 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

The government of Benin has set goals of expanding its health care system, upgrading the quality of first referral care, promoting private sector care, and improving public sector care.


Improvement in overall appearance and in sanitation facilities in towns and villages has been fostered by the government. Low-cost housing has been provided by a public corporation backed by French development funds.

Over the past decade, many residents have been looking to build more modern "western" style homes. However, most of the construction materials for such a structure need to be imported, making materials (and labor) too expensive for many residents to consider this an option. In the rural areas, the typical dwelling of northern Benin is a round hut of beaten mud with a conical roof of thatch. In southern Benin, rectangular huts with sloping roofs of palm or straw thatch are more usual. Along the coastal lagoons, houses are often built on stilts.


During the French colonial period, Benin produced the educational elite of French West Africa. The percentage of primary-school attendance was higher than in any other French West African territory, largely because of intense missionary activity. The educational system is patterned on that of France, but changes have been introduced to modify the elitist system and to adapt the curriculum to local needs and traditions. The most significant change has been the takeover of mission schools following legislation in 1975, by which the state made all education free, public, secular, and compulsory from ages 6 to 12.

Primary school covers a six-year course of study. For secondary studies, students may choose between a seven-year general education program or a six-year technical program. At last estimates (1999) primary school enrollment was at about 55% of age-eligible students; 67% for boys and 44% for girls. In 2001, secondary school enrollment was estimated at about 19% of eligible children; 26% for boys and 12% for girls. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 54:1 in 2000; the ratio for secondary school was about 22:1. In 2003, it was estimated that about 51% of all students complete their primary education.

The National University of Benin at Cotonou, founded in 1970, offers courses in agriculture, medicine, liberal arts, science, law, economics, and politics. There are at least eight other institutes of higher learning in the country. In 2001, there were about 19,000 students enrolled in higher education programs. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 33.6%, with 46.4% for males and 22.6% for females.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.3% of GDP.


The National Archives and National Library, which has around 35,000 volumes, are in Porto-Novo. Also in the capital are the Institute of Applied Research, which maintains a research collection of 8,000 volumes and the library of the National University of Benin with 50,000 volumes. The French Cultural Center in Cotonou maintains a library of 30,000 volumes. The library of the National University of Benin in Cotonou serves as a depository library of the United Nations. There are historical museums in Abomey and Ouidah, an ethnological museums in Porto-Novo, and Cotonou, and a museum of natural history and ethnography in Parakou. There are monuments and historical sites maintained by the government and three zoos and botanical gardens.


Virtually all media in Benin are controlled by the government. The state provides telegraph and telephone service and government-owned radio and television services broadcast in French, English, and 18 indigenous languages. In 2003, there were an estimated nine mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 34 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

As of 2005, there was one state TV channel, a few commercial TV channels. and more than 30 state, commercial and local radio stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 445 radios and 12 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 3.7 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 10 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet.

In 2002, there was only one daily newspaper; Ehuzu (also known as La Nation ), is the primary government publication, with a daily circulation of about 12,000. There are about 50 other newspapers and periodicals. Weeklies included La Gazette du Golfe (circulation 18,000) and Le Forum de la Semaine. Other publications included L'Opinion and Tam-Tam Express (8,000 every other week). All were published in Cotonou. There are also several general interest and a few special interest periodicals

The Constitution of Benin ensures freedom of expression, including speech and the press, and the government is said to respect this freedom.


The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Benin is in Cotonou. There are professional organizations for teachers and doctors.

The Organization of Revolutionary Youth of Benin, founded in 1983, has about 150,000 members from all parts of Benin. The organization has direct relations with all youth-serving ministries of the Government and is affiliated with the Pan African Youth Movement and the World Federation of Democratic Youth. The Scoutisme Béninois is a scouting organization sponsoring both Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. There are also organizations of the Junior Chamber of Benin, YMCA/YWCA, and the Special Olympics.

There are active chapters of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Africare, Caritas, and Friends of the Earth.


Benin has great potential for tourism, and the government is striving to develop this sector of the economy. The country has a rich cultural heritage, varied scenery, and impressive national parks. The tourist industry remains underdeveloped. For trips to the Pendjari game park, there is a small (21-room) hotel in Porga. In 2000, there were 2,733 hotel rooms, with 5,040 beds and an 11% occupancy rate. In 2002 there were 72,288 visitor arrivals.

Tourist attractions include the lake village of Ganvie, two game parks in the north, the ancient royal city of Abomey, several museums, and beaches. Hunting lodges have been built to foster safaris in the two national parks, where efforts have also been made to preserve wild game. In the south are picturesque villages built on stilts over the waters of the coastal lagoons. A visa is required for all visitors except those from Denmark, Germany, France, Sweden, and many of the African nations. Proof of vaccination against yellow fever is required in most of West Africa. In 2004, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Cotonou at $167 per day, depending on the choice of hotel. In other regions, the cost was as low as $87 per day.


Perhaps the most famous historical ruler in the area now known as Benin was Béhanzin (d.1906), who was king of Abomey from 1889 until he was defeated by the French in 1894. The best-known modern Beninese are the political leaders Hubert Maga (19162000); Sourou-Migan Apithy (19131989); Justin T. Ahomadegbé (19172002); and Brig. Gen. Ahmed Mathieu Kérékou (b.1933). Nicephore Soglo (b.1934), a former World Bank economist, was elected president in 1991 in Benin's first multiparty presidential election. In 1996, he lost his bid for reelection to Kérékou in a runoff.


Benin has no territories or colonies.


Alpern, Stanley B. Amazons of Black Sparta: the Women's Warriors of Dahomey. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

Ben-Amos, Paula. Art, Innovation, and Politics in Eighteenth-century Benin. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Caulfield, Annie. Show Me the Magic: Travels Round Benin by Taxi. London: Penguin, 2003.

Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Benin. 3rd ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1995.

Duchateau, Armand. Benin: Royal Art of Africa. Houston: Houston Museum of Fine Arts, 1994.

Edgerton, Robert B. Women Warriors: The Amazons of Dahomey and the Nature of War. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2000.

Houngnikpo, Mathurin C. Determinants of Democratization in Africa: A Comparative Study of Benin and Togo. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2001.

Law, Robin. The Slave Coast of West Africa, 15501750: the Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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The Republic of Benin

Major Cities:
Cotonou, Porto Novo

Other Cities:
Abomey, Ouidah, Parakou


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated February 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


The Republic of BENIN , one of the smallest and most densely populated nations in Africa, was once a colonial possession of France. It later functioned as an autonomous member of the French Community for 22 years before achieving independence in 1960. Benin was known as Dahomey until 1975 when, with the espousal of a socialist orientation, its name was changed to the People's Republic of Benin. In 1990 a national conference repudiated Marxism in favor of multiparty democracy and adopted the country's present name. The word "Benin" is derived from the name of an African kingdom that had flourished near the Gulf of Guinea in the seventeenth century.

When Benin's official capital, Porto Novo, was founded as a trading post by Portuguese explorers in the 17th century, the country was actually an agglomeration of small principalities, most of them tributary to the Kingdom of Abomey, which had dominated the Yorubas and other coastal tribes. The king of Porto Novo requested protection from France, with whom there was a commercial treaty; with the help of the French military, all of what is now Benin was organized as a protectorate in 1894. It was administered through Paris under territorial governors and governors general until it achieved its status as an autonomous state.



Cotonou is, by virtue of its economic predominance, the administrative capital and major city of Benin. It is where most ministries, all diplomatic missions, and the president's residence are located. Situated on the Gulf of Guinea, it was founded in 1851 as a French trading post, and now has an estimated population of 750,000.

Cotonou's port is the transit point for many goods destined for Niger and Nigeria. The World Bank is financing an extension of the port which, upon completion, will give it a freight-handling capacity of more than a million tons of cargo annually.

Cotonou is a sprawling town with tree-lined streets. Architecture varies according to the locale, from concrete bungalows to old French colonial buildings, to Beninese thatched-roof dwellings. The sandy streets, dusty yards, and rundown buildings give parts of the town a shabby look, although there have been recent efforts to clean up these areas. A paved boulevard parallels the ocean front, and the beach extends east and west to Nigeria and Ghana. North of Cotonou, a lagoon extends eastward to Porto Novo, and is connected by a navigable waterway with Lagos, Nigeria. Cotonou is a growing city. Although the commercial center is small, residential areas are large. Most expatriates reside in neighborhoods of European-style dwellings. Cotonou is separated from its eastern residential quarter, Akpakpa, by a lagoon linking Lake Nokoue with the Atlantic. A new bridge, financed by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), connects the city's two sections.

Schools for Foreigners

The Nigerian Community School, which opened in 1982, offers English-language instruction from the nursery level through sixth grade.

The curriculum follows the British system. The school year extends from October 1 to June 30, and is divided into four semesters. Nigerian and Beninese holidays are observed.

Another school in the city, École Montaigne, offers a French curriculum; all classes are conducted in that language. Under the auspices of the French Embassy, École Montaigne is one of nine members of the federation of French schools south of the Sahara. It is accredited by the French National Ministry of Education. The school offers three levels of nursery school and kindergarten through high school. The school year is divided into trimesters running from the end of September through June. French and local holidays are observed.

The Brilliant Stars International School was established in 1986 as a private, nondenominational school and offers an American curriculum. It offers pre-K through grade 6. The school is not accredited at this time. Classes are taught in English, and French is taught at all levels.

Cotonou has no facilities for English-speaking students with learning disabilities or other handicaps.


The entire coast of Benin is a long, sandy beach. It is ideal for horseback riding, but walking alone is not recommended. The treacherous undertow and strong currents make swimming and surfing dangerous. However, a few miles east of the city is one of West Africa's best beaches, La Crique, where swimming is safe.

Four hotel swimming pools in Cotonou are open to the public (admission charged), and there are tennis courts at the Sheraton Hotel, the French Yacht Club, and the Benin Club.

Benin has no golf courses. The closest are in Lagos, Nigeria, a two-and-a-half-hour drive, or in Lomé, Togo, two hours away. Benin's favorite spectator sport is soccer, and matches are frequently played at the two stadiums in Cotonou. Basketball also is played.

Many weekend excursions can be made from Cotonou. The most popular is to Lomé, a two-hour drive to the west. Shopping and fine restaurants are popular attractions. To the east is Lagos, a large, bustling city. It has bookstores with extensive English-language selections, an interesting museum of Yoruba and other tribal art, and a busy social life within the large diplomatic and expatriate communities. Other points in Nigeria within weekend reach of Cotonou are Ibadan, Nigeria's most populous city, and Ife, which has a museum displaying many excellent 15th-and 16th-century bronze and terra cotta busts and effigies.

Abomey and Ouidah, north and west of Cotonou, respectively, are interesting towns for day trips.

For the activity of African marketplaces, a rotating schedule of large markets is available in Cotonou, Porto Novo, and Adjarra, just north of Porto Novo. An adventuresome trader can buy gri-gri charms, colorful enamelware from China, and interesting fabrics.

Travel to northern Benin offers self-help projects, where a visitor is welcomed into a village and enjoys a greeting by the entire community.

There is an excellent hotel in Natitingou, the center of the Ditamari culture. Farther north, the region is rich in wild game and the scenic beauty of mountains and waterfalls.


Cotonou has five cinemas, one of which is a modern, air-conditioned theater. All offer current Western films; soundtracks are in French. Visiting foreign artists also occasionally perform in the city.

Saturday night is disco night in Cotonou, with entertainment establishments open until 2 or 3 a.m. Nightclubs are crowded and lively with African and European music and atmosphere. Some Cotonou residents go to either Lagos or Lomé for weekend social life.

Despite the small size of the city's American community, there are many opportunities for social contacts. The several diplomatic missions resident in the city include the French, Egyptian, Ghanian, German, Chinese, Nigerian, Nigerien, North Korean, Russian, Zairian, Cuban, Libyan, Bulgarian, Chadian, and Algerian embassies. Several other Western and Eastern countries have honorary consuls or trade representatives in Cotonou. A large United Nations staff and many French Canadians also are in residence. Among American expatriates, small informal get-togethers are popular. Also, volleyball games draw people from the international community. Acquaintances are easily made and informal get-togethers are frequent.

Contacts with the Beninese are possible and encouraged. The population is friendly and receptive. Many Beninese are educated, but most do not speak English. French is necessary for maintaining social relationships with them.

Porto Novo

Porto Novo is the official capital of Benin. Situated on a lagoon in the southeast part of the country, it is a commercial center and rail terminus from the interior. Historians believe that it was founded in the 16th century as the seat of a native kingdom, but it was named by the Portuguese who built a post there and settled the city as a center for slave trade.

Porto Novo passed to the French late in the 19th century under the protest of the King of Abomey, who attacked the town in 1891 with an army which included 2,000 female warriors. He was defeated by the French, and the town was incorporated into the colony of Dahomey, becoming its capital in 1900. Dahomey was consolidated into French West Africa in 1895.

The city is the administrative capital of the Beninese Government. Porto Novo is connected by road and rail to Cotonou and by road to Lagos, Nigeria. The city has been bypassed for commercial and industrial development since the building of a railway to the interior and the improvement of deep water harbor facilities in Cotonou. There are several African artisans and guilds in Porto Novo.

French is spoken throughout the city, and the visitor needs a good working knowledge of that language to conduct business or to find their way through the shops or places of interest. There is a small museum here, tracing the history of the kings of Porto Novo, as well as a fine collection of masks and statues.

The population of Porto Novo in 2000 was approximately 194,000.


ABOMEY , about two hours west by road from Cotonou, was the capital of the Dahomean Empire until the late 19th century. The Royal Palace, the tombs of the kings, and a historical museum are maintained in Abomey. Many artifacts from the royal period are on display in the palace. Weavers are at work in the palace courtyard, and their products, as well as carvings and bronzes, are on sale. Abomey was once a slave-trading center. The city is located in an area where palm nuts and peanuts are grown. Abomey has a population of approximately 80,000.

OUIDAH , 20 miles west of Cotonou, was the main port of the Kingdom of Abomey in the 18th and 19th centuries. Ouidah also became an important trading center for several European nations. Remnants of Portuguese, French, Dutch, Danish, and British trading posts can be found here. Ouidah offers a Portuguese castle and a temple displaying sacred pythons. Coffee and coconuts are grown in the area. Ouidah is known for its orange and citron trees. Ouidah's population is estimated at 60,000.

Located in the center of the country, PARAKOU is 200 miles north of Porto Novo. The estimated population is over 65,000. It is the link that extends the transport route of the Niger River; railways pass northward from Cotonou to the Gulf of Guinea to Parakou, then goods are finally received in Niger.


Geography and Climate

Benin, a narrow, north-south strip of land in West Africa, is bounded by Nigeria on the east, Togo on the west, Niger on the north, and Burkina Faso on the northwest. Its total area of 43,484 square miles (112,622 square kilometers) extends inland from the Gulf of Guinea to the Niger River.

The country has two rainy and two dry seasons. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 14 inches (36 centimeters), not particularly high for this part of West Africa. The principal rainy season is from April to late July, with a shorter, less intense, rainy period from late September to November. The main dry season is from December to April, with a short, cooler dry season from late July to early September.

Temperatures and humidity are high along the tropical coast. In Cotonou, the average maximum temperature is 89°F (31°C), and the minimum is 75°F (24°C). Variations in temperature increase when moving north through a savanna and plateau toward the Sahel.


Benin has an estimated population of 6.5 million people. Two-thirds of the population live in the south. The population is young, with over half being under twenty years old. Several tribal groups include the Yoruba in the southeast, Fon (south central), Mina (southwest), Bariba (northeast), Dendi (north central), and Somba (northwest). French is the official language, but is spoken more in urban areas than in rural sections. Fon and Yoruba languages are common vernaculars in the south, with at least six major tribal languages spoken in the north.

The Fon and Yoruba of the south are more Westernized than the northern peoples. During the colonial period, their opportunities were expanded by their prominence in the administration of French West Africa.


After achieving independence in 1960, Benin (then Dahomey) passed through a succession of governments which ended in 1972 with a military takeover. Marxism-Leninism was declared the official ideology in 1974, and a single political party, which came to dominate all aspects of Beninese public life, was established. Major businesses, including banks, were nationalized. East bloc countries became the focus of Benin's foreign policy.

The collapse of all state-owned banks and an increasing economic crisis led to the convening of a national conference in 1990. That conference repudiated Marxism and paved the way for a new constitution creating a multi-party democracy. In 1991 Benin became the first African country to replace a military leader through the power of the ballot box. Benin's president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term, and there is a directly elected National Assembly.

The country is divided into six provinces which are subdivided into 86 districts and 510 communes. Local administration is assigned to elected provincial district, town, and village councils.

The flag of Benin consists of two equal horizontal bands of yellow (top) and red with a vertical green band on the hoist side.

Arts, Science, Education

The museums in Porto Novo, Abomey, and Ouidah offer a view of Beninese culture and history. Porto Novo's small museum displays artifacts and brief historical summaries of the kings of Porto Novo, as well as the best collection of masks and statues to be found in the area. At Abomey, the capital of the former Dahomean Kingdom, it is possible to explore the restored royal palace grounds. Within them is a courtyard where artisans weave or forge and sell their crafts. In Ouidah, a museum has been established in a former Portuguese fort. Exhibits focus on the slave trade and Benin's links with Brazil and the Caribbean.

Contemporary artists specialize in stylized bronze figurines and appliqué wall hangings. They are relatively inexpensive, and of good quality. African art objects are sold at several more Office National du Tourisme et Hôtellerie (ONATHO) shops in Cotonou.

The French Cultural Center in Cotonou offers French-language instruction and nightly movies, also in French. The American Cultural Center has a small library with books in both English and French. The National University of Benin, a 20-minute drive north of Cotonou, has not yet developed an artistic or cultural focus.

The literacy rate in Benin is extremely low at 37.5 percent.

Commerce and Industry

Benin's economy is based on agriculture and transit trade. Products include cotton, sugar, peanuts, palm oil, and cashews for export. Various tubers and corn are grown for local subsistence. A modest fishing fleet provides fish and shrimp for export to Europe. Major commercial activities, formerly government-owned, are being privatized. The former state-run brewery was acquired by a French brewer, and petroleum distribution will soon be privatized as well. Smaller businesses are privately owned by Beninese citizens, but some firms, primarily French and Lebanese, are foreign-owned. The private commercial and agricultural sectors remain the principal contributors to growth. Benin began producing a modest quantity of oil in 1982, and exploration and exploitation are continuing.

Chambre de Commerce, d'Agriculture et d'Industrie de la République Populaire du Bénin (CCIB) is located at avenue Général de Gaulle, B.P. 31, Cotonou.


A railroad line connects Cotonou with Parakou, a large city in the north. Bush taxis ply the roads throughout the country, but most Americans living here drive their own vehicles when traveling in the countryside.

Domestic air service between Cotonou, Parakou, Natitingou, Kandi, and Abomey is provided by the government airline.

Roads between Cotonou, Lagos (Nigeria), and Lomé (Togo) are good. Many roads in Benin are in poor condition and, in the north, are often impassable during the rainy season. Travel via Togo is preferable, as the major north-south road is paved and in good repair. The main streets of Cotonou are paved, but side streets are deeply potholed or sandy. Surface repair is sporadic. Cotonou has no public transportation system, and therefore, most Beninese rely on private cars, taxis, mopeds, and motorbikes.

American cars are not recommended here. Spare parts and repair services for most French automobiles are available. Both Honda and Toyota have dealerships in Cotonou, although models may differ from U.S. models. The color black is reserved for Benin Government vehicles only.


Telephone service interruptions are frequent during the rainy seasons, when water often seeps into underground lines and switching equipment. Service to other francophone West African countries is good; additional international links, if calls can be routed through Paris, also are good. Telephone service to Nigeria and Ghana is rare. Telephone service from Cotonou to the U.S. is good, but expensive. Cotonou is six hours ahead of eastern standard time. The local telegraph and telex service is adequate. Telex facilities in Cotonou are available at post offices and good hotels.

International mail service is unpredictable. Official Americans stationed in Cotonou are authorized to use the twice-weekly air pouches, through which first-class mail arrives within three to five days. Letters, magazines, newspapers, and packages are sent via the surface-to-air pouch; transit time is approximately one week.

Benin's Office de Radiodiffusion et du Télévision du Bénin broadcasts radio programs in French, English, and 8 local languages.

Benin has one TV station that is owned by the national government. Broadcasting daily, it offers a wide variety of programming, some locally produced and some originating in France.

Shortwave reception in Cotonou is good, and foreigners can rely on Voice of America (VOA), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and other foreign transmissions.

International editions of European and American newspapers and magazines are available, although expensive. La Nation, formerly Ehuzu, is a government daily published in Cotonou; other government publications include Bénin-Magazine, a monthly publication dealing with cultural, social, and economic affairs; and a government weekly, Bénin-Presse Information. Other publications include the Catholic newsletter, La Croix du Bénin. A privately owned bimonthly, La Gazette du Golfe began publication in 1988. While many new publications were launched in 1990 following the end of government censorship, several have since disappeared due to financial difficulties.


English-speaking doctors are hard to find. Emergency care for serious injuries or illness is available from various French and Beninese specialists working in private clinics or at the government hospital in Cotonou. Local facilities are suitable for emergency treatment, but are not recommended for inpatient care. Medical information can be obtained from the U.S. Embassy's health unit or the Peace Corps office.

Emergency dental care is also available in Cotonou, but more competent dentists practice in Lomé, Togo; Lagos, Nigeria; and Accra, Ghana. Any routine dental care should be done before coming to Cotonou.

Local patent medicines are usually of French manufacture and are in limited quantity. Medical supplies are variable; even the most basic products, such as rubbing alcohol, are expensive and of uncertain age.

Precautionary measures and common sense are sufficient for maintaining good health in Benin. One of the greatest health hazards in Cotonou is contaminated water. Although most houses in the more modern residential quarters have septic tanks, many neighborhoods have no sanitation facilities at all. Cotonou has a running water system, which occasionally goes dry, but the water is not safe for Westerners to drink without boiling and filtering. Most cooks are trained in water sterilization and filtration techniques; periodic reminders help to insure their continued compliance. Locally purchased fresh vegetables and fruits should be soaked in a solution of potassium permanganate or chlorine, and rinsed in boiled, filtered water. Thoroughly cook all locally purchased meats.

Precaution against sun exposure is advised, since Cotonou is at latitude 6°N of the equator. Because of the high temperatures and humidity, extra precautions are required during outdoor exercise in order to avoid sunstroke or heat exhaustion.

Some people tire easily and need more rest at night. High humidity and the harmattan, a dust-laden wind which blows in November, December, and January, can exacerbate respiratory problems and cause irritations and infections, such as conjunctivitis.

Ants, cockroaches, and termites are the most prevalent household pests, but they can be controlled by regular use of insecticides, a clean house, and a tidy garden. Keeping the lush, tropical foliage cut back usually prevents rodent problems. Snakes, including some poisonous varieties (green mambas and black cobras) occasionally are found in residential areas, but they are not a significant hazard. Some rabies cases have occurred, making it advisable to avoid stray animals.

Visitors arriving in Benin should have valid vaccinations for cholera, typhoid, polio, smallpox, and yellow fever. The U.S. Department of State also recommends gamma globulin injections, as hepatitis is a significant health hazard. Since malaria is endemic, suppressants should be started two weeks before arrival and continued for at least six weeks after departure.

Clothing and Services

Benin's hot, humid climate requires lightweight, washable clothing, and summer footwear. However, shorts are not generally worn on the streets. Local shops carry a limited selection of European ready-made clothes, but sizes vary and prices are high. Dress and suit material can be purchased, and local tailors and dressmakers can produce certain styles with some success. Many expatriates order clothing through mail-order catalogs.

Office wear is casual for men. Sport shirts or short-sleeved dress shirts are suitable for most evening gatherings, although suit and tie, or safari suits, are worn at formal functions.

For evening social occasions, many Western women find the African booboo both attractive and comfortable. Cotton dresses, or skirts and blouses, are suitable for the office. Simply styled, washable dresses are comfortable for wear around town.

Children's clothing is expensive in Cotonou. Blue jeans, T-shirts, tennis shoes, and sandals are acceptable for everyday wear. The local school for English-speaking children does not require uniforms; dress tends to correspond to American trends.

Most household products are available, although prices are much higher than in the U.S. Toiletries, cosmetics, suntan lotions, medicines, cleaning supplies, and household gadgets are almost all imported from France.

Pineapples, oranges, bananas, tangerines, lemons, limes, papaya, grapefruit, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, lettuce, radishes, green peppers, squash, leeks, parsnips, onions, eggplant, string beans, and carrots are available year round at seasonally variable prices. Man-goes, guavas, melons, and avocados are plentiful and inexpensive in season. Celery and cauliflower are expensive. All locally grown vegetables must be treated before eating.

Local meats, beef, veal, lamb, and pork, of varying quality, can be purchased at the market or butcher shops. Good-quality chicken, duck, and rabbit are available.

Cotonou stores carry imported canned goods, sterilized milk (safe for drinking), butter, cheese, cereals, and baby foods, and often stock imported fruits and vegetables such as Valencia oranges, pears, apples, artichokes, lettuce, and celery. Imported high-quality meat can also be bought, but prices are high. Good French-style bakeries sell fresh bread, pastries, and ice cream.

Basic repairs can be done on French automobiles, but work involving electrical systems, wheel balancing, and alignment is not always predictable. Spare parts for French cars are also available. American parts are unavailable, making it necessary to keep a supply of filters, belts, points, sparkplugs, condensers, bulbs, and other common replacement items. Initial vehicle inspection requires yellow headlights (sealed yellow lamps or yellow plastic covers).

Small appliance and radio repair is available, but quality is poor and prices vary.

Domestic Help

Most expatriates engage at least one domesticeither cook, cook/domestic, nanny, or gardener. Cooks, who are especially valuable for bargaining in the markets, generally specialize in French cuisine; they can, however, learn to prepare whatever meals the employer prefers.

Cleanliness, especially in the kitchen, must be maintained with strict supervision. A part-time gardener is useful, as tropical flora requires constant care.

Domestic staffs do not live in. The average monthly salary of a domestic employee is based on work category and experience. The annual cost of employing a domestic is raised somewhat by mandatory payment of social security contributions and fringe benefits. Most employers provide white uniforms for those who serve at the table.

An English translation of the local labor code is available from the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

May 1 Labor Day

May/June Ascension Day*

May/June Pentecost*

May/June Whitmonday*

Aug. 1 Independence Day

Aug. 15 Assumption Day

Oct. 26 Armed Forces Day

Nov. 1 All Saints' Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day

Id al-Adah*


Id al-Fitr*

Mawlid an Nabi*



International air service to Benin is via Abidjan, Paris, and Brussels. UTA, Air Afrique, Sabena, Nigerian Airlines, Ghana Airways, Aeroflot, Air Burkina, Air Zaire, and Air Ivorie serve Cotonou. Most flights arrive at Cotonou-Cadjehoun International Airport, which is approximately 3 miles (5 kilometers) from Cotonou. Air connections to Europe also can be made through Lomé and Lagos.

A passport and visa are required. Travelers should obtain the latest information from the Embassy of the Republic of Benin, 2737 Cathedral Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 232-6656. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Beninese Embassy or Consulate. Travelers who intend to visit Nigeria should obtain Nigerian visas prior to arriving in Benin as the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou may decline to consider applications for visas by U.S. citizens not resident in Benin.

As of 1994, dogs and cats entering the country must have a record of rabies vaccination and a veterinary health certificate issued no more than 10 days before arrival.

As of 1994, only the following non-automatic firearms and ammunition may be taken to Benin: rifle or shotgun, one per adult family member, plus 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Further information on export regulations are available at the Office of Export Control, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, DC.

Travelers in possession of prescription drugs should carry proof of their prescriptions, such as labeled containers. Police have been known to arrest foreigners carrying unlabeled pills. For a complete list of prohibited items, contact the nearest Benin Embassy or Consulate.

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard. Updated information on travel and security in Benin may be obtained from the U.S. Embassy. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The telephone numbers are (229) 30-06-50, 30-05-13, and 30-17-92. The fax numbers are (229) 30-14-39 and 30-19-74.

Cotonou has several Catholic churches, including a cathedral in the heart of the city. There are also Assembly of God, Baptist, and Methodist churches, and mosques. Services are either in French or Fon. American missionaries are present in Benin; several monasteries are worth visiting.

The time in Benin is Greenwich Mean Time plus one.

The official unit of currency is the CFA (Communaute Financière Africaine) franc. Supported by the French franc, it is also legal tender in several other West African countries.

The metric system of weights and measures is used.


The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Allen, Chris and Michael Radu. Benin & the Congo. Marxist Regimes Series. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1989.

Allen, Chris. Benin, Congo, and Burkina Faso: Politics, Economics and Society. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1988.

Benin. Let's Visit Places & Peoples of the World Series. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.

Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Benin. 2nd ed. African Historical Dictionaries Series, no. 7. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1987.

Igue, O. John. Benin Etat-Entrepot. Paris: Karthala, 1992.

Pilya, Jean. Histoire de Mon Pays. La Republique du Benin. CNPMS, 1992.

Polyani, Karl and Abraham Rots-fein. Dahomey & the Slave Trade. New York: AMS Press, 1988.

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Republic of Benin
République du Bénin



Benin is a slim, rectangular country situated in West Africa. Benin has a narrow 100-kilometer (62-mile) coastline along the Bight of Benin, in the Atlantic Ocean. The country is bordered to the west by Nigeria, to the north by Niger and Burkina Faso, and to the east by Togo. Benin has a land area of 112,622 square kilometers (42,985 square miles), making it slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania. Both the capital, Porto-Novo, and Cotonou, the largest city, are located on the coast in the southeast of the country.


The population was estimated at 6.4 million in mid-2000. The relatively high population growth rate of 3.3 percent from 1992 to 1996 has led to a young population age profile, with 47 percent below the age of 15, 50 percent aged between 15 and 64, and only 3 percent 65 and over. The birth rate was 45 per 1000 in the year 2000, and the death rate was 15 per 1000.

The principal ethnic groups are the Fon (42 percent), the Adja (15.6 percent), and the Yoruba (12.1 percent) in the south, and the Bariba (8.6 percent), the Otamari (6.1 percent), and the Peulh (6.1 percent), who live further north. Some 40 other groups are identifiable. Around 70 percent of the population follow traditional indigenous beliefs, 15 percent are Muslim, and 15 percent Christian.

Roughly 38 percent of the population live in towns (1995 estimates), double the 1990 census figure of 16 percent. Approximately 54 percent of urban dwellers have sanitation facilities. Infant mortality is high at 140 per 1000 births, but down from 205 per 1000 births in 1980 (by way of comparison, in the United States, infant mortality is 7 per 1,000).


Benin is one of the 30 or so poorest countries in the world. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita measured with the purchasing power parity conversion (which makes allowance for the low price of many basic commodities in Benin) was estimated to be US$1,030 for the year 2000. The economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, which employs approximately 80 percent of the population. Crops are grown for export as well as domestic consumption. Industry is relatively underdeveloped and restricted mainly to simple import substitution products and basic agro-industrial processes.

Successive governments have struggled to tighten the country's economic and fiscal performance at the request of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, while dealing with trade union pay demands. Benin entered agreements with the IMF in 1989 to introduce reforms. Though progress has been slow and is hindered by political infighting, there have been significant changes in the economy as a result of these reforms. In 1991-96 the government privatized or liquidated 100 state enterprises including cement, textiles, brewing, tobacco, and petroleum enterprises. The insurance sector has been liberalized , leading to increased competition. There has been significant foreign investment in telecommunications. Cotton production is also opening up to private investment. However, the IMF has continued to press for further privatization's of state-run enterprises, including the major utilities such as electricity and water, as well as postal services and telecommunications. Privatization has significantly decreased the proportion of government spending. Since the collapse of the government in 1989 and the restoration of multi-party democracy with the introduction of the new constitution in 1990, there has been increased investment from overseas, and a resumption of donor lending.

Monetary policy is controlled by membership of the Union Economique et Monetaire Ouest-Africaine (UEMOA,) and Benin is also a member of the African Franc Zone, which consists of those countries that use the CFA franc for their national currencies. Membership limits government borrowing and credit creation and sets interest rates as well. The UEMOA oversaw a 50 percent devaluation of the CFA franc in 1994, which increased the prices received by producers for exports. Local production recovered, and GDP growth rose to about 5 percent a year in the late 1990s. The other effect of the CFA franc devaluation was that it led to inflation rising to 38 percent in 1994 and 14 percent in 1995. Inflation then fell to 4.9 percent in 1996 and 3.5 percent in 1997. It rose once more in 1998 to 5.7 percent due to wage increases, cereal crop shortages, and the energy crisis caused by the drought in Ghana. Inflation fell again in 1999 to 3 percent.

Agriculture has been the main economic growth sector. Cotton production grew over 300 percent from 1990 to 1997. However, cotton production has been affected adversely by falling prices and management problems. Gasoline production stopped in 1998, but rehabilitation is under way due to the recent rise in world oil prices. In 1998 a drought in Ghana led to a serious setback in economic growth due to interruption of Benin's electricity supply, which caused much industry to close. Electricity supplies returned to normal in 1999.

The U.S. State Department states: "the most daunting obstacle to economic development is the pervasive and increasing level of corruption throughout society. Corruption impacts virtually all aspects of social, economic, and political life in Benin. Inefficient and un-motivated government bureaucracies, even when not overtly corrupt, also make it extremely difficult for foreign businesses to conduct operations in Benin." The government agreed in 2001 to increase plans to end corruption, but the effect of these measures is not yet clear.


Benin (once known as Dahomey) became a French colony in 1900 and was granted independence in 1960. Since that time it has experienced severe political turbulence. Hubert Maga, elected under a multi-party system and the country's first president, was ousted in a coup (a domestic military takeover of a government) in 1963, and regular changes of government then ensued until another coup in 1972 brought General Kerekou to the presidency. In 1974 Marxism -Leninism (the political and economic doctrines of Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin) became the country's official ideology. Major companies, banks, and offices were nationalized . Corruption followed and the economy contracted so sharply that the government was unable to pay wages, which led to strikes and eventually to a crisis in 1989. Kerekou convened a national conference of leading politicians, including opposition representation, later in 1989, which resulted in the creation of a multi-party democracy. A new constitution was adopted after a referendum in 1990. Legislative and presidential elections were held in 1991, and in a contest with Kerekou, Nicephore Soglo was elected president with 67 percent of the vote. Since the creation of the new constitution in 1990, Benin has, according to the U.S. State Department, been viewed as "a democratic model not only for its West African region but even for the entire continent."

Soglo became unpopular due to the persistence of economic problemsthe inability of the government to pay salaries, high inflation, and shortages of basic commoditiesand he succeeded in alienating his supporters such that he lost the 1996 election to Kerekou. In the meantime, Kerekou had renounced his military title, developed a new tolerance for the free market economy, and expressed his determination to combat corruption. Despite opposition from 16 other candidates, and a second round run-off (from which Soglo withdrew), Kerekou was successful at the polls in 2001 and secured another presidential term.

The 1990 constitution instituted a 5-year presidency, with the president eligible for re-election only once. The president has executive power and can suspend parliament with court approval. The members of the 83-seat assembly serve a 4-year terms. The position of prime minister (created in 1996) was dissolved in 1998 due to conflict between the president and the prime minister over executive powers.

Currently the main parties are fragmenting, leading to the formation of unstable coalitions, which has also decreased the effectiveness of the parliament. This dissension is likely to continue in the near future. Mr. Kerekou's coalition and the opposition are roughly equally represented in the assembly, meaning that the smaller parties can decide the parliamentary majority by aligning with one side or the other. Such tactical alliances have succeeded in blocking much government legislation. The trade unions are very powerful and are able to challenge the government's economic and fiscal policies through strikes, which also tend to lead to civil unrest and severe economic losses.

Benin raises less than 10 percent of the GDP in tax revenue and receives a further 2 percent in surpluses from state-owned enterprises, mainly monopolies . About 50 percent of government spending goes to social services (which includes health and education), about 14 percent on the armed forces, and the remainder is absorbed by general public sector administration. The military is an important influence in political life, and it has seized power though coups on several occasions. The relatively high level of spending on the military is an attempt to prevent alienation of the armed forces.


There are 7,500 kilometers (4,660 miles) of roads and tracks in Benin, only 20 percent of which are paved. The coastal road that runs along the Lagos-Accra route is paved, and travel between Porto-Novo and Cotonou is easy. Contracts were awarded in 1998 for the construction of another motorway from Cotonou to Porto Novo. A north-south road forms a link to Burkina Faso and Niger. Development is focused primarily on rehabilitation and feeder roads to allow farmers to market their crops more effectively.

There are 635 kilometers (394 miles) of railway line, of which 579 kilometers (360 miles) are main lines. The most important route is from Cotonou to Parekou (440 kilometers, or 273 miles), which provides an important part of the link between Niger and Cotonou. The deep-water port at Cotonou handles 2 to 2.5 million metric tons per year and processes transit trade to Burkina Faso and Niger. A World Bank study showed that the port was losing a potential US$22 million per year in container operations due to poor organization by the state handling company. Management and development of Cotonou Port is due to be transferred to a private operator, while leaving equipment

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Benin 2 108 10 N/A 1 0.2 0.9 0.04 10
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Nigeria 24 223 66 N/A 0 N/A 5.7 0.00 100
Togo 4 218 18 N/A 2 4.1 6.8 0.17 15
a Data are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999and are per 1,000 people.
b Data are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE : World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

and installations in state hands. Cotonou International Airport carries 250,000 passengers per year. There are 4 secondary airports. The private Benin Inter-Regional Airline was started in 1991 and provides local and regional flights.

In 1996 there were 30,000 telephone lines in Benin, but expansion has been underway. A 1,500 kilometer microwave network currently connects 52 exchanges, and an Intelsat station is being installed. In 1999 Alcatel (a French company) and U.S.-based Titan won a US$60 million contract for fixed and mobile phone expansion projects respectively. There are approximately 150,000 radio sets being used in Benin. Television broadcasts began in 1972, but the state monopoly over television ended in 1997. In 1998, 35 radio licenses (including 13 commercial station licenses) and 3 TV station licenses were issued. There are 13 daily newspapers.

Most of the country's energy for domestic use comes from wood fuel. Electricity is produced and imported by Communaute Electrique du Benin (CEB), Benin's state-owned electricity company. CEB relies heavily on Ghana's Akosombo dam for most of its electricity. However, this reliance produced a crisis during the 1998 Ghanaian drought, when Benin's electricity supply was severely affected. This difficulty has led to attempts to diversify electricity production facilities and moves to import generators. Togo and Benin also have a shared 65 megawatt (mw) station on the Mono River, although both are still dependent on Ghana. A second 104 mw dam is under construction on the Mono River.


Agriculture (including hunting, forestry, and fishing) employed roughly 80 percent of the workforce and generated 37.9 percent of the GDP in 1999. Cotton and palm oil are the main exports, and the country is predominantly self-sufficient in foodstuffs. Industry (including mining, manufacturing, construction, and power) provided 13.5 percent of the GDP in 1999, while services contributed 48.6 percent.


Problems in the agriculture sector arise from poor transport, inadequate storage, and the inability of farmers to provide legal evidence of land ownership as collateral for loans. Despite these difficulties, agriculture has expanded and developed since the 1994 CFA franc de-valuation. In 1997 a project was started to rejuvenate the collective farms, costing US$5 million and employing 2000 people over 5 years. The project will be run by the private sector , with foreign management of some farms.

The oil palm is the most important tree crop in the south, and the oil it produces has a wide variety of uses in foodstuffs (especially margarine) and in industry (especially in soaps). Output in the 1970s and 1980s, however, fell due to drought, the overvalued franc, and low world prices. In 2000 a pilot project aimed to raise yields of coffee, cocoa, ground nuts (such as peanuts), and kerite (shea nuts), all grown in the south.

Cotton, the main export, is normally grown in the north. Higher producer prices after the 1994 devaluation boosted output to 15,000 metric tons of lint (unprocessed cotton fiber) in the 1997-98 season, though it fell again in the 1998-99 season due to smaller yields and a financial scandal in Sonapra (the cotton parastatal ). The cotton price slump in 1999 means Sonapra might not be able to find growers at current prices and might face being sold to the private sector.

Food and livestock production accounts for 48 percent of the total agricultural output. Smallholders produce for domestic and regional markets. Maize and cassava are grown in the south and sorghum, millet, and yams in the drier north. Rice production is expanding rapidly and reached 30,900 metric tons in the 1998-99 season with help from a UN-backed program. Production was encouraged by Centre d'Action Regionale pour le Development Rural (Center of Regional Action for Rural Development), a government body set up to develop the rural economy.

In 1998 there were 1.3 million cattle, 6 million sheep, 1.1 million goats, and 5 million pigs in Benin. Cattle are kept mainly in the north, but there have been attempts to move production to the south. Livestock output meets 60 percent of the national requirements. Production is currently more competitive due to the 1994 devaluation of the CFA franc. There is a long-term plan for the country to be self-sufficient in dairy products (as of 2001 Benin imports 8,000 metric tons of dairy products each year).

The Office Nationale du Bois was established 1983 to develop timber production and to stop deforestation. Plantations, mainly teak, covered 38,000 hectares in 1989 and further planting is planned. The fish catch is mainly from inland waters, rivers, and lagoons. Fish production is currently 12,000 metric tons per year, which meets 50 percent of domestic consumption.


In Benin there is no significant mining except for limestone, which is used in cement production. Improvements in mining regulations have stimulated foreign interest in recent years. Gold mining has attracted investment from 8 foreign companies and there are also proven reserves of iron and phosphates.

In 1999 the government signed a contract with Zetal Oil to rehabilitate the Sémé oil field at a cost of US$45 million. Sémé began production in 1982 and reached its peak production in 1985 at 10,000 barrels per day. Production ended in 1998 when low world prices and dwindling reserves meant that the field was not economical. Foreign companies (especially from the United States and Canada) are exploring Benin for further viable fields.

In 1999 a US$17.9 million oil terminal opened in Cotonou Port. The oil distribution company, Sonacop (previously state-owned), was sold to the private sector in 1999. Plans for a 1,000-kilometer gas pipeline from Nigeria to Benin, Togo, and Ghana moved forward in 1999 when 2 international companies and 4 regional gas boards signed a deal on the US$400 million project.

Manufacturing focuses on the processing of agricultural products and the production of consumer goods . The latter sector depends on imported inputs and was hit hard by the 1994 currency devaluation. However, this impact also meant the local raw material companies found it easier to compete with imports.

Cotton led agro-industry in the 1990s. Ginning capacity expanded rapidly, and the country currently can process 462,500 metric tons per year in 10 government-owned plants and 6 private plants. Capacity could be increased to 673,000 metric tons per year if the planned expansion is carried out. Restructuring plans for the government-owned plants are currently underway.

Palm oil has been in decline since the 1980s. Sonicog runs 6 small palm oil mills, though only 3 have operated in recent years. The sector is being restructured with World Bank assistance for privatization. Food, drink, and tobacco processing, as well as footwear manufacture and ceramics, form the basis of the import substitution sector.


After the collapse of several banks in 1998 and 1999, the financial sector was completely overhauled, with the liquidation of failed banks and the setting up of new private sector institutions with assistance from France and the World Bank. Benin's banks include the Banque Internationale du Benin, Ecobank, Bank of Africa-Benin, and Financial Bank.

A regional stock exchange, the Bourse Regionale des Valeurs Mobilieres (BRVM), was opened in 1998. It will help improve the capital market by attracting local savings and slowing capital outflow to Europe. The headquarters of the stock exchange is in Abidjan, but all UEMOA members have trading floors in their countries.

Tourism is in its infancy, and arrivals are usually French citizens or backpackers exploring West Africa. Attractions are many: the former slave towns of Porto Novo and Grand Popo, stilt villages and the lagoons around Ganvie, the northern nature reserves including the Pendjari area, and the Parc West (on the border of Burkina Faso and Niger). Hotel facilities vary in quality and availability, and outside Cotonou they provide only the basics.


There is a chronic international trade deficit , with exports in 1999 valued at US$396 million, and imports at US$566 million. However, the large number of un-recorded transactions means that assessment is difficult, mainly due to illegal cross-border trade with Nigeria.

Cotton is the most important export, followed by oil. Re-exports (goods that are imported into Benin and then sent to neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso and Niger) account for one-third to one-half of total exports, while food and capital goods account for one-quarter and one-fifth of imports respectively.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Benin
Exports Imports
1975 .032 .188
1980 .063 .331
1985 .150 .331
1990 .122 .265
1995 .414 .692
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE : International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

In 1999, France (38 percent), China (16 percent), the United Kingdom (9 percent), and Côte d'Ivoire (5 percent) were the main sources of imports for Benin. Currently, Asia supplies rice and manufactured goods for regional re-exports. Brazil (14 percent), Libya (5 percent), Indonesia (4 percent), and Italy (4 percent) are the main destination for exports, mainly cotton, in 1999.


Benin is part of the 8-member UEMOA, and the currency is the CFA franc. The Banque Centrale des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (BCEAO) issues currency notes and regulates credit expansion. The CFA franc was pegged at a fixed exchange rate to the French franc at 50:1 from 1948 but was overvalued in the late 1980s and subsequently devalued to CFA Fr 100 to 1 French franc in 1994. Since France joined European Monetary Union, the CFA franc is tied to the euro at CFA Fr655.959:Euro 1.

Benin is burdened with a huge foreign debt of more than US$1.6 billion, although the country's major creditors are working with the Paris Club (an informal organization made of various creditor companies and countries), the IMF, and the World Bank to help it manage its obligations.

Exchange rates: Benin
Communaute Financiere Africaine francs (CFA Fr) per US$1
Jan 2001 699.21
2000 711.98
1999 615.70
1998 589.95
1997 583.67
1996 511.55
Note: From January 1, 1999, the CFA Fr is pegged to the euro at a rate of 655.957 CFA Fr per euro.
SOURCE : CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].


One-third of the population live below the poverty line set by Benin, which suggests that close to 50 percent live below the dollar-a-day international poverty line. The dollar-a-day poverty line is based on the income required to provide the absolute minimum of nutrition, clothing, and shelter. Some 29 percent of children under 5 are malnourished (the figure is 1 percent for the United States), and life expectancy is 55 years (in the United States it is 77 years). Almost all those in poverty are in rural areas, relying on small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods and suffering because of poor land, inadequate rainfall, and not enough income to purchase good seeds, fertilizer, or farm machinery. In 1998 Benin was ranked 157th out of 174 countries in the UN's Human Development Index, which combines measures of income, education, and health provision.

In 1995 there was 1 doctor per 200,000 inhabitants. There was 1 midwife per 12,000 pregnant women, and just 42 percent of the population had access to health care. Several international initiatives to improve these figures have been undertaken. The constitution decrees that primary education is compulsory for all, though fees must be paid. In 1996 there was a 62 percent enrollment in primary age education, though this number dropped to 17 percent in secondary education. In 1993 almost US$1 million was set aside for a scheme for rural girls to be exempted from school fees. In 1992 adult literacy stood at 27 percent.

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Benin 339 362 387 345 394
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Nigeria 301 314 230 258 256
Togo 411 454 385 375 333
SOURCE : United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Benin 52 5 15 5 3 3 17
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Nigeria 51 5 31 2 8 2 2
Togo N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
a Excludes energy used for transport.
b Includes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE : World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.


Most people are very poor and earn their living through agriculture on small family farms. Most of the work is undertaken by hand, and women do most of the labor, helped by children. There are no official unemployment figures for Benin, but unemployment figures have little significance in a low-income African economy. There are very few with no work at all. There is no unemployment benefit, and those who do not work rely on support from charities or their families. Many people would like a modern sector job, but eke out an existence on family farms or in casual informal sector activities (such as hawking , portering, scavenging) in the urban areas. There was a minimum professional salary of US$38 per month in 1997. The biannual civil servant salary increase stopped in 1998, but trade unions are demanding its reintroduction. The United Nations Development Program estimates that 55 percent of urban dwellers earned less than US$160 per year in 1992.

The constitution of the Republic of Benin guarantees the basic rights and freedoms of citizens. Forced labor is illegal, but human rights are not enforced in a consistent manner. Children often work to supplement household income, resulting in lower school attendance figures. In 1998 it was estimated that 29 percent of children aged 10-14 had to work to supplement family income.


1900. Dahomey (the former name of Benin) becomes a French colony.

1960. Independence is granted, and Hubert Maga becomes the country's first president.

1963. A coup brings Colonel Christophe Soglo to power.

1963. Dahomey returns to civilian rule, with Sourou-Migan Apithey elected president.

1965. Soglo assumes power again.

1967. Major Maurice Kouandete seizes power through a coup.

1968. Emile-Derlin Zinzou is appointed president by the military, but Kouandete again assumes power.

1969. A presidential election is attempted but collapses. Maga is nominated president again.

1972. Maga is succeeded by Ahomadegbe, but Major Mathieu Kerekou seizes power.

1975. Dahomey changes its name to Benin.

1990. A new constitution is adopted, paving the way for political stability.

1991. Nicephore Soglo defeats Kerekou at the polls to become president. Soglo begins the privatization or liquidation of 100 state-run companies.

1994. The CFA franc is devalued by 50 percent, boosting exports and increasing inflation.

1996. Kerekou defeats Soglo in an election to become president again.

2001. Kerkou wins re-election to the presidency.


After success in the 2001 presidential election, President Mathieu Kerekou was expected to continue with his popular poverty reduction and growth program, which is set to last to 2003. Driven by plans for increased public investment and commitments of donor support, real GDP growth is expected to remain at around the 5 percent a year level, allowing for steady improvements in average living standards. Cereal production still faces problems, despite recent improvements, as a result of weak infrastructure and delays in payments to farmers. Future growth rates are expected to be below the rate of population increase, leading to increased reliance on food imports. Sound monetary policy, implemented by the regional central bank, is projected to keep inflation at around 3 percent. The gap between international payments and receipts will be helped by increased foreign aid, expansion in cotton exports, and debt relief from the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) scheme, a program instituted by the IMF and World Bank to help the poorest countries manage their foreign debt.

In politics, the multiparty system introduced in 1990 appears to be secure, with all parties prepared to accept the verdict of the ballot box. President Kerekou appears unlikely to make any major change in the style and composition of his executive team. The new anti-corruption measures, which require leaders to declare their assets, is now being implemented, and there are high expectations that they will increase honesty in public life. An interesting development is the introduction of a new electoral code in which expatriate residents are able to vote, and this move is seen as an attempt to make politics less inward-looking.


Benin has no territories or colonies.


Allen, Chris, and Michael Radu. Benin, the Congo, Burkina Faso: Economics, Politics, and Society. New York and London: Printer, 1988.

"Benin Economy." <>. Accessed October 2001.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Benin. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Hodd, Michael. "Niger." The Economies of Africa. Dartmouth:Aldershot, 1991.

Kelly, R. C. et al., editors. Benin Country Review 1998/1999. Houston: Commercial Data International, Inc., 1999.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Benin. < guides2001/africa/index.html>. Accessed October 2001.

Jack Hodd




Communauté Financiére Africaine franc (CFA Fr). One franc equals 100 centimes. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 CFA Fr. There are notes of 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 CFA Fr.


Cotton, crude oil, palm products, cocoa.


Foodstuffs, tobacco, petroleum products, capital goods.


US$6.6 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$396 million (f.o.b., 1999 est.). Imports: US$566 million (c.i.f., 1999 est.).

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ALTERNATE NAME: (former) Dahomey


POPULATION: 5.7 million

LANGUAGE: French (official language); Fon and Yoruba in the south; Bariba and Fulani in the north; over 40 other languages

RELIGION: Animism; Christianity (Catholicism); Islam


Until 1972, Benin was called " Dahomey," named after the ancient Kingdom of Dan Homey. The French and Portuguese colonized Dahomey. They took part in the slave trade in Dahomey until it was ended in 1885. In the 1880s the French overthrew the kings of Dahomey. Dahomey gained independence from the French on August 1, 1960. Since then the country has suffered ethnic conflict and army revolts. In 1990 prodemocracy protests helped end military rule. Since then, a president was elected, and the economy and armed forces were reorganized. However, student protests and strikes by government employees show that people are still unhappy with Benin's weak economy.


Benin is a small west African country about the size of Pennsylvania. It has a flat and sandy coastal plain with warm temperatures (70°f to 85°f) and two rainy seasons. The northern, thinly wooded savanna has one short rainy season, and temperatures reach over 110°f.

In 1996, Benin's population was about 5.7 million people. Over half of them were under fifteen years old. Many people have moved to cities, but most still live in villages. There are more than forty-two ethnic groups in Benin: the Fon make up 40 percent of the population; the Adja, Bariba, Yoruba, and Aizo/HouJda make up another 40 percent; the Fulani, Kotokoli, and Dendi comprise the rest (20 percent).


The peoples of Benin speak fifty-one languages. French is the official language. The two major languages in the south are Fon and Yoruba. In the north, they are Bariba and Fulani.

These are some common greetings in Fon.

Good morning AH-FON ghan-jee-ah
How are you? AH-DOH ghan-jee-ah
Thank you AH-WAH-nou
Good bye OH-dah-boh


Benin's nickname is "Land of Songs" because singing is important in daily life. Through singing, people express their feelings and tell their history. Songs vary from pleasant to dramatic in order to convey the proper emotion. Each ethnic group has its own songs and dances.


The majority of Beninese practice animist religion. About 15 percent are Christian, and about 13 percent are Islamic. Beninese animists include the Fon, Yoruba, and Mina groups. Animists recognize some 5,000 to 6,000 gods or spirits. The animist leaders worship spirits, predict the future, and use many kinds of spiritual objects. One of the most famous cults is the Python Cult, also called the Cult of the Great Serpent. The Python Cult worships a deity from the ancient kingdom of Ouidah. Their main temple contains huge, living, defanged pythons.


Benin has a mix of animist, Muslim, Christian, and secular holidays. Beninese celebrate the Muslim Tabaski feast and the month-long fast of Ramadan. They also observe the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. Benin celebrates its Independence Day on August 1. In the past, the Beninese held parades, native dances, and evening balls. But since living conditions have been difficult under the military rule that followed independence, citizens don't have much enthusiasm for patriotic celebrations. Consequently, most Beninese now spend holidays quietly with their families, enjoying a good meal if they can afford it.


Beninese place great importance on rites of passage. Their families, society, and traditions depend on them. Rites of passage can be joyful. For example, baptisms are community celebrations that involve feasting and dancing. Weddings are cause for feasting and celebration. Traditional weddings can last weeks. When someone dies, the rituals involve helping the survivors.


In Benin, people usually greet each other even if they are strangers. Muslims ask about the other person's family. Visitors are always offered a glass of water, and if it is mealtime, they are expected to eat. When they wake up, children directly greet their parents. People kneel in front of older family members or important members of the community. This is a sign of respect.


Compared to the rest of the world, living standards in Benin are low. Outside of cities, many houses do not have safe drinking water or proper toilets. Medical problems like malaria, measles, and malnutrition kill many infants. Many young children and pregnant women are malnourished. These are serious health problems. However, Benin is improving the health and living conditions of its people. The constitution of 1990 helps and protects children. Benin takes part in a health plan known as the Bamako Health Initiative, which brings medicines to rural health clinics and immunizes children.

The main roads in Benin are paved. It is easy to travel from the coast to the north by bush taxi or minivan. Secondary roads can be rugged and can tear up vehicles. Benin has 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) of paved roads and another 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) of unpaved roads.


Beninese women play leading roles in the home. They make many decisions about home economics and child care. Traditionally, the husband's job has been to support the family. Nowadays, more Beninese women work outside the home. They tend small gardens or work in small businesses.

On average, Beninese women have seven pregnancies in their lifetime. But families of four to six children are becoming more common. Usually, if a child is born out of wedlock, the parents will marry to take care of the child. Some marriages are polygamous, where there is one husband but more than one wife. In polygamous marriages, each wife has her own apartment in a large family house. The wives share a common kitchen and other facilities.


On the coast, women usually wear African pagnes. These are of dazzling colors and patterns, and often have a matching head scarf.

Muslim women wear a three-piece cloth outfit. One piece wraps around the waist, one around the chest, and one covers the head. Once married, Muslim women in Benin always cover their heads in public. Men traditionally wear boubou -style (loose, long, and flowing) cotton shirts over pants. The west African embroidered boubou is becoming popular with both men and women. The boubou requires many hours to sew and embroider and is very expensive, costing as much as hundreds of dollars. Therefore, boubou are worn only for special occasions.


There is a great variety of food in Benin. The main food is la pate, bread made of various kinds of flour. La pate is dipped into sauces and is eaten with the right hand. Traditional households eat porridge for breakfast, which is made from millet, corn, yams, or manioc. Gari is made of grated manioc and is enjoyed with peanut-cake snacks. Merchants on street corners in southern towns sell deep-fried dumplings made from pounded bananas or beans. Many Beninese enjoy soft drinks and beer, but these require spare cash. Local drinks include natural lemonade and limeade, palm wine (sodabi), and beer and gin made from millet (chapalo).


African Vegetable Stew


  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, white stems and greens separated and chopped
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (known also as chick peas)
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup uncooked rice
  • several fresh tomatoes (or 1 large can of tomatoes)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 yams
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Tabasco sauce to taste


  1. Saute onion, garlic, and white stems of chard in small amount of olive oil until barely limp.
  2. Add chopped greens and saute until limp.
  3. Either peel the yams or scrub them well with a vegetable brush. Then slice them into thick slices.
  4. Add garbanzos, raisins, yams, tomatoes, salt, and pepper to frying pan. Heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Make a well in the center of the mixture in the pan. Put the rice in this well and pat it down until it is thoroughly moistened.
  6. Cover and cook until rice is done (about 25 minutes).
  7. Add a drop or two of Tabasco sauce to taste. Add more Tabasco if desired.

This recipe takes about 15 minutes for preparation, and 30 minutes for cooking.


Benin has low enrollment in its primary schools. In 1989, only 59 percent of the children were enrolled. About 30 percent reached sixth grade and only 64 children graduated. However, Benin is working to improve adult literacy. In 1995, the government estimated that about 37 percent of adults could read and write. This was much better than in the past.


Beninese animism, dance, and music have a long and rich history. The traditional dances of the Fon people are well-known. Now, Fon dance is becoming modernized. The music is played on a mix of traditional drums and modern instruments such as electric guitars and synthesizers. Skilled craftspeople produce traditional instruments of high quality.

Many Beninese cultural traditions are derived from ancient kingdoms. For example, Nikki is the capital of a kingdom that began in the fifteenth century. The Baribas live where that kingdom once existed. They are wonderful riders who like to show off their horsemanship.


There are not enough acceptable jobs in Benin. In the cities, about 75 percent of people have low-paying, menial jobs like peddler and pushcart operator. In the villages, most Beninese (62 percent) work in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. The main crops are manioc, maize, and yams. Other crops, like coconut palms, and cotton, are sold for cash. As of the late 1990s, Beninese hoped that a planned hydroelectric dam on the Mono River would bring factories. They also hoped that mineral deposits and offshore oil would provide new and better jobs.


The Beninese national sport is soccer. It is watched by Beninese everywhere and is played mainly by boys and young men.


Entertainment is different in the cities and villages of Benin. In the towns and cities where electricity is available, Beninese can watch state-run television. Many people are also buying satellite dishes. Few people have video cassette recorders. Movies are always popular.

Beninese also enjoy traditional dancing. Because of their cultural heritage, dancing, music, and cultural performances may be considered a type of sport. As in sports, teamwork is very important. Beninese compare and rate dancers and musicians for their agility, creativity, skill, and stamina.

Electricity is not available in most villages. There, people make their own fun. Ceremonies, holidays, and traditional feasts make up most of the recreation. For example, baptisms happen often and are one of the most common forms of entertainment. A village of 300 to 400 people may have as many as thirty baptisms a year.


Beninese artists produce fine weaving and traditional sculptures. Sculptors also make masks, tables, boxes, scepters (a baton or staff that symbolizes authority), and armchairs. Crafts are both artistic and practical. For example, craftswomen make pots of all sizes for carrying and storing water. Blacksmiths not only produce works of art, but also repair bicycles, motorcycles, and automobiles. Beninese also make a wide range of handmade instruments, from twin drums to small Beninese guitars.


At this time, Benin's major social problems are mainly caused by the poor economy. Benin has high unemployment and low wages. Even educated people have to take manual jobs such as driving motorcycle-taxis. But social problems like crime, murder, and drug abuse are rare. However, some countries are starting to ship illegal drugs through Benin. This might cause more drug crime in the future.


Africa on File. New York: Facts on File, 1995.

Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Benin. Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1995.


Internet Africa Ltd. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Benin. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Benin (country, Africa)

Benin (bĕnēn´), officially Republic of Benin, republic (2005 est. pop. 7,460,000), 43,483 sq mi (112,622 sq km), W Africa, bordering on Togo in the west, on Burkina Faso and Niger in the north, on Nigeria in the east, and on the Bight of Benin (an arm of the Gulf of Guinea) in the south. Porto-Novo is the capital and Cotonou is the largest city and chief port. Other principal towns include Abomey, Ouidah, and Parakou.

Land and People

Benin falls into four main geographic regions. In the south is a narrow coastal zone (1–3 mi/1.6–4.8 km wide) fringed on the north by a series of interconnected lagoons and lakes with only two outlets to the sea (at Grand-Popo and Cotonou). Behind the coastal region is a generally flat area of fertile clay soils; this is crossed by the wide Lama marsh, through which flows the Ouémé River. In NW Benin is a region of forested mountains (the Atacora; highest point c.2,150 ft/655 m), from which the Mekrou and Pendjari rivers flow NE to the Niger River (which forms part of the country's northern border). In the northeast is a highland region covered mostly with savanna and containing little fertile soil.

Although there are 42 ethnic groups in Benin, its population is divided into four main ethnolinguistic groups—Fon, Yoruba, Voltaic, and Fulani. The Fon-speakers, who live in the south, include the Fon, or Dahomey (Benin's largest single ethnic group), Aja, Peda, and Chabe subgroups. The Yoruba live in the southeast near Nigeria, the group's main homeland. The Voltaic-speakers live in central and N Benin and include the Bariba and Somba subgroups. The Fulani live in the north. French is the country's official language; Fon, Yoruba, and other indigenous tongues are also spoken. About a third of the inhabitants follow traditional religious beliefs; voodoo originated here some 350 years ago but was only officially recognized in 1996. About 43% are Christian (largely Roman Catholic) and 25% (living mostly in the north) are Muslim. Benin's population is concentrated in the southern portion of the country and in rural areas.


Benin's economy is overwhelmingly agricultural, with most workers engaged in subsistence farming. The chief crops are cotton, corn, cassava, yams, beans, palm oil, peanuts, and cashews. Goats, sheep, and pigs are raised. There is a sizable freshwater fishing industry, and some ocean fish are also caught. Most of Benin's few manufactures are processed agricultural goods, basic consumer items, textiles, and building materials.

Petroleum, discovered offshore of Porto-Novo in 1968, and limestone are extracted. The country's other mineral resources, which include chromite, low-quality iron ore, ilmenite, and titanium, have not as yet been exploited. There is also a developing tourist industry. The country has limited rail and road systems, and they are almost exclusively in the southern and central parts of the country; rail lines are being extended to Niger. A hydroelectric plant completed in 1988 on the Mono River was a collaborative effort between Togo and Benin.

The chief imports are foodstuffs, capital goods, and petroleum products. The principal exports are cotton, cashews, shea butter, textiles, palm products, and seafood. The annual cost of imports usually exceeds earnings from exports. The leading trade partners are China, France, Thailand, Nigeria, and Indonesia.


Benin is governed under the constitution of 1990. The executive branch is headed by a president, who is both head of state and head of government. The president is popularly elected for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The unicameral legislature consists of the 83-seat National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 12 departments.


Early History

Little is known about the history of N Benin. In the south, according to oral tradition, a group of Aja migrated (12th or 13th cent.) eastward from Tado on the Mono River and founded the village of Allada. Later, Allada became the capital of Great Ardra, a state whose kings ruled with the consent of the elders of the people. Great Ardra reached the peak of its power in the 16th and early 17th cent.

A dispute (c.1625) among three brothers over who should be king resulted in one brother, Kokpon, retaining Great Ardra. Another brother, Do-Aklin, founded the town of Abomey, and the third, Te-Agdanlin, founded the town of Ajatche or Little Ardra (called Porto-Novo by the Portuguese merchants who traded there). The Aja living at Abomey organized into a strongly centralized kingdom with a standing army and gradually mixed with the local people, thus forming the Fon, or Dahomey, ethnic group.

By the late 17th cent. the Dahomey were raiding their neighbors for slaves, who were then sold (through coastal middlemen) to European traders. By 1700, about 20,000 slaves were being transported annually, especially from Great Ardra and Ouidah, located on what was called the Slave Coast. In order to establish direct contact with the European traders, King Agaja of Dahomey (reigned 1708–32), who began the practice of using women as soldiers, conquered most of the south (except Porto-Novo). This expansion brought Dahomey into conflict with the powerful Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, which captured Abomey in 1738 and forced Dahomey to pay an annual tribute until 1818. However, until well into the 19th cent. Dahomey continued to expand northward and to sell slaves, despite efforts by Great Britain to end the trade.

Colonial History

In 1863, Porto-Novo accepted a French protectorate, hoping thereby to offset Dahomey's power. During the 1880s, as the scramble among the European powers for African colonies accelerated, France tried to secure its hold on the Dahomey coast in order to keep it out of German or British hands. King Behanzin (reigned 1889–93) attempted to resist the French advance, but in 1892–93 France defeated Dahomey, established a protectorate over it, and exiled Behanzin to Martinique. During the period 1895–98 the French added the northern part of present-day Benin, and in 1904 the whole colony was made part of French West Africa.

Under the French a port was constructed at Cotonou, railroads were built, and the output of palm products increased. In addition, elementary school facilities were expanded, largely under the auspices of Roman Catholic missions. In 1946, Dahomey became an overseas territory with its own parliament and representation in the French national assembly; in 1958, it became an autonomous state within the French Community.

The Postcolonial Period

On Aug. 1, 1960, Dahomey became fully independent. The country's first president was Hubert Maga, whose main support came from Parakou and the north and who was allied with Sourou Migan Apithy, a politician from Porto-Novo. Independent Dahomey was plagued by governmental instability that was caused by economic troubles, ethnic rivalries, and social unrest. In 1963, following demonstrations by workers and students, the armed forces staged a successful coup, putting Justin Ahomadegbé into power (in alliance with Apithy). Political unrest continued in Dahomey for the next six years until Lt. Col. Paul-Émile de Souza was made president in 1969.

Elections were attempted in 1970 but were canceled following severe disagreement between northern and southern politicians. Instead, a three-man presidential council (consisting of Maga, Ahomadegbé, and Apithy) was formed; each member was to lead the country for two years. The first leader was Maga, who in May, 1972, was replaced without incident by Ahomadegbé. However, in Oct., 1972, the military again intervened, toppling Ahomadegbé and installing an 11-man government headed by Maj. Mathieu Kérékou.

Kérékou declared Benin a Marxist-Leninist state and sought financial support from Communist governments in Eastern Europe and Asia. To distance the modern state from its colonial past, Dahomey became the People's Republic of Benin in 1975. Continual strikes and coup attempts resulted in the formation of a repressive militia. In 1989, with social unrest and economic problems besetting the country, Marxism was renounced as a state ideology.

In 1990 a national conference and a referendum provided for a new constitution and multiparty elections; Nicéphor Soglo defeated Kérékou at the polls and became president in 1991. Credited with reviving the economy but criticized as aloof and distant from the people, Soglo was defeated in the 1996 presidential election, which returned Kérékou to power. In the 1999 assembly elections, however, the opposition, led by Soglo's wife, Rosine, won the majority of seats. Conflict with Niger over the ownership of one of several disputed islands in the Niger River led to tensions in 2000; the islands were divided between the two nations in 2005 after international arbitration.

Kérékou was reelected in Mar., 2001, after Soglo withdrew from a runoff, accusing the president of fraud. The president's coalition won a majority in the national assembly in Mar., 2003. In 2005 Kérékou announced that he would retire in 2006 at the end of his term, and would not seek to amended the constitution to stay in power. In Mar., 2006, Thomas Yayi Boni, an economist who had previously headed the West African Development Bank, was elected president after a runoff, winning nearly 75% of the vote. In June, 2006, the national assembly voted to amend the constitution to extend assembly members' terms to five years, but the supreme court rejected the amendment as for violating the 1990 consensus that established the constitution. President Yayi survived an apparent assassination attempt in Mar., 2007. Yayi's coalition won a plurality of the seats in the national assembly in the elections later that month.

In July, 2010, the collapse of a company that was running a Ponzi scheme roiled the country. Some 130,000 were believed to have invested in it, many with their life savings. The interior minister and the chief prosecutor were dismissed for connections to the scheme, and many believed that the president was involved because photographs of him meeting with company officials were publicized by the company. National Assembly members accused Yayi of complicity in the scheme, but failed in an attempt (August) to impeach him. He won reelection in Mar., 2011, against a divided opposition. In Oct., 2012, several people, including a former commerce minister, were accused of attempting to assassinating the president with poison and arrested, and in Mar., 2013, another coup plot, said to be linked possibly to the poisoning plot, was reported to have been foiled. In the Apr., 2015, national assembly elections, Yayi's coalition won the same number of seats as the opposition alliance (and lost seats compared to 2007). Benin joined (2015) with Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger in establishing a joint military force to combat the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.


See W. J. Argyle, The Fon of Dahomey (1966); I. A. Akinjogbin, Dahomey and Its Neighbours, 1708–1818 (1967); P. Manning, Slavery, Colonialism and Economic Growth in Dahomey, 1640–1960 (1982); S. Decalo, Historical Dictionary of Benin (2d ed. 1987); C. Allen and M. Radu, Benin and the Congo (1988).

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Official name: Republic of Benin

Area: 112,620 square kilometers (43,483 square miles)

Highest point on mainland : Mount Sokbaro (658 meters/2,159 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres : Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 1 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 333 kilometers (207 miles) from east to west; 665 kilometers (413 miles) from north to south

Land boundaries : 1,236 kilometers (1,989 miles) total boundary length; Burkina Faso, 306 kilometers (190 miles); Niger, 266 kilometers (165 miles); Nigeria, 773 kilometers (480 miles); Togo, 644 kilometers (400 miles)

Coastline: 121 kilometers (75 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Formerly a French colony known as Dahomey, Benin is a small country on the coast of West Africa, between Togo and Nigeria. It is bounded on the north by the Niger River and on the south by the Bight of Benin, which forms part of the Gulf of Guinea. Benin has an area of 112,620 square kilometers (43,483 square miles), or slightly less land than the state of Pennsylvania.


Benin has no outside territories or dependencies.


Southern Benin, which lies near the equator, has a hot, humid, tropical climate, with average temperatures around 27°C (80°F). The north has a semiarid climate with greater variability, ranging from 13°C (56°F) in June to 40°C (104°F) in January. Southern Benin has two rainy seasons: one from March to July, and another between September and November. The hot, dry harmattan wind blows during the dry season. Average annual rainfall is highest (135 centimeters/53 inches) in the central part of the country and lower in the north (97 centimeters/38 inches). The driest part of Benin is the southwest, which averages just 82 centimeters (32 inches) of rain per year.


From south to north, Benin's major regions consist of a coastal belt that includes sand-banks and lagoons; a savannah-covered clay plateau; and, in the northern two-thirds of the country, a higher plateau region that includes the Atakora Mountains and the Niger Plains. A large swampy depression called the Lama Marsh extends across the plateau region.


The North Atlantic Ocean lies to the south of Benin.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

Benin's coastal belt includes four lagoons (Grand Popo, Ouidah, Cotonou, and Porto Novo).

The sandbanks that form part of the country's shoreline impede access to the ocean, however.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The coast of Benin lies on a wide bay in the Gulf of Guinea called the Bight of Benin.

Islands and Archipelagos

Benin has no islands.

Coastal Features

Benin has no natural harbors.


Benin's principal lake is Lake Ahémé, in the southern part of the country.


Most of Benin's rivers flow in a north-south direction. Benin's longest river is the Niger River, which forms part of its border with Niger in the northeast and is navigable for 89 kilometers (55 miles) in Benin. The longest river located entirely within Benin's borders is the Ouémé, which is 459 kilometers (285 miles) long. It flows southward through about two-thirds of Benin. The rivers in the north, including the Alibori, the Mékrou, and the Sota, drain into the Niger. To the southwest, the Mono River forms part of the border with Togo.


Benin has no significant desert regions.


The low-lying coastal plain is flat and sandy.


The area of low precipitation in southwest Benina dramatic exception to the high rainfall elsewhere in this tropical regionis called the "Benin window." It is thought to have resulted from the destruction of the native rainforest.


The Atakora Mountains extend northeast to southwest across the plateau of Upper Benin in the northwestern part of the country. They rise to elevations of 300 to 600 meters (1,000 to 2,000 feet). Heavily forested, they belong to the same system as the Togo Mountains to the south.


There are no notable caves or canyons in Benin.


North of the coastal region, 90 to 230 meters (300 to 750 feet) above sea level, lies a belt of the fertile, savannah-covered clay plateau called terre de barre, composed of lateritic clay (clay made from decayed rock) and bisected by the swampy Lama Marsh. The granite and gneiss tablelands of Upper Benin are farther north; these are traversed northeast to southwest by the Atakora Mountains.


The Nangbeto Dam is located on the Mono River, a waterway that comprises part of the border between Benin and Togo. The dam restricts the flow of the Mono River, and it also retains sediment that would be carried to the mouth of the river. Erosion along the coast may be traced to the existence of this dam.



Chatwin, Bruce. The Viceroy of Ouidah. New York: Summit Books, 1980.

Eades, J. S., and Chris Allen. Benin. Santa Barbara, CA: CLIO Press, 1996.

Manning, Patrick. Slavery, Colonialism, and Economic Growth in Dahomey,

1640-1960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Web Sites

Mbendi Profile. (accessed June 22, 2003).

World Desk Reference Web site. (accessed February 21, 2003).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Benin
Region: Africa
Population: 6,395,919
Language(s): French, Fon, Yoruba
Literacy Rate: 37%

The Republic of Benin lies on the western coast of Africa, between Nigeria and Togo. The educational system was inherited from the French when the country achieved independence in August 1, 1960. It has since undergone many reforms to make it serve the country's needs. The system is public and secular, and consists of two years of preprimary education, six years of primary school, three years of junior secondary school, three years of senior secondary school, and a university. There are also three-year vocational or technical schools to attend in place of secondary schools.

Primary education begins at six years and is free and compulsory. But that does not guarantee that every child attends. In 1995 (the most recent statistics), primary enrollment was only 59 percent (males 74 percent, females 43 percent). Secondary education is not free, and enrollment is therefore considerably low. In 1994, enrollment in secondary school was only 16 percent (23 percent of males, 10 percent of females). Scholarships are available to girls from rural areas who want to attend secondary school.

A national exam is given at the end of each level of schooling to determine eligibility for further education. Students graduating from primary, junior secondary, and senior secondary schools receive the Certificate of Primary School (Certificat d'études primaires ), Lower Secondary School Certificate (Brevet d'études du premier cycle ) and Secondary School Certificate (Baccalauréat ), respectively.

The National University of Benin at Cotonou, founded in 1970, is the primary institute of higher learning in the country. Student enrollment for 1997, the most current statistics, was 8,890. The university awards undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as special certifications from its many colleges, including the colleges of Letters, Art, and Human Sciences; Law, Economics, and Political Science; Science and Technology; Agriculture; and Health Sciences. A course of study runs from two to seven years, depending on the student's area of specialization. A secondary school certificate or the equivalent is needed for admission to the university. All students seeking admission to the National University of Benin or funds to study abroad can obtain financial assistance and scholarships.

The language of instruction in all Beninese schools is French; native languages as well as English are taught as subjects in the secondary and university levels. The school year runs from October to July, in terms from October to January, January to March, and April to July. The Ministry of National Education (Ministère de l'Education nationale ) oversees the educational system at all levels.

After the collapse in 1989 of the Marxist-Leninist oriented government, the new Beninese democratic government initiated massive programs to revamp the educational system, which had collapsed during the last years of the Marxist-Leninist regime. The central objectives of the reform were to restore efficiency and quality of instruction at the primary and secondary schools by providing better teacher training and facilities and updating school curricula; to increase access to and promote female participation in the school system; to reduce the cost of vocational schools; and to provide instruction that empowers students to function adequately in the Beninese economy.

With financial and technical support from many international organizations, Benin has made tremendous progress in its educational reform initiatives. The government consistently makes education a priority by allocating more funds towards the school system each fiscal year. In 1990, the budget allocation for education was 14,839 million francs FCA, representing 12.8 percent of the national budget. The 2001 budget allocated 22 percent of its funds to education.


Djibril, M. Debourou. The Process of Education Policy Formation in Africa, The Case of Benin. Paris: Association for the Development of African Education, 1995.

Guezodje, Vincent. "Educational Reform in Benin." Prospects 8 (1977): 455-471.

Salome C. Nnoromele

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112,620sq km (43,483sq mi)



capital (population):

Porto-Novo (179,938)


Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Fon, Adja, Bariba, Yoruba, Fulani, Somba


French (official)


Traditional beliefs 60%, Christianity 23%, Islam 15%


CFA franc = 100 centimes

Republic in w Africa. Benin is one of Africa's smallest countries, extending ns for only c.620km (390mi). Yet is also one of the most heavily populated parts of West Africa. Its Atlantic coastline, 100km (62mi) long, is fringed with lagoons. Benin has no natural harbour. The capital Porto-Novo lies on the e shore of a large lagoon and Cotonou, Benin's main port and biggest city, lies on its n shore and has a man-made harbour.

Climate and Vegetation

Benin has a hot, wet climate, with an average annual temperature on the coast of c.25°C (77°F) and an average rainfall 1330mm (52in). The inland plains are wetter, but rainfall decreases to the n. Adjacent to the coast, a flat plain gives way to the wide Lama marsh. Central Benin consists of low plateaux, rising most steeply to the forests in the nw. Northern Benin is savanna and has two national parks, the Penjari and the “W” (the latter shared with its neighbours Burkina Faso and Niger). The parks are home to water buffalo, elephants, and lions

History and Politics

The ancient kingdom of Dahomey had its capital at Abomey, in modern s Benin. In the 17th century, the Kings of Dahomey became involved in the lucrative slave trade, and by 1700 more than 200,000 slaves were being annually transported from the ‘slave coast’. The Portuguese shipped many Dahomeans to Brazil and, despite the abolition of slavery, the trade persisted well into the 19th century.

In 1892 the French established a protectorate in Dahomey, and in 1904 the colony became part of the giant federation of French West Africa. The French developed the country's infrastructure and institutions. In 1958 Dahomey achieved self-governing status within the French Community. In 1960 it achieved full independence.

The new nation faced major economic and social difficulties, and the military seized power in 1963. In 1972 a power-sharing arrangement between n and s Benin collapsed and the army, led by General Mathieu Kérékou, again intervened. In 1975 Dahomey became the People's Republic of Benin. Adopting Marxism-Leninism as the state ideology, Kérékou forged alliances with European communists. In 1989 Benin abandoned communism, and Kérékou was defeated at multi-party elections in 1991. He returned to power at elections in 1996 and 2001.


Benin is a poor, developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$1030) and c.70% of the workforce is engaged in agriculture, mainly at subsistence level. Major food crops include beans, cassava, maize, millet, rice, sorghum, and yams, while the chief cash crops are cotton, palm products, groundnuts, and coffee. Forestry is an important activity. Benin also produces oil, but there is little manufacturing. In 1994 the IMF approved a loan of US$72.6 million to help implement economic reforms.

Political map

Physical map


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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Benin
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 6,395,919
Language(s): French, Fon, Yoruba
Literacy rate: 37%

The tiny state of Benin in West Africa is home to about 15 dailies and more than 20 periodicals. A precise figure is difficult to gauge as newspapers are continually launched while others close down just as frequently. Circulations are small, typically less than 3,000 due largely to a low literacy rate, estimated at about 37 percent for its more than 6 million citizens, and a poor distribution service. The press is largely concentrated in Contonou, the seat of government, and Porto Novo, the official capital.

Newspapers are mostly privately owned and while many are short-lived, a few such as the dailies La Matinal, founded in 1997, Le Point au Quotidien and Les Echoes de Jour, are maintaining a fairly constant presence. The Catholic-oriented La Croix du Benin, founded in 1945 and published fortnightly, is one of only two newspapers that could be considered established. The other is the state-owned daily, La Nacion, which was founded in 1967. A state news agency, Agence Presse Benin (APB), was founded in 1961.

Although Benin is considered to have a free press, journalists receive poor salaries and thus are susceptible to bribery from businessmen and politicians seeking to embellish their image. The government has sought to address this problem by offering 300 million CFA francs, about U.S.$400,000, in aid to privately-owned media every year since 1997.

The increasing number of Beninese with college degrees, and the establishment of training programs for journalists as well as the government's recognition of the value of a free pressathough libel is still punishable by prisonmeans the press in Benin is edging toward stability and is one of the freest in Africa.


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"Niger." Committee to Protect Journalists, Africa 2001. Available from

Denis Fitzgerald

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Benin Kingdom that flourished in w Nigeria between the 14th and 17th centuries. Benin's bronze sculptures and wood and ivory carvings, are among the finest art produced in Africa. Ruled autocratically by a divine sovereign, Benin was prosperous and peaceful until the advent of firearms and the slave trade, when central authority disintegrated.

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Culture Name



Identification. Before 1975, the Republic of Benin was known as Dahomey, its French colonial name. Three years after the coup that brought Major Kérékou to power, the name was changed to the People's Republic of Benin, reflecting the Marxist-Leninist ideology of the new government. After the collapse of the Kérékou government in 1989, the name was shortened to the Republic of Benin. In the precolonial period, Dahomey was the name of the most powerful kingdom on the Slave Coast, which extended along the Bight of Benin to Lagos. Today Benin includes not only the ancient Fon kingdom of Dahomey but also areas inhabited by many other groups.

The nation's lack of cultural homogeneity is due to geographic factors and a history that has included waves of migration, competition between precolonial kingdoms, four centuries of commercial relations with Europe, and the impact of colonialism. In addition to language and ethnicity, there are divisions along lines of occupation and religion.

Location and Geography. The country has an area of 43,483 square miles (112,622 square kilometers). It shares borders with Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Togo. There are five distinct geographic zones. In the south, coconut palms grow on a narrow coastal strip broken by lagoons and creeks. In the north, a plateau of fertile iron clay soil interspersed with marshy areas supports oil palms. The central area is a wooded savanna with some hilly areas. The Atacora mountain chain in the northwest is the area of greatest elevation, while the northeast is part of the Niger river basin. Most of the country has a tropical climate with a dry season from November to April and a rainy season from May to October. Rainfall and vegetation are heaviest in the south.

The country is divided into six departments containing eighty-four districts. The capital is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is in nearby Cotonou, the largest city.

Demography. The current population is estimated to be about 6.5 million and is concentrated in the southern and central regions. The growth rate is high, and 48 percent of the people are less than fifteen years old.

Linguistic Affiliation. French is the national language, and English is taught in secondary schools. There are about fifty languages and dialects. Most people speak at least two languages. Fifty percent of the population speaks Fon; other important languages include Yoruba, Aja, Mina, Goun, Bariba, Dendi, Ditamarri, Nateni, and Fulfulde. Approximately 36 percent of the population is illiterate.

Symbolism. The flag first flown after independence was green, red, and yellow. Green denoted hope for renewal, red stood for the ancestors' courage, and yellow symbolized the country's treasures. In 1975, the flag was changed to green with a red star in the corner. In 1990, the original flag was reestablished to symbolize the rejection of Marxist ideology.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Although several ethnic groups are assumed to be indigenous, migration that began four hundred years ago brought Aja-speaking peoples (the Gbe) into the southern part of the country, where they founded several kingdoms. The Yoruba presence in the southern and central regions also dates back several hundred years. The Bariba migrated west from what is now Nigeria and established a cluster of states. In the northwest, several indigenous groups remained independent of Bariba control.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to make contact at Ouidah (Whydah) in 1580s; Dutch, French, and English traders followed. The coastal communities became part of an emerging trans-Atlantic trading system.

In the seventeenth century, slaves became the most important commodity, traded for manufactured items. At first the trade took place with coastal kingdoms, but the interior kingdom of Dahomey later conquered those kingdoms. Although a tributary of the Yoruba kingdom Oyo from 1740 to 1818, Dahomey dominated the regional slave trade. Traders dealt directly with the royalty of Dahomey, who continued to sell slaves to Brazilian merchants after the 1830s. Merchants and travelers wrote about the power of the Dahomean monarch, his army of "amazons" (female warriors), and ceremonies that included human sacrifice.

The French presence and influence increased after 1840 as a result of commercial and missionary activity. Tension with France increased as competition between European imperial powers escalated. France engaged in three military campaigns against Dahomey, and in 1894 King Behanzin surrendered and was exiled. By 1900, the Bariba had been defeated and the new boundaries had been determined. From 1904 to 1958, Dahomey was a colony in the federation of French West Africa.

Colonial rule forced the people to accept a new system of central administration, heavy taxation, forced labor, and harsh laws. France conscripted men to fight in both world wars. By the end of World War II, the economy was weak and growing discontent was difficult to manage.

After World War II, France followed a policy of increased representation and autonomy. During this period, a triumvirate of leaders emerged who would dominate national politics for decades. In 1958, Dahomey chose independence, which was declared in 1960. Hubert Maga was elected as the first president. His term was interrupted by a military coup in 1963, the first of six in the next nine years.

National Identity. Political turmoil before and after independence was not conducive to the formation of a national identity. The Kérékou regime and the seventeen-year experiment with socialism stabilized the country under a central bureaucracy. In the early years of his rule, Kérékou's called for the creation of a nation less aligned with French commercial and cultural interests. After the government adopted a Marxist-Leninist ideology in 1974, a rhetoric of national unity and "the revolution" permeated the media and government propaganda, but even today national identity is secondary to ethnic identity for much of the rural population.

Ethnic Relations. Beninese recognize about twenty sociocultural groups. In some cases, a cultural cluster is associated with one or more of the ancient kingdoms. The Fon (founders of the Dahomey kingdom) are the largest group. Their language is closely related to that of the Aja and Goun, and there are close ethnic ties with those groups as a result of shared precolonial history. Lines of cleavages create constantly changing northern, southern, and south-central coalitions of leaders who vie for control of limited resources and political power.

The Afro-Brazilian community in the south is descended from European traders, Africans who lived near European trading establishments, and traders and returned slaves from Brazil.

The educated peoples of the more urbanized southern region have dominated the nation's political and economic life. The teachers and civil servants who were given posts in the north were considered to be as foreign as the Europeans.

Benin is also home to Fulani herders known locally as the Peul. These herders move their livestock over long distances in search of grass. Even when they become sedentary, the Fulani maintain a unique cultural identity. Many of them serve in the military.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

More than 40 percent of the population lives in urban environments, primarily in Cotonou. Cities have a mixture of modern and colonial architecture. Although some Cotonou residents live in multi-story apartment buildings, their neighborhoods usually consist of walled compounds. In small towns and villages, new houses tend to be built from concrete block with metal roofs, but many are constructed from mud bricks and roofed with thatch. Large towns have both mosques and churches, and every town has at least one open-air market.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Even in many urban areas, cooking is done outside or, when it rains, in a separate room or shelter. Women and girls cook family meals, although more young men are learning to cook. Because many homes do not have refrigeration, most people go to the market several times a week to purchase food.

The basic meal consists of a staple starch prepared as a sort of mush, eaten with a sauce that contains vegetables and meat or fish. Food is prepared at least twice a day: at midday and in the evening. The morning meal may consist of warmed-up leftovers from the previous evening's meal or food purchased from roadside vendors.

In the south, rice, corn, and manioc are the primary starches; millet, sorghum, and yams are preferred in central and northern communities. Sauces may contain okra, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, eggplant, peppers, and other vegetables. Legumes may be made into side dishes. In the marshy areas, carrots, green beans, and lettuce are being incorporated into the diet.

Beninese also eat many varieties of tropical fruits. Traditionally palm wine was produced in the south, while millet beer was brewed and consumed by the northern peoples. Today alcoholic beverages are likely to be imported.

Smoked, dried, or fresh fish is likely to accompany a meal in the south, while beef is more common in the north. Goats, sheep, and poultry are found throughout the country. Poor people often eat meals with no protein. "European" foods were introduced during the colonial period. Many young people perceive the traditional diet as monotonous and want to eat more expensive and often less nutritious imported foods.

Children and adults buy snacks from roadside vendors. Men without female family members to cook for them often eat in makeshift outdoor restaurants. In the cities, French cuisine is available in restaurants.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Weddings, funerals, and holidays always involve eating. The Muslim feast day of Tobaski is celebrated by eating mutton, and families save to purchase a large sheep. Items such as pasta and canned peas are purchased by rural dwellers to eat on special occasions.

Basic Economy. The country is self-sufficient in food production, despite the increased production of cash crops. About half the population is engaged in agriculture, and traditional systems of internal trade still function to move food from one area to another. The lack of passable roads in rural areas makes it difficult to transport agricultural products to market. About nine hundred thousand people face intermittent food shortages.

Fishing is concentrated in the south, and pigs are raised by Christians. Most cattle are raised by Fulani herders.

During the socialist period, the government encouraged agro-business initiatives and increased production through rural development programs such as cooperatives, but farmers' incomes remained low. Forced to sell their products to government managed companies at artificially low prices, farmers were forced into additional subsistence agriculture to feed themselves.

In the last decade, increases in subsistence and cash crops and growth in manufacturing and industry have led to a higher economic growth rate. However, structural adjustment programs negotiated with the World Bank and the International Money Fund after the collapse of the socialist government have involved painful austerity measures, and in 1994 the currency (the Communate Financiere Africaine franc or CFAF) was devalued.

Land Tenure and Property. In the precolonial period, access to land was primarily through lineages and clans. However, private holdings existed before the colonial period as a result of gifts from kings to their supporters and purchases from lineage groups.

Inheritance. Patterns of inheritance vary according to the customs of individual groups; while national law permits women to inherit and own land, in patrilineal societies land is likely to be inherited by brothers and sons.

Commercial Activities. Agricultural products and consumer goods are sold wholesale and retail. Consumers can purchase goods at retail outlets for international import-export companies. Small stores called boutiques sell consumer goods and processed foodstuffs in most towns; many are run by Yoruba or Lebanese trading families. Modern stores are found only in the larger cities. Most people still depend on open-air markets to buy not only food but textiles, clothing, furniture, and manufactured goods. The informal economy is large.

Historically, women have played an important role in trade, and many women attempt to engage in commerce in addition to household or wage-earning labor.

Major Industries. After the fall of the socialist government, many inefficient industries were privatized. Most manufacturing is geared to processing agricultural products and import substitution of consumer goods. There has been increased foreign investment in cotton gins, but most industrial concerns operate at low capacity and serve the local market.

There are deposits of gold, oil, limestone, phosphates, iron ore, kaolin, and silica sand. Oil production has not been successful. The tourism industry will also require financial investment.

A hydroelectric power project on the Mono River is planned, and there is a project to build a natural gas pipeline.

Trade. Cotton, crude oil, palm products, and cocoa are the major exports. Major imports include textiles, machinery, food, and agricultural raw materials. After independence, France continued to be the main destination for exports. Other current trading partners include Brazil, Portugal, Morocco, and Libya.

Division of Labor. In rural areas, the division of labor is usually clearly prescribed, with specific tasks assigned to men and women. Children are expected to help with chores. In polygynous families, the division of labor among cowives is precise. The more senior a wife is, the more likely she is to have time to pursue commercial interests.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The system of social stratification has its roots in the precolonial kingdoms. Kingdoms in the south included royal and commoner families as well as slaves. At the top of the hierarchy was the ruling group of the Bariba, followed by a class of Bariba cultivators. Next came the Fulani pastoralists, and on the bottom were the Gando, the slaves of the Wasangari. Colonization broke the power of the traditional rulers, but social status is still partially determined by a person's family roots. Wealth is another way to gain social status, and those who become wealthy through commerce are held in high regard.

One of the most significant social divisions is between the educated urban elite and the rural population. During the colonial period, educated Beninese in other states were expelled. Some found work in the bureaucracy at home, but many moved to European countries. The career goal of many students is to become a civil servant, although structural adjustment programs have reduced the civil service sector. The objectives of the new national employment program include developing the private sector and encouraging expatriates to contribute to the economic development process.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The dress, manners, activities, and worldview of the urban elite set them apart from other segments of society, and their lifestyle often is emulated by people in lower classes. Speaking French, wearing Western-style clothes, eating European foods, living in a house with a tin roof, and listening to modern music distinguish a person who is "civilized."

Political Life

Government. Political instability has resulted from the inability of leaders to gain support outside their regional bases. Benin was the first country in the 1990s to make the transition from a dictatorship to a multiparty democracy. Under the new constitution, the president is directly elected to a five-year term and is limited to two terms. The president chooses the members of the cabinet. Members of parliament are elected to four-year terms. The National Assembly meets twice a year.

Leadership and Political Officials. Dozens of political parties have been formed since 1990, and the ability to negotiate alliances is essential to political success. Elections in the 1990s exhibited old patterns of patron-client relations, ethnic and regional fragmentation, brittle and shifting alliances, and isolated incidents of violence.

Social Problems and Control. The crime rate is low, and most disputes are resolved by local leaders. Few civilians have access to guns. Theft is a problem, and many wealthier homeowners hire a night watchman.

Military Activity. Military activity has been limited to domestic operations, and civilian rule has been toppled several times by factions of the military.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Poverty has prevented the state from addressing the nation's health and educational needs, and it has relied on foreign aid and assistance from international organizations. Adjustment programs initiated after the collapse of the economy in 1989 limited the state's investment in health and social development. The National Family Planning Association was founded in 1972.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In farming communities, men do the heavier tasks such as clearing land. Women help plant, harvest, and process many of the food products. Women carry wood and water and are responsible for household tasks involving food and children. Women are active in local and regional trade. The degree to which women work as healers and ritual specialists varies between ethnic groups.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Although women in the Dahomey kingdom could increase their wealth and power as part of the royal palace organization and often served in primarily male occupations, the general pattern has always been for women to be socially and economically subordinate to men. The 1977 constitution conferred legal equality on women, but this was ignored in practice. Currently 65 percent of girls are not in school.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. In the past, most marriages were arranged by families, but individual choice is becoming more common, especially among the educated elite. A couple may have both civil and traditional ceremonies. The wife joins her husband's family, or the new couple may relocate. Marriage is nearly universal because remarriage occurs quickly after divorce or the death of a spouse. Although cowives in polygamous marriages are supposed to get along, jealousy is not unusual.

Marriage may involve the transfer of money or goods to the bride's family. After a divorce, renegotiation of bridewealth may be necessary, especially if there are no children. Because women marry into a patrilineal descent system, the children belong to the father. Because wives do not become part of the husband's kin group, marriages tend to be brittle.

Kin Groups. Kinship ties involve loyalty as well as obligation. Outside the immediate family, the lineage and the clan are the most common descent groups. Kin are expected to attend important ceremonies and provide financial aid. Kin networks link members in urban and rural areas. Children may be sent to relatives to raise, but fostering sometimes results in country relatives being brought to large cities to work as domestic servants.

Domestic Unit. The average household contains six persons, but extended families and polygamous households may be much larger. Often close relatives live in the same vicinity in separate households but function as a cooperative economic unit.


Infant Care. Infants are carried, often on the mother's back, and most are breast-fed. Children are cared for by siblings and other family members when they are not with the mother. Babies sleep anywhere, no matter how noisy it is.

Child Rearing and Education. Children are expected to be obedient and to show respect for their elders. Children learn gender-appropriate tasks early, especially girls. Most children have few toys and amuse themselves with simple games. It is estimated that 8 percent of rural children work as laborers on plantations and as domestic servants.

The educational system is modeled after that of France. School is free and compulsory for seven years beginning at age five. However, many families cannot afford uniforms and supplies or need their children's labor. It is recognized that education is the key to social advancement, and most parents sacrifice to send their children to school.


Good manners include taking time to greet people properly, using conventional oral formulas. Upon entering or leaving an appointment, it is appropriate to shake the hand of each person present. People who are well acquainted may greet each other by kissing on the cheek. Public displays of affection between members of the opposite sex are discouraged, but men frequently walk together holding hands. Offering food and drink to visitors is a key element of hospitality, and to refuse is considered rude. Many people eat in the traditional style, using the fingers of the right hand. It is considered bad taste to eat with the left hand or offer another person something with it.


Religious Beliefs. About 15 percent of the population is Muslim, and 15 percent is Christian, mostly Roman Catholic. The rest of the population follows indigenous systems of belief. Vodun (voodoo) was taken with the coastal slaves to Brazil and the Caribbean. Some Vodun spirits were borrowed from the Yoruba religion, and Vodun involves divination and spirit possession. These supernatural powers help believers cope with illness and infertility and provide a philosophy for living.

Death and the Afterlife. In indigenous belief systems, ancestors are considered to remain part of the community after death. Shrines honor the ancestors, and offerings "feed" them. Among the Fon, circular metal sculptures on staffs called asen are made for each deceased person and kept in the family compound. In some communities, funerals involve a sequence of rituals before the person is considered to have made a complete transition to being an ancestor.

Medicine and Health Care

The birthrate and maternal mortality rate are high. Malaria and diarrheal dehydration are endemic. Only half the population is vaccinated. Over three-quarters of the population does not have access to primary health care. AIDS is straining the health care system. The rates of infection is three times higher in rural areas. People often employ more than one system of healing. Even those who have access to an infirmary or clinic may visit herbalists or other healers.

Secular and Religious Celebrations

The major state holidays are New Year's Day (1 January), May Day (1 May), and National Day (1 August).

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Support for the arts and humanities is limited by poverty of the nation.

Literature. Benin has produced many scholars and writers from the educated urban class, such as the novelist and historian Paul Hazoumé and the philosopher Paulin Houndtonji.

Graphic Arts. The arts include fine craftsmanship in iron and brass and cloth appliqué banners associated with ancient Dahomey.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

There is only one postsecondary institution, the University of Benin in Cotonou. The university serves as a base for international research teams, and its faculty members have produced important scholarly contributions. About twelve thousand students are enrolled.


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Josephine Caldwell Ryan

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The people of Benin are called the Beninese. There are more than forty-two ethnic groups in Benin. The Fon make up 40 percent of the population.

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BeninAberdeen, Amin, aquamarine, baleen, bean, been, beguine, Benin, between, canteen, careen, Claudine, clean, contravene, convene, cuisine, dean, Dene, e'en, eighteen, fascine, fedayeen, fifteen, figurine, foreseen, fourteen, Francine, gean, gene, glean, gombeen, green, Greene, Halloween, intervene, Janine, Jean, Jeannine, Jolene, Kean, keen, Keene, Ladin, langoustine, latrine, lean, limousine, machine, Maclean, magazine, Malines, margarine, marine, Mascarene, Massine, Maxine, mean, Medellín, mesne, mien, Moline, moreen, mujahedin, Nadine, nankeen, Nazarene, Nene, nineteen, nougatine, obscene, palanquin, peen, poteen, preen, quean, queen, Rabin, Racine, ramin, ravine, routine, Sabine, saltine, sardine, sarin, sateen, scene, screen, seen, serene, seventeen, shagreen, shebeen, sheen, sixteen, spleen, spring-clean, squireen, Steen, submarine, supervene, tambourine, tangerine, teen, terrine, thirteen, transmarine, treen, tureen, Tyrrhene, ultramarine, umpteen, velveteen, wean, ween, Wheen, yean •soybean • buckbean

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BenineseAchinese, Ambonese, appease, Assamese, Balinese, Belize, Beninese, Bernese, bêtise, Bhutanese, breeze, Burmese, Cantonese, Castries, cerise, cheese, chemise, Chinese, Cingalese, Cleese, Congolese, Denise, Dodecanese, ease, éminence grise, expertise, Faroese, freeze, Fries, frieze, Gabonese, Genoese, Goanese, Guyanese, he's, Japanese, Javanese, jeez, journalese, Kanarese, Keys, Lebanese, lees, legalese, Louise, Macanese, Madurese, Maltese, marquise, Milanese, Nepalese, Nipponese, officialese, overseas, pease, Pekinese, Peloponnese, Piedmontese, please, Portuguese, Pyrenees, reprise, Rwandese, seise, seize, Senegalese, she's, Siamese, Sienese, Sikkimese, Sinhalese, sleaze, sneeze, squeeze, Stockton-on-Tees, Sudanese, Sundanese, Surinamese, Tabriz, Taiwanese, tease, Tees, telegraphese, these, Timorese, Togolese, trapeze, valise, Viennese, Vietnamese, vocalese, wheeze •superficies • Héloïse • Averroës •rabies • pubes • Maccabees •headcheese

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