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Benin

BENIN

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
TOPOGRAPHY
CLIMATE
FLORA AND FAUNA
ENVIRONMENT
POPULATION
MIGRATION
ETHNIC GROUPS
LANGUAGES
RELIGIONS
TRANSPORTATION
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL PARTIES
LOCAL GOVERNMENT
JUDICIAL SYSTEM
ARMED FORCES
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
ECONOMY
INCOME
LABOR
AGRICULTURE
ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
FISHING
FORESTRY
MINING
ENERGY AND POWER
INDUSTRY
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
DOMESTIC TRADE
FOREIGN TRADE
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
BANKING AND SECURITIES
INSURANCE
PUBLIC FINANCE
TAXATION
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
FOREIGN INVESTMENT
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HEALTH
HOUSING
EDUCATION
LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
MEDIA
ORGANIZATIONS
TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION
FAMOUS BENINESE
DEPENDENCIES
BIBLIOGRAPHY

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.

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT

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.

TOPOGRAPHY

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.

CLIMATE

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.

FLORA AND FAUNA

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.

ENVIRONMENT

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.

POPULATION

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.

MIGRATION

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.

ETHNIC GROUPS

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.

LANGUAGES

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.

RELIGIONS

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.

TRANSPORTATION

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.

HISTORY

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.

GOVERNMENT

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.

POLITICAL PARTIES

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.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

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.

JUDICIAL SYSTEM

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.

ARMED FORCES

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.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

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.

ECONOMY

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.

INCOME

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.

LABOR

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.

AGRICULTURE

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.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY

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.

FISHING

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.

FORESTRY

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.

MINING

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.

ENERGY AND POWER

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.

INDUSTRY

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.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

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.

DOMESTIC TRADE

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.

FOREIGN TRADE

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%).

BALANCE OF PAYMENTS

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.

BANKING AND SECURITIES

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

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

PUBLIC FINANCE

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.

TAXATION

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.

CUSTOMS AND DUTIES

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.

FOREIGN INVESTMENT

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.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

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.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

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.

HEALTH

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.

HOUSING

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.

EDUCATION

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.

LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS

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.

MEDIA

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.

ORGANIZATIONS

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.

TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION

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.

FAMOUS BENINESE

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.

DEPENDENCIES

Benin has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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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Benin

BENIN

The Republic of Benin

Major Cities:
Cotonou, Porto Novo

Other Cities:
Abomey, Ouidah, Parakou

EDITOR'S NOTE

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 http://travel.state.gov/ for the most recent information available on travel to this country.

INTRODUCTION

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.

MAJOR CITIES

Cotonou

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.

Recreation

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.

Entertainment

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.

OTHER CITIES

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.

COUNTRY PROFILE

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.

Population

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.

Government

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.

Transportation

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.

Communications

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.

Health

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.

LOCAL HOLIDAYS

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*

Ramadan*

Id al-Fitr*

Mawlid an Nabi*

*Variable

NOTES FOR TRAVELERS

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.

RECOMMENDED READING

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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Benin

BENIN

Republic of Benin
République du Bénin

COUNTRY OVERVIEW

LOCATION AND SIZE.

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.

POPULATION.

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).

OVERVIEW OF ECONOMY

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.

POLITICS, GOVERNMENT, AND TAXATION

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.

INFRASTRUCTURE, POWER, AND COMMUNICATIONS

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

Communications
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 (http://www.isc.org) 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.

ECONOMIC SECTORS

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.

AGRICULTURE

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.

INDUSTRY

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.

SERVICES

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.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE

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.

MONEY

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].

POVERTY AND WEALTH

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.

WORKING CONDITIONS

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.

COUNTRY HISTORY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

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.

FUTURE TRENDS

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.

DEPENDENCIES

Benin has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

"Benin Economy." Newafrica.com. <http://www.newafrica.com/profiles/economy.asp?countryid=6>. 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. <http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Benin. <http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/business/com_ guides2001/africa/index.html>. Accessed October 2001.

Jack Hodd

CAPITAL:

Porto-Novo.

MONETARY UNIT:

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.

CHIEF EXPORTS:

Cotton, crude oil, palm products, cocoa.

CHIEF IMPORTS:

Foodstuffs, tobacco, petroleum products, capital goods.

GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT:

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

BALANCE OF TRADE:

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

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Beninese

Beninese

PRONUNCIATION: ben-uh-NEEZ

ALTERNATE NAME: (former) Dahomey

LOCATION: Benin

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

1 INTRODUCTION

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.

2 LOCATION

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).

3 LANGUAGE

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.

ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION
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

4 FOLKLORE

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.

5 RELIGION

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.

6 MAJOR HOLIDAYS

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.

7 RITES OF PASSAGE

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.

8 RELATIONSHIPS

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.

9 LIVING CONDITIONS

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.

10 FAMILY LIFE

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.

11 CLOTHING

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.

12 FOOD

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).

Recipe

African Vegetable Stew

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  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.

13 EDUCATION

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.

14 CULTURAL HERITAGE

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.

15 WORK

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.

16 SPORTS

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

17 RECREATION

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.

18 CRAFTS AND HOBBIES

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.

19 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

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.

20 BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

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

WEBSITES

Internet Africa Ltd. [Online] Available http://www.africanet.com/africanet/country/benin/, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Benin. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/bj/gen.html, 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.

Economy

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.

Government

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.

History

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.

Bibliography

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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Benin

Benin

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)

1 LOCATION AND SIZE

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.

2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES

Benin has no outside territories or dependencies.

3 CLIMATE

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.

4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS

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.

5 OCEANS AND SEAS

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.

6 INLAND LAKES

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

7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS

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.

8 DESERTS

Benin has no significant desert regions.

9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN

The low-lying coastal plain is flat and sandy.

DID YOU KNOW?

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.

10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES

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.

11 CANYONS AND CAVES

There are no notable caves or canyons in Benin.

12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS

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.

13 MAN-MADE FEATURES

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.

14 FURTHER READING

Books

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. http://www.mbendi.co.za/land/af/be/p0005.htm (accessed June 22, 2003).

World Desk Reference Web site. http://www.travel.dk.com/wdr/BJ/mBJ_Intr.htm# (accessed February 21, 2003).

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Benin

Benin


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.


Bibliography

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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Benin

Benin

area:

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

population:

6,395,919

capital (population):

Porto-Novo (179,938)

government:

Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Fon, Adja, Bariba, Yoruba, Fulani, Somba

languages:

French (official)

religions:

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

currency:

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.

Economy

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

Websites

http://www.afrika.no/index/Countries/Benin/index.html; http://www.benintourism.com

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Benin

Benin

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.

Bibliography

Adjovi, Emmanuel, "Media Status Report: Niger," Partners for Media in Africa, Research and Technology Exchange Group, June 2001. Available from http://www.gret.org/mediapartner/uk2/ressource/edm/pdf/benin.pdf.

"Benin." Central Intelligence Agency, The World Fact-book 2001. Available from http://www.cia.gov.

"Benin." International Press Institute. 2001 World Press Freedom Review. Available from http://www.freemedia.at/wpfr/benin.htm.

Benin, The Press. In The Europa World Yearbook 2000, 667-8. London: Europa Publications, 2001.

"Benin: Press Overview." International Journalists' Federation, 2001. Available from http://www.ijnet.org/Profile/Africa/Niger/media.html.

"Niger." Committee to Protect Journalists, Africa 2001. Available from http://www.cpj.org/attacks01/africa01/benin.html.

Denis Fitzgerald

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Benin

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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Benin

Benin

Culture Name

Beninese

Orientation

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.

Socialization

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.

Etiquette

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.

Religion

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.

Bibliography

Adam, Kolawolé Sikirou, and Michel Boko. Le Bénin, 1983.

Allen, Chris, "Benin," in Benin, The Congo, Burkina Faso: Economics, Politics and Society, 1989.

Bay, Edna G. Wives of the Leopard: Gender, Politics, and Culture in the Kingdom of Dahomey, 1998.

Blier, Suzanne. African Vodun: Art, Psychology, and Power, 1994.

Cornevin, Robert. La Republique Populaire du Benin: Des Origines Dahoméennes a Nos Jours, 1981.

Decalo, Samuel. Coups and Army Rule in Africa: Studies in Military Style, 1976.

. Historical Dictionary of Benin, 3rd ed., 1995.

Eades, J. S., and Chris Allen. Benin, 1996.

Herskovits, Melville J. Dahomey: An Ancient West African Kingdom, 1938.

Kodjogbé, Nicaise, Gora Mboup, Justin Tossou, et al. Enquête Démographique et de Santé, Republique de Bénin, 1996, 1997.

Law, Robin. The Kingdom of Allada, 1997.

. "The Politics of Commercial Transition: Factional Conflict in Dahomey in the Context of the Ending of the Atlantic Slave Trade." Journal of African History 38 (2): 213233, 1997.

Lombard, Jacques. Structures de Type "Feodal" en Afrique Noire: Études des Dynamismes Internes et des Relations Sociales chez les Bariba du Dahomey, 1956.

Manning, Patrick. Slavery, Colonialism and Economic Growth in Dahomey, 16401960, 1982.

Mercier, Paul. Tradition, Changement, Histoire: Les "Somba" du Dahomey Septentrional, 1968.

Midiohouan, Thécla. "La Femme dans la Vie Politique, Économique et Sociale en RPB." Presence Africaine 141: 5970, 1987.

Parrinder, Geoffrey. "Dahomey Half a Century Ago." Journal of Religion in Africa 19 (3): 264273, 1989.

Ronen, Dov. Dahomey: Between Tradition and Modernity, 1975.

Ryan, Josephine Caldwell. "Changing Foodways in Parakou, Benin: A Study of the Dietary Behavior of Urban Bariba and Dendi Women." Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, 1996.

Sargent, Carolyn Fishel. The Cultural Context of Therapeutic Choice: Obstetrical Care Decisions among the Bariba of Benin, 1982.

. Maternity, Medicine and Power: Reproductive Decisions in Urban Benin, 1989.

Whiteman, Kaye. "High Road to Nowhere: African Aftermath." Encounter 74 (4): 6770, 1990.

Josephine Caldwell Ryan

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Benin

Benin

BENINESE 173

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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Benin

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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Beninese

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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Benin

Benin

PROFILE
GEOGRAPHY
PEOPLE
HISTORY
ECONOMY
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-BENINESE RELATIONS
TRAVEL

Compiled from the September 2007 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:

Republic of Benin

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 116,622 sq. km. (43,483 sq. mi.).

Cities: Capital—Porto-Novo (pop. 295,000). Political and economic capital—Cotonou (pop. 2 million).

Terrain: Mostly flat plains of 200 meters average elevation, but the Atacora Mountains extend along the northwest border, with the highest point being Mont Sokbaro 658 meters.

Climate: Tropical, average temperatures between 24o and 31°C. Humid in south; semiarid in north.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Beninese (singular and plural).

Population: (2005 est.) 7.86 million.

Annual growth rate: (2006 est.) 2.73%.

Ethnic groups: African 99% (42 ethnic groups, most important being Fon, Adja, Yoruba, and Bariba), Europeans 5,500.

Religions: Indigenous beliefs (animist) 50%, Christian 30%, Muslim 20%.

Languages: French (official), Fon and Yoruba in the south; Nagot, Bariba and Dendi in the north.

Education: (2001 est.) Literacy—Total population 33.6%; men 46.4%, women 22.6%.

Health: (2005 est.) Infant mortality rate—79.56/1,000. Life expectancy—53.04 yrs.

Work force: The labor market is characterized by an increased reliance on informal employment, family helpers, and the use of apprentices. Training and job opportunities are not well matched.

Government

Type: Republic under multiparty democratic rule.

Independence: August 1, 1960.

Constitution: December 10, 1990.

Government branches: Executive—President, elected by popular vote for 5-year term, appoints the Cabinet. Legislative—Unicameral, 83-seat National Assembly directly elected by popular vote for 4-year terms. Judicial—Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, High Court of Justice.

Political subdivisions: Twelve departments: Alibori, Atakora, Atlantique, Borgou, Collines, Couffo, Donga, Littoral, Mono, Oueme, Plateau, and Zou.

Political parties: (partial listing of major parties) La Renaissance du Bénin (RB), Party of Democratic Renewal (PRD), Social-Democrat Party (PSD), African Movement for Development and Progress (MADEP), Party of Democratic Renewal-Rainbow (PRD-Arc-en-ciel), Alliance Etoile, Action Front for Democratic Renewal (FARD-ALA-FIA), African Congress for Renewal (CAR-DUNYA), Impulse for Progress and Democracy (IPD), Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP), National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), New Generation for the Republic (NGR), Our Common Cause (NCC), Ensemble, National Rally for Democracy (RND), Rally for Progress and Renewal (RPR), Movement for the People Alternative (MAP), National Rally for Unity and Democracy (RUND), Congress of African Democrat (CAD), Movement for Citizens’ Commitment and Awakening (MERCI), Democratic Union for Economic and Social Development (UDES), Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), Communist Party of Benin (PCB).

Economy

GDP: (2005 est.) $8.6 billion.

Real GDP growth rate: (2005) 3.9%.

Per capita GDP: (2005) $1,100.

Inflation rate: (2005) 3.2%.

Natural resources: Small offshore oil deposits, unexploited deposits of high quality marble limestone, and timber.

Agricultural: Products—corn, sorghum, cassava, tapioca, yams, beans, rice, cotton, palm oil, cocoa, peanuts, poultry, and livestock. Arable land—13%. Permanent crops 4%, permanent pastures 4%, forests and woodland 31%.

Business and industry: Textiles, cigarettes, food and beverages, construction materials, petroleum.

Trade: Exports—$485 million: cotton, crude oil, palm products, cocoa. Imports—$726 million: foodstuffs, tobacco, petroleum products, energy, and capital goods. Major trade partners—Nigeria, France, China, Italy, Brazil, Libya, Indonesia, U.K., Cote d'Ivoire.

GEOGRAPHY

Benin, a narrow, north-south strip of land in West Africa, lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. Benin's latitude ranges from 6°30N to 12°30N and its longitude from 10E to 3°40E. Benin is bounded by Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east, and the Bight of Benin to the south. With an area of 112,622 square kilometers, roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Benin extends from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, a distance of 700 kilometers (about 500 mi.). Although the coastline measures 121 kilometers (about 80 mi.), the country measures about 325 kilometers (about 215 mi.) at its widest point. It is one of the smaller countries in West Africa: eight times smaller than Nigeria, its neighbor to the east. It is, however, twice as large as Togo, its neighbor to the west. A relief map of Benin shows that it has little variation in elevation (average elevation 200 meters).

The country can be divided into four main areas from the south to the north. The low-lying, sandy, coastal plain (highest elevation 10 meters) is, at most, 10 kilometers wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons communicating with the ocean. The plateaus of southern Benin (altitude between 20 meters and 200 meters) are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Oueme Rivers. An area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 meters extends around Nikki and Save. Finally, a range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo; this is the Atacora, with the highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 658 meters. Two types of landscape predominate in the south. Benin has fields of lying fallow, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrubs and dotted with huge baobab trees. Some forests line the banks of rivers. In the north and the northwest of Benin the Reserve du W du Niger and Pendjari National Park attract tourists eager to see elephants, lions, antelopes, hippos, and monkeys.

Benin's climate is hot and humid. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 36 cm. (14 in.), not particularly high for coastal West Africa. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons. 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 31°C (89°F); the minimum is 24°C (75°F).

Variations in temperature increase when moving north through a savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the Harmattan blows from December to March. Grass dries up, the vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be overcast. It also is the season when farmers burn brush in the fields.

PEOPLE

The majority of Benin's 7.86 million people live in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 53 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendi in the north-central area (they came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fulbe (Peul) in the northeast; the Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atacora Range; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.

Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin that include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European embassies and foreign aid missions and of nongovernmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large number of the 5,500 European population.

Several religions are practiced in Benin. Animism is widespread (50%), and its practices vary from one ethnic group to the other. Arab merchants introduced Islam in the north and among the Yoruba. European missionaries brought Christianity to the south and central areas of Benin. Muslims account for 20% of the population and Christians for 30%. Many nominal Muslims and Christians continue to practice animistic traditions. It is believed that voodoo originated in Benin and was introduced to Brazil and the Caribbean Islands by slaves taken from this particular area of the Slave Coast.

HISTORY

Benin was the seat of one of the great medieval African kingdoms called Dahomey. Europeans began arriving in the area in the 18th century, as the kingdom of Dahomey was expanding its territory. The Portuguese, the French, and the Dutch established trading posts along the coast (Porto-Novo, Ouidah, Cotonou), and traded weapons for slaves. Slave trade ended in 1848. Then, the French signed treaties with Kings of Abomey (Guézo, Toffa, Glélè) to establish French protectorates in the main cities and ports. However, King Behanzin fought the French influence, which cost him deportation to Martinique. As of 1900, the territory became a French colony ruled by a French Governor. Expansion continued to the North (kingdoms of Parakou, Nikki, Kandi), up to the border with former Upper Volta. On December 4, 1958, it became the Republique du Dahomey, self-governing within the French community, and on August 1, 1960, the Republic of Benin gained full independence from France.

Post-Independence Politics

Between 1960 and 1972, a succession of military coups brought about many changes of government. The last of these brought to power Major Mathieu Kérékou as the head of a regime professing strict Marxist-Leninist principles. The Revolutionary Party of the People of Benin (PRPB) remained in complete power until the beginning of the 1990s. Kérékou, encouraged by France and other democratic powers, convened a national conference that introduced a new democratic constitution and held presidential and legislative elections. Kérékou's principal opponent at the presidential poll, and the ultimate victor, was Prime Minister Nicéphore Soglo. Supporters of Soglo also secured a majority in the National Assembly.

Benin was thus the first African country to effect successfully the transition from dictatorship to a pluralistic political system. In the second round of National Assembly elections held in March 1995, Soglo's political vehicle, the Parti de la Renaissance du Benin, was the largest single party but lacked an overall majority. The success of a party formed by supporters of ex-president Kérékou, who had officially retired from active politics, encouraged him to stand successfully at both the 1996 and 2001 presidential elections.

During the 2001 elections, however, alleged irregularities and dubious practices led to a boycott of the run-

off poll by the main opposition candidates. The four top-ranking contenders following the first round presidential elections were Mathieu Kérékou (incumbent) 45.4%, Niceph-ore Soglo (former president) 27.1%, Adrien Houngbedji (National Assembly Speaker) 12.6%, and Bruno Amoussou (Minister of State) 8.6%. The second round balloting, originally scheduled for March 18, 2001, was postponed for days because both

Soglo and Houngbedji withdrew, alleging electoral fraud. This left Kérékou to run against his own Minister of State, Amoussou, in what was termed a “friendly match.”

In December 2002, Benin held its first municipal elections since before the institution of Marxism-Leninism. The process was smooth with the significant exception of the 12th district council for Cotonou, the contest that would ultimately determine who would be selected for the mayoralty of the capital city. That vote was marred by irregularities, and the electoral commission was forced to repeat that single election. Nicephore Soglo's Renaisance du Benin (RB) party won the new vote, paving the way for the former president to be elected Mayor of Cotonou by the new city council in February 2002.

National Assembly elections took place in March 2003 and were generally considered to be free and fair. Although there were some irregularities, these were not significant and did not greatly disrupt the proceedings or the results. These elections resulted in a loss of seats by RB—the primary opposition party. The other opposition parties, the Party for Democratic Renewal (PRD) led by the former Prime Minister Adrien Houngbedji and the Alliance Etoile (AE), joined the government coalition. Former West African Development Bank Director Boni Yayi won the March 2006 election for the presidency in a field of 26 candidates. International observers including the United Nations, Economic Community of West African States (ECO-WAS), and others called the election free, fair, and transparent. President Kérékou was barred from running under the 1990 constitution due to term and age limits. President Yayi was inaugurated on April 6, 2006.

Benin held legislative elections on March 31, 2007 for the 83 seats in the National Assembly. The “Force Cowrie for an Emerging Benin” (FCBE) party, closely linked to President Yayi, won a plurality of the seats in the National Assembly, providing the president with considerable influence over the legislative agenda.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 2/1/2008

Pres.: Thomas YAYI Boni

Min. of State in Charge of the Economy, Economic Forecasting, Development, & Evaluations of Public Action: Pascal Irene KOUPAKI

Min. of State in Charge of National Defense: Issifou Kgui N’DOURO

Min. of Admin. & Institutional Reform: Idrissou Sina Bio GOUNOU

Min. of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, & Fisheries: Roger DOVONOU

Min. in Charge of Relations With Institutions & Spokesman for the Govt.: Alexandre HOUTONDJI

Min. of Culture, Tourism, & Handicrafts: Soumanu TOLEBA

Min. of Decentralization, Local Communities, & Land Management: Dmolo Issa MOKO

Min. of Environment & Conservation of Nature: Juliette Koudenoukpo BIAOU

Min. of Family & Children: Gnimbr DANSOU

Min. of Finance: Soul Man LAWANI

Min. of Foreign Affairs, African Integration, Francophonie, & Beninese Diaspora: Moussa OKANLA

Min. of Health: Kessile TCHALA

Min. of Higher Education & Scientific Research: Vicentia BOCCO

Min. of Industry, Commerce, & Small & Medium Scale Enterprises: Gregoire AKOFODJI

Min. of Interior & Public Security: Felix HESSOU

Min. of Justice, Legislation, & Human Rights, & Keeper of the Seals: Cassa Gustave ANANI

Min. of Microfinance & Youth & Women'sEmployment: Sakinatou Abdou Alfa Orou SIDI

Min. of Mines, Energy, & Water: Sacca LAFIA

Min. of Primary Education, Literacy, & National Languages: Christine OUINSAVI

Min. of Secondary Education, Vocational Training, & Technical Training: Bernadette Sohoudji AGBOSSOU

Min. of Urban Development, Land Reform, & Erosion Prevention: Francois Gbendoukpo NOUDEGBESSI

Min. of Work & Public Service: Emmanuel TIANDO

Min. of Youth, Sports, & Leisure: Ganiou SOGLO

Min.-Del. for Budget in the Office of the Minister of Finance: Albert Segbegnon HOUNGBO

Min.-Del. to the Pres. in Charge of Communications & New Technologies: Dsir ADADJA

Min.-Del. to the Pres. for Transport & Public Works: Armand ZINZINDOHOUE

Governor, Central Bank: Charles Konan BANNY

Ambassador to the US: Cyrille Segbe OGUIN

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Jean-Marie EHOUZOU

Benin maintains an embassy in the United States at 2124 Kalorama Road, Washington, DC 20008, tel. 202-232-6656. The Permanent Representative of the Republic of Benin to the United Nations is located at 4 East 73rd Street, New York, NY 10021 tel. 212-249-6014, fax 212-734-4735.

ECONOMY

Benin's economy is chiefly based on agriculture. Cotton accounts for 40% of GDP and roughly 80% of official export receipts. There also is production of textiles, palm products, and cocoa. Corn, beans, rice, peanuts, cashews, pineapples, cassava, yams, and other various tubers are grown for local subsistence. Benin began producing a modest quantity of offshore oil in October 1982. Production ceased in recent years but exploration of new sites is ongoing. A modest fishing fleet provides fish and shrimp for local subsistence and export to Europe. A number of formerly government-owned commercial activities are now privatized, and the government, consistent with its commitments to the IMF and World Bank, has plans to continue on this path. Smaller businesses are privately owned by Beninese citizens, but some firms are foreign owned, primarily French and Lebanese. The private commercial and agricultural sectors remain the principal contributors to growth.

Economic Development

Since the transition to a democratic government in 1990, Benin has undergone a remarkable economic recovery. A large injection of external investment from both private and public sources has alleviated the economic difficulties of the early 1990s caused by global recession and persistently low commodity prices (although the latter continues to affect the economy). The manufacturing sector is confined to some light industry, which is mainly involved in processing primary products and the production of consumer goods.

Benin is dependent on imported electricity, mostly from Ghana, which currently accounts for a significant proportion of the country's imports. Benin has several initiatives to attract foreign capital to build electricity generation facilities in Benin in order to break this dependency. The service sector has grown quickly, stimulated by economic liberalization and fiscal reform. Membership of the CFA Franc Zone offers reasonable currency stability. Benin sells its products mainly to France and, in smaller quantities, to the Netherlands, Korea, Japan, and India. France is Benin's leading source for imports. Benin also is a member of the West African economic community ECOWAS.

In March 2003, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to support a comprehensive debt reduction package for Benin under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Debt relief under HIPC amounts to approximately $460 million. Benin received $27.1 million in 2002 and received $32.9 million in 2003. HIPC will reduce Benin's debt-to-export ratio, freeing up considerable resources for education, health, and other anti-poverty programs.

Despite its growth, the economy of Benin still remains underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. Growth in real output averaged a sound 5% from 1996 to 2003, but a rapid population rise offset much of this growth on a per capita basis. Real economic growth for 2004 was estimated at 5%. Commercial and transport activities, which make up a large part of GDP, are vulnerable to developments in Nigeria, including fuel shortages. Recent heightened enforcement of Nigerian customs regulations, an unfavorable exchange rate with the Naira and difficulties at Cotonou's port have contributed to the economic downturn.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Abroad, Benin has strengthened ties with France, the former colonial power, as well as the United States and the main international lending institutions. Benin also has adopted a mediating role in the political crises in Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, and Togo and provided a contribution to the UN force in Haiti. In early 2003, Benin provided a peacekeeping contingent to the ECOWAS stabilization force in Cote d’Ivoire. Benin's democratic standing, stability, and positive role in international peacekeeping have helped Benin's international stature continue to grow. Benin enjoys stable relations with Nigeria, the main regional power. Benin held a seat on the UN Security Council; its membership term ended December 31, 2005.

U.S.-BENINESE RELATIONS

The United States and Benin have had an excellent history of relations in the years since Benin embraced democracy. The U.S. Government continues to assist Benin with the improvement of living standards that are key to the ultimate success of Benin's experiment with democratic government and economic liberalization, and are consistent with U.S. values and national interest in reducing poverty and promoting growth. The bulk of the U.S. effort in support of consolidating democracy in Benin is focused on long-term human resource development through U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs.

Efforts to pursue this national interest are spearheaded by USAID, which has effective programs focused on primary education, family health (including family planning), women's and children's health, and combating sexually transmitted diseases, especially the spread of HIV. USAID's Democracy and Governance program also emphasizes encouraging greater civil society involvement in national decisionmaking; strengthening mechanisms to promote transparency and accountability; improving the environment for decentralized private and local initiatives; and enhancing the electoral system and the national legislature. A panoply of military-to-military cooperation programs reinforces democratizing efforts. U.S.-Benin military cooperation is now being expanding, both bilaterally and within a broader regional framework.

In February 2006, the Government of Benin signed a 5-year $308 million Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) to increase investment and private sector activity in Benin. The program removes key constraints to growth and supports improvements in physical and institutional infrastructures in four critical sectors: land, financial services, justice, and markets. The proposed projects reinforce each other, contributing to an economic rate of return of 17%.

The U.S. advances the ethos of law enforcement by working with Beninese authorities to crack down on crimes, help eradicate corruption, promote good governance, the rule of law, and greater official accountability. The U.S. Public Affairs Office in Cotonou leads the U.S.-Benin cultural, professional, and educational exchanges, with a focus on helping educate the Government of Benin and the public on the trade opportunities and advantages of the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The PA Office also helps in expanding efforts to build a more responsible media. The U.S. Peace Corps program in Benin provides ongoing opportunities for increased understanding between Beninese and Americans. The approximately 110 volunteers promote sustainable development through activities in health, education, the environment, and small enterprise development. The U.S. Peace Corps program in Benin is one of the most successful in Africa, in part because of Beninese receptivity and collaboration.

Currently, trade between Benin and the United States is small, but interest in American products is growing. The United States is interested in promoting increased trade with Benin in order to contribute to U.S. trade with Benin's neighbors, particularly Nigeria, Niger, and Burkina Faso, which receive large amounts of their own imports through the port of Cotonou. Such trade also is facilitated by Benin's membership in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and in the CFA franc monetary zone. The U.S. Government also works to stimulate American investment in key sectors such as energy, telecommunications, and transportation. Benin has been eligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) since the program began in 2000. It qualified for AGOA textile and apparel benefits in January 2004.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Last Updated: 2/19/2008

COTONOU (E) Rue CaPOral Bernard Anani, APO/FPO 2120 Cotonou Place, Dulles, VA 20189-2120, (229) 21 30 06 50, Fax (229) 21 30 19 74, INMARSAT Tel 762768573, 763682952 763682956, Workweek: Mon-Thurs 8:00-5:30, Fri 7:30-1:300, Website: http://cotonou.usembassy.gov.

AMB OMS:Penelope Tavernier
HRO:Lyngrid S. Rawlings
MGT:Lyngrid Rawlings
POL ECO:Jason Hahn
AMB:Gayleatha B. Brown
CON:Christopher Derrick
DCM:Martina Boustani
GSO:Neill Krost
RSO:Keith Harris
AID:Rudolph Thomas
CLO:Guy Andang
FIN:Javier Araujo
ICASS:Chair Rudolph Thomas
IMO:Gerald Spears
ISSO:William Geschwind
State ICASS:Christopher Derrick

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

August 28, 2007

Country Description: Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo; however, its administrative capital, Coto-nou, is Benin's largest city and the site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity.

Entry Requirements: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road, NW, Washington, DC 20008; Tel: 202-232-6656.

Safety and Security: U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach, at any time of day, alone. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport.

They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark. The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affair's Internet site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution Travel Alert, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.

Crime: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occurs along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly-lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked, and stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason.

Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark. Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.

Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

  • Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your “discretion” or “confidentiality;”
  • Any deal that seems too good to be true;
  • Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
  • Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
  • Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
  • Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
  • Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by “a reliable contact;”
  • Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
  • Any offer of a charitable donation.

These scams, which may appear to be a legitimate business deal requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys.

One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense—if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel. Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be “rescued.” If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC travelers’ health web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.

Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior. Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.

U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out. With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is nonexistent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants’ demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.

Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov.

Special Circumstances: U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin. The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a “gift” to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined. It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval. Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Registration and Embassy Locations: Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy's general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section's fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov.

International Adoption

September 2006

The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Patterns of Immigration: Recent immigration visa statistics show that only one immigrant visa has been issued to a Beninese orphan in the last five years.

Adoption Authority: An adoption request must be filed in the local court of the town/city where the child resides. Adoptions are handled by the courts in Benin.

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: A Beninese child can be adopted by a Beninese citizen or by a citizen of another country. Adoptive parents must be either a couple who has been married for five years OR the spouse of a biological parent OR an unmarried individual of at least 35 years of age.

Exceptions to these requirements may be obtained by a court order from the local court where the child resides.

Residency Requirements: There is no residency requirement for adoption in Benin.

Time Frame: Adoptions in Benin can take several months. It is likely to take longer if the child you are adopting does not live in a major city. In addition to the actual petition for adoption, adoptive parents must also provide birth certificates for all parties (including any biological parent still living) and this process can take several months.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: Adopting a child in Benin can be done independently by the prospective parent(s). It is advisable to retain a lawyer to assist with the court proceedings. An attorneys list may be found on the U.S. Embassy web site at: http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/listoflawyers.html.

Adoption Fees: Adoptive parents must pay court fees and fees to obtain other needed paperwork. The initial fee to submit documents is only 2000 fCFA (approx. $4), but in some cases there may be additional fees. For example, one family paid for the printing of a book of new forms required to obtain local birth certificates because the local government could not afford to pay for it, and there was no other way to get the birth certificate they needed to continue the processing of their adoption petition. Local courts may also have their own fee structures for filing petitions.

Adoption Procedures: An adoption request can be filed by a couple who has been married at least five years, the spouse of one of the biological parents, or an unmarried individual of at least 35 years of age. There is no maximum age defined in the law. All adoptive parents must be childless and the age difference between the parent(s) and the child must be at least 15 years. The local judge hearing the case can make an exception if he/she believes it is warranted and grant an adoption to parent(s) who have biological or adoptive children already.

The granting of consent for the child's adoption by the biological parent(s) or guardian of the child must take place in the presence of a judge, a notary public or (if outside of Benin) a consular officer at a Beninese Embassy. Prospective parent(s) are required to submit a written request to the Tribunal along with a certified agreement to adopt the child, birth certificates (for themselves, the child and any biological parent), a marriage certificate (if applicable), a document of consent by the biological parent(s) and paperwork documenting their ability to support the child financially (e.g. bank statements etc. Although there is a new Family Code in Benin that is supposed to regularize procedures and forms throughout the country, it has not been fully implemented and different localities may have different procedures or may not know/have access to the appropriate forms or procedures for family related issues. The adoption process can be complicated and lengthy and a local lawyer is probably the best resource for the questions of any prospective adoptive parent(s).

Required Documents: Prospective parent(s) are required to submit a written request along with a certified agreement to adopt the child, birth certificates (for themselves, the child and any biological parent), a marriage certificate (if applicable), a document of consent by the biological parent(s) and paperwork documenting their ability to support the child financially (e.g. bank statements etc.).

Embassy of the Republic of Benin
2124 Kalorama Road, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
Telephone: (202) 232-6656
Fax: (202) 265-1996

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adoptive parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions.

Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy Cotonou Rue
Caporal Bernard Anani
01 BP 2012
Cotonou, Benin

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Benin may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Benin. General questions regarding intercountry adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

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Benin

BENIN

Compiled from the August 2005 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Benin


PROFILE

Geography

Area:

116,622 sq. km. (43,483 sq. mi.).

Cities:

Capital—Porto-Novo (pop. 295,000). Political and economic capital—Cotonou (pop. 2 million).

Terrain:

Mostly flat plains of 200 meters average elevation, but the Atacora Mountains extend along the northwest border, with the highest point being Mont Sokbaro 658 meters.

Climate:

Tropical, average temperatures between 24o and 31oC. Humid in south; semiarid in north.

People

Nationality:

Noun and adjective—Beninese (singular and plural).

Population (2004 est.):

7.25 million.

Annual growth rate (2001 est.):

2.89%.

Ethnic groups:

African 99% (42 ethnic groups, most important being Fon, Adja, Yoruba, and Bariba), Europeans 5,500.

Religion:

Indigenous beliefs (ani-mist) 50%, Christian 30%, Muslim 20%.

Language:

French (official), Fon and Yoruba in the south; Nagot, Bariba and Dendi in the north.

Education (2001 est.):

Literacy—Total population 38.6%; men 52.2%, women 24.6%.

Health (2001 est.):

Infant mortality rate—94.00/1,000. Life expectancy—52.8 yrs.

Work force:

The labor market is characterized by an increased reliance on informal employment, family helpers, and the use of apprentices. Training and job opportunities are not well matched.

Government

Type:

Republic under multiparty democratic rule.

Independence:

August 1, 1960.

Constitution:

December 10, 1990.

Branches:

Executive—President, elected by popular vote for 5-year term, appoints the Cabinet. Legislative—Unicameral, 83-seat National Assembly directly elected by popular vote for 4-year terms. Judicial—Constitutional Court: seven members nominated by National Assembly and then appointed by the President; Supreme Court: 13 members, six elected by National Assembly, the Constitutional Court (except for its President) ex officio, and the President of the Supreme Court ex officio. Constitutional Court: seven members nominated by President of the Republic (three) and by National Assembly (four). Supreme Court: president nominated by the President of the Republic after advice of the President of the National Assembly. High Court of Justice: All members of Constitutional Court (except its president), six deputies, and President of the National Assembly.

Subdivisions:

Twelve departments: Alibori, Atakora, Atlantique, Borgou, Collines, Couffo, Donga, Littoral, Mono, Oueme, Plateau, and Zou.

Political parties (partial listing of major parties):

La Renaissance du Bénin (RB), Party of Democratic Renewal (PRD), Social-Democrat Party (PSD), African Movement for Development and Progress (MADEP), Party of Democratic Renewal-Rainbow (PRD-Arc-en-ciel), Alliance Etoile, Action Front for Democratic Renewal (FARD-ALAFIA), African Congress for Renewal (CAR-DUNYA), Impulse for Progress and Democracy (IPD), Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP), National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), New Generation for the Republic (NGR), Our Common Cause (NCC), Ensemble, National Rally for Democracy (RND), Rally for Progress and Renewal (RPR), Movement for the People Alternative (MAP), National Rally for Unity and Democracy (RUND), Congress of African Democrat (CAD), Movement for Citizens' Commitment and Awakening (MERCI), Democratic Union for Economic and Social Development (UDES), Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), Communist Party of Benin (PCB).

Economy

GDP (2003 est.):

$7.7 billion.

Real GDP growth rate (2003):

5.5%.

Per capita GDP:

$1,100.

Inflation rate:

1.5% (2003).

Natural resources:

Small offshore oil deposits, unexploited deposits of high quality marble limestone, and timber.

Agriculture:

Products—corn, sorghum, cassava, tapioca, yams, beans, rice, cotton, palm oil, cocoa, peanuts, poultry, and livestock. Arable land—13%. Permanent crops 4%, permanent pastures 4%, forests and woodland 31%.

Business and industry:

Textiles, cigarettes, food and beverages, construction materials, petroleum.

Trade:

Exports—$485 million: cotton, crude oil, palm products, cocoa. Imports—$726 million: foodstuffs, tobacco, petroleum products, energy, and capital goods. Major trade partners—Nigeria, France, China, Italy, Brazil, Libya, Indonesia, U.K., Ivory Coast.


GEOGRAPHY

Benin, a narrow, north-south strip of land in West Africa, lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. Benin's latitude ranges from 6o30N to 12o30N and its longitude from 10E to 3o40E. Benin is bounded by Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east, and the Bight of Benin to the south. With an area of 112,622 square kilometers, roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Benin extends from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, a distance of 700 kilometers (about 500 mi.). Although the coastline measures 121 kilometers (about 80 mi.), the country measures about 325 kilometers (about 215 mi.) at its widest point. It is one of the smaller countries in West Africa: eight times smaller than Nigeria, its neighbor to the east. It is, however, twice as large as Togo, its neighbor to the west. A relief map of Benin shows that it has little variation in elevation (average elevation 200 meters).

The country can be divided into four main areas from the south to the north. The low-lying, sandy, coastal plain (highest elevation 10 meters) is, at most, 10 kilometers wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons communicating with the ocean. The plateaus of southern Benin (altitude between 20 meters and 200 meters) are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Oueme Rivers. An area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 meters extends around Nikki and Save. Finally, a range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo; this is the Atacora, with the highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 658 meters. Two types of landscape predominate in the south. Benin has fields of lying fallow, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrubs and dotted with huge baobab trees. Some forests line the banks of rivers. In the north and the northwest of Benin the Reserve du W du Niger and Pendjari National Park attract tourists eager to see elephants, lions, antelopes, hippos, and monkeys.

Benin's climate is hot and humid. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 36 cm. (14 in.), not particularly high for coastal West Africa. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons. 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 31ºC (89ºF); the minimum is 24ºC (75ºF).

Variations in temperature increase when moving north through a savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the Harmattan blows from December to March. Grass dries up, the vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be overcast. It also is the season when farmers burn brush in the fields.


PEOPLE

The majority of Benin's 7.25 million people live in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 50 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendi in the north-central area (they came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fulbe (Peul) in the northeast; the Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atacora Range; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.

Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin that include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European embassies and foreign aid missions and of nongovernmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large number of the 5,500 European population.

Several religions are practiced in Benin. Animism is widespread (50%), and its practices vary from one ethnic group to the other. Arab merchants introduced Islam in the north and among the Yoruba. European missionaries brought Christianity to the south and central areas of Benin. Muslims account for 20% of the population and Christians for 30%. Many nominal Muslims and Christians continue to practice animistic traditions. It is believed that voodoo originated in Benin and was introduced to Brazil and the Caribbean Islands by slaves taken from this particular area of the Slave Coast.


HISTORY

Benin was the seat of one of the great medieval African kingdoms called Dahomey. Europeans began arriving in the area in the 18th century, as the kingdom of Dahomey was expanding its territory. The Portuguese, the French, and the Dutch established trading posts along the coast (PortoNovo, Ouidah, Cotonou), and traded weapons for slaves. Slave trade ended in 1848. Then, the French signed treaties with Kings of Abomey (Guézo, Toffa, Glèlè) to establish French protectorates in the main cities and ports. However, King Behanzin fought the French influence, which cost him deportation to Martinique. As of 1900, the territory became a French colony ruled by a French Governor. Expansion continued to the North (kingdoms of Parakou, Nikki, Kandi), up to the border with former Upper Volta. On December 4, 1958, it became the République du Dahomey, self-governing within the French community, and on August 1, 1960, the Republic of Benin gained full independence from France.

Post-Independence Politics

Between 1960 and 1972, a succession of military coups brought about many changes of government. The last of these brought to power Major Mathieu Kérékou as the head of a regime professing strict Marxist-Leninist principles. The Revolutionary Party of the People of Benin (PRPB) remained in complete power until the beginning of the 1990s. Kérékou, encouraged by France and other democratic powers, convened a national conference that introduced a new democratic constitution and held presidential and legislative elections. Kérékou's principal opponent at the presidential poll, and the ultimate victor, was Prime Minister Nicéphore Soglo. Supporters of Soglo also secured a majority in the National Assembly.

Benin was thus the first African country to effect successfully the transition from dictatorship to a pluralistic political system. In the second round of National Assembly elections held in March 1995, Soglo's political vehicle, the Parti de la Renaissance du Benin, was the largest single party but lacked an overall majority. The success of a party formed by supporters of expresident Kérékou, who had officially retired from active politics, encouraged him to stand successfully at both the 1996 and 2001 presidential elections.

During the 2001 elections, however, alleged irregularities and dubious practices led to a boycott of the runoff poll by the main opposition candidates. The four top-ranking contenders following the first round presidential elections were Mathieu Kérékou (incumbent) 45.4%, Nicephore Soglo (former president) 27.1%, Adrien Houngbedji (National Assembly Speaker) 12.6%, and Bruno Amoussou (Minister of State) 8.6%. The second round balloting, originally scheduled for March 18, 2001, was postponed for days because both Soglo and Houngbedji withdrew, alleging electoral fraud. This left Kérékou to run against his own Minister of State, Amoussou, in what was termed a "friendly match."

In December 2002, Benin held its first municipal elections since before the institution of Marxism-Leninism. The process was smooth with the significant exception of the 12th district council for Cotonou, the contest that would ultimately determine who would be selected for the mayoralty of the capital city. That vote was marred by irregularities, and the electoral commission was forced to repeat that single election. Nicephore Soglo's Renaisance du Benin (RB) party won the new vote, paving the way for the former president to be elected Mayor of Cotonou by the new city council in February 2002.

National Assembly elections took place in March 2003 and were generally considered to be free and fair. Although there were some irregularities, these were not significant and did not greatly disrupt the proceedings or the results. These elections resulted in a loss of seats by RB—the primary opposition party. The other opposition parties, the Party for Democratic Renewal (PRD) led by the former Prime Minister Adrien Houngbedji and the Alliance Etoile (AE), have joined the government coalition. RB currently holds 15 of the National Assembly's 83 seats.

The March 2006 election for the presidency should provide some fresh faces to the electorate for consideration. President Kérékou is barred from the 2006 presidential elections under the 1990 constitution due to term and age limits (former president Nicephore Soglo is also barred by age). President Kérékou recently confirmed that he will not attempt to revise the constitution and stand for the 2006 elections. The laws pertaining to the upcoming elections have been passed, though an attempt by the National Assembly to add a residency requirement (thought to target a specific potential candidate) was rejected by the Constitutional Court.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 10/26/2005

President: Mathieu KEREKOU
Min. of Agriculture, Livestock, & Fisheries: Faitou AKPLOGAN
Min. of Civil Service, Labor, & Administrative Reform: Abubakar AROUNA
Min. of Commerce, Industry, & Employment: Massiyatou LATOUNDJI
Min. of Communications & New Technologies: Frederick DOHOU
Min. of Culture, Handicrafts, & Tourism: Antoine DAYORI
Min. of Education & Scientific Research: Damien Zinsou ALAHASSA
Min. of Family Affairs, Social Welfare, & Solidarity: Leah HOUNKPE
Min. of Environment, Housing, & Urban Affairs: Jules Codjo ASSOGBA
Min. of Finance & Economy: Cosme SEHLIN
Min. of Foreign Affairs & African Integration: Rogatien BIAOU
Min. of Health: Dorothe Kindi GAZARD
Min. of Higher Education & Scientific Research: Kemoko BAGNAN
Min. of Institutional Relations, Civil Society, & Beninese Abroad: Valentin Aditi HOUDE
Min. of Interior, Security, & Territorial Administration: Seidu Mama SIKA
Min. of Justice, Legislative Affairs, & Human Rights: Dorothee SOSSA
Min. of Mines, Energy, & Water: Kamarou FASSASSI
Min. of Primary & Secondary Education: Rafiatou KARIMOU
Min. of Public Works & Transportation: Christian OMICHESSAN
Min. of Technical Education & Professional Formation: Alain ADIHOU
Min. of Youth, Sports, & Recreation: Jean-Baptist EDAYE
Min. of State for National Defense: Pierre OSHO
Min. of State for Planning & Development: Kifi SALAMI
Governor, Central Bank: Charles Konan BANNY
Ambassador to the US: Cyrille Segbe OGUIN
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Bodehousse Simon IDOHOU

Benin maintains an embassy in the United States at 2124 Kalorama Road, Washington, DC 20008, tel. 202-232-6656. The Permanent Representative of the Republic of Benin to the United Nations is located at 4 East 73rd Street, New York, NY 10021 tel. 212-249-6014, fax 212-734-4735.


ECONOMY

Benin's economy is chiefly based on agriculture. Cotton accounts for 40% of GDP and roughly 80% of official export receipts. There also is production of textiles, palm products, and cocoa. Corn, beans, rice, peanuts, cashews, pineapples, cassava, yams, and other various tubers are grown for local subsistence. Benin began producing a modest quantity of offshore oil in October 1982. Production ceased in recent years but exploration of new sites is ongoing. A modest fishing fleet provides fish and shrimp for local subsistence and export to Europe.

A number of formerly governmentowned commercial activities are now privatized, and the government, consistent with its commitments to the

IMF and World Bank, has plans to continue on this path. Smaller businesses are privately owned by Beninese citizens, but some firms are foreign owned, primarily French and Lebanese. The private commercial and agricultural sectors remain the principal contributors to growth.

Economic Development

Since the transition to a democratic government in 1990, Benin has undergone a remarkable economic recovery. A large injection of external investment from both private and public sources has alleviated the economic difficulties of the early 1990s caused by global recession and persistently low commodity prices (although the latter continues to affect the economy). The manufacturing sector is confined to some light industry, which is mainly involved in processing primary products and the production of consumer goods. Benin is dependent on imported electricity, mostly from Ghana, which currently accounts for a significant proportion of the country's imports. Benin has several initiatives to attract foreign capital to build electricity generation facilities in Benin in order to break this dependency. The service sector has grown quickly, stimulated by economic liberalization and fiscal reform. Membership of the CFA Franc Zone offers reasonable currency stability. Benin sells its products mainly to France and, in smaller quantities, to the Netherlands, Korea, Japan, and India. France is Benin's leading source for imports. Benin also is a member of the West African economic community ECOWAS.

In March 2003, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to support a comprehensive debt reduction package for Benin under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Debt relief under HIPC amounts to approximately $460 million. Benin received $27.1 million in 2002 and received $32.9 million in 2003. HIPC will reduce Benin's debt-to-export ratio, freeing up considerable resources for education, health, and other anti-poverty programs.

Despite its growth, the economy of Benin still remains underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. Growth in real output averaged a sound 5% from 1996 to 2003, but a rapid population rise offset much of this growth on a per capita basis. Although final figures are not yet available, economic growth for 2004 is estimated to be flat. Commercial and transport activities, which make up a large part of GDP, are vulnerable to developments in Nigeria, including fuel shortages. Recent heightened enforcement of Nigerian customs regulations, an unfavorable exchange rate with the Naira and difficulties at Cotonou's port have contributed to the economic downturn.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Abroad, Benin has strengthened ties with France, the former colonial power, as well as the United States and the main international lending institutions. Benin also has adopted a mediating role in the political crises in Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, and Togo and provided a contribution to the UN force in Haiti. In early 2003, Benin provided a peacekeeping contingent to the ECOWAS' stabilization force in Cote d'Ivoire. Benin's democratic standing, stability, and positive role in international peacekeeping have helped Benin's international stature continue to grow. Benin enjoys stable relations with Nigeria, the main regional power. Benin holds a seat on the UN Security Council; its membership term ends December 31, 2005.


U.S.-BENINESE RELATIONS

The United States and Benin have had an excellent history of relations in the years since Benin embraced democracy. The U.S. Government continues to assist Benin with the improvement of living standards that are key to the ultimate success of Benin's experiment with democratic government and economic liberalization, and are consistent with U.S. values and national interest in reducing poverty and promoting growth. The bulk of the U.S. effort in support of consolidating democracy in Benin is focused on long-term human resource development through U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs.

Efforts to pursue this national interest are spearheaded by USAID, which has effective programs focused on primary education, family health (including family planning), women's and children's health, and combating sexually transmitted diseases, especially the spread of HIV. USAID's Democracy and Governance program also emphasizes encouraging greater civil society involvement in national decision making; strengthening mechanisms to promote transparency and accountability; improving the environment for decentralized private and local initiatives; and enhancing the electoral system and the national legislature. A panoply of military-to-military cooperation programs reinforces democratizing efforts. U.S.-Benin military cooperation is now being expanding, both bilaterally and within a broader regional framework.

The U.S. advances the ethos of law enforcement by working with Beninese authorities to crack down on crimes, help eradicate corruption, promote good governance, the rule of law, and greater official accountability.

The U.S. Public Affairs Office in Cotonou leads the U.S.-Benin cultural, professional, and educational exchanges, with a focus on helping educate the Government of Benin and the public on the trade opportunities and advantages of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The PA Office also helps in expanding efforts to build a more responsible media.

The U.S. Peace Corps program in Benin provides ongoing opportunities for increased understanding between Beninese and Americans. The approximately 120 volunteers promote sustainable development through activities in health, education, the environment, and small enterprise development. The U.S. Peace Corps program in Benin is one of the most successful in Africa, in part because of Beninese receptivity and collaboration.

Currently, trade between Benin and the United States is small, but interest in American products is growing. The United States is interested in promoting increased trade with Benin in order to contribute to U.S. trade with Benin's neighbors, particularly Nigeria, Niger, and Burkina Faso, which receive large amounts of their own imports through the port of Cotonou. Such trade also is facilitated by Benin's membership in the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and in the CFA franc monetary zone. The U.S. Government also works to stimulate American investment in key sectors such as energy, telecommunications, and transportation. Benin is eligible for the African Growth and Opportunities Act but has not yet qualified for the Act's apparel provision, which would allow Benin to export apparel with few restrictions to the U.S. market.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

COTONOU (E) Address: Rue Caporal Bernard Anani; APO/FPO: 2120 Cotonou Place, Dulles, VA 20189-2120; Phone: 229 21 30 06 50; Fax: 229 21 30 19 74; INMARSAT Tel: 762768573; Workweek: Mon-Thurs 8:00-5:30, Fri 7:30-1:00; Website: http://usembassy.state.gov/benin/.

AMB:Wayne E. Neill
AMB OMS:Sharon Hollander
DCM:Richard Holtzapple
POL/ECO:Shelly Dittmar
CON:Dan Hall
MGT:Ruth Wagoner
AID:Rudolph Thomas
CLO:Nancy Hussar
GSO:Mozella Brown
ICASS Chair:Anne Martin
IMO:David Ifversen
ISSO:Patricia Rainey
PAO:John Cushing
RSO:Paul Hussar
State ICASS:John Cushing
Last Updated: 11/8/2005

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

July 7, 2005

Country Description:

Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo; its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity.

Entry/Exit Requirements:

A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card ("Carte Jaune") indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Visit the Embassy of Benin web site at http://www.embassy.org/embassis/bj.html for the most current visa information.

Safety and Security:

U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime:

Street robberies are a significant problem in Cotonou, especially in the wealthier Haie-Vive and Cocotiers areas. Some robberies and muggings occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. You should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. If you are a victim of crime, we ask that you please contact the U.S. Embassy immediately.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of robberies and carjackings after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. You should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark.

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout western Africa, including Benin. These scams, which may appear to be a legitimate business deal requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams can be sophisticated and sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for "registration" with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense—if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. You should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Advance Fee Business Scams, available at the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

Information for Victims of Crime:

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. Posts in countries that have victims of crime assistance programs should include that information.

Medical Facilities and Health Information:

Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health website at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance:

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and ditches are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended. Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes.

Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States.

Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.

U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained, overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Undisciplined drivers render traffic movements unpredictable. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers also need to be on guard against livestock wandering into or crossing roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights. With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, it is imperative to have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.

Aviation Safety Oversight:

As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

Special Circumstances:

U.S. citizens are advised to keep a copy of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin. The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined. It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.

Criminal Penalties:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues:

For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://www.travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

Registration/Embassy Location:

Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Cotonou at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard. 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, and are available 24 hours a day. The Embassy fax number is (229) 30-06-70; the fax number of the Consular Section is (229) 30-66-82.

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Benin

Benin

1 Location and Size

2 Topography

3 Climate

4 Plants and Animals

5 Environment

6 Population

7 Migration

8 Ethnic Groups

9 Languages

10 Religions

11 Transportation

12 History

13 Government

14 Political Parties

15 Judicial System

16 Armed Forces

17 Economy

18 Income

19 Industry

20 Labor

21 Agriculture

22 Domesticated Animals

23 Fishing

24 Forestry

25 Mining

26 Foreign Trade

27 Energy and Power

28 Social Development

29 Health

30 Housing

31 Education

32 Media

33 Tourism and Recreation

34 Famous Beninese

35 Bibliography

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.

1 Location and Size

The People’s Republic of Benin is situated in West Africa on the northern coast of the Gulf of Guinea. It has an area of 112,620 square kilometers (43,483 square miles). Comparatively, Benin is slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania. It shares borders with Niger, Nigeria, Togo, and Burkina Faso, with a total land boundary length of 1,989 kilometers (1,233 miles) and a coastline of 121 kilometers (75 miles). The capital city of Benin, Porto-Novo, is located in the southeastern corner of the country.

2 Topography

The coast of Benin is difficult to reach because of sandbanks. There are no natural harbors, river mouths, or islands. Behind the coastline is a network of lagoons. The Ouémé is the longest river located entirely within the country and is navigable for some 200 kilometers (125 miles) of its total of 459 kilometers (285 miles). Besides the Ouémé, the only other major river in the south is the Kouffo, which flows into Lake Ahémé,

GEOGRAPHICAL PROFILE

Geographic Features

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

Size ranking: 99 of 194

Highest elevation: 658 meters (2,158 feet) at Mount Sokbaro

Lowest elevation: Sea level at the Atlantic Ocean

Land Use*

Arable land: 24%

Permanent crops: 2%

Other: 74%

Weather**

Average annual precipitation: 134 centimeters (52.7 inches)

Average temperature in January: 27.1°C (80.8°F)

Average temperature in July: 25.2°C (77.4°F)

* Arable Land: Land used for temporary crops, like meadows for mowing or pasture, gardens, and greenhouses.

Permanent crops: Land cultivated with crops that occupy its use for long periods, such as cocoa, coffee, rubber, fruit and nut orchards, and vineyards.

Other: Any land not specified, including built-on areas, roads, and barren land.

** The measurements for precipitation and average temperatures were taken at weather stations closest to the country’s largest city.

Precipitation and average temperature can vary significantly within a country, due to factors such as latitude, altitude, coastal proximity, and wind patterns.

the largest lake in the country with an area of 100 square kilometers (39 square miles). Benin’s northern rivers, the Mékrou, Alibori, and Sota, are tributaries of the Niger. They are torrential and broken by rocks.

North of the narrow belt of coastal sand is a region of lateritic clay intersected by a marshy depression between Allada and Abomey that stretches east to the Nigerian frontier. In the north, the Atakora Mountains stretch in a south-westerly direction into Togo. The highest point in the country is Mount Sokbaro at 658 meters (2,158 feet). The lowest point is at sea level (Atlantic Ocean).

3 Climate

Southern Benin’s climate is typically equatorial—hot and humid, with a long dry season from December to March, in which a dry desert wind, the harmattan, blows in a northeasterly to southwesterly direction. Temperatures range between 22°c (72°F) and 35°c (95°F), averaging 27°c (81°F). Heavy rains fall from March to July.

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.

4 Plants and Animals

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, which combines the vegetation of the Guinea forest and the southern Sudan, and then by typical Sudan 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 carriers of epidemic diseases.

5 Environment

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. The main environmental issues facing the people of Benin are desertification (fertile land turning to desert), deforestation, wildlife endangerment, and water pollution. The spread of the desert into agricultural lands in the north is hastened by regular droughts. Benin has also lost 59% of its forests from uncontrolled agricultural practices and fires.

Factors that contribute to the endangerment of the wildlife in Benin are the same as those which threaten the forests. As of 2006, threatened species included 6 species of mammals, 2 species of birds, and 14 species of plants. As of l994, the chimpanzee was extinct.

6 Population

Total population in 2005 was estimated at 8.4 million. A population of 14.3 million is projected for the year 2025. The population density was 74 people per square kilometer (192 per square mile). Almost three-fourths of the population are clustered in the southern half of the

country. An estimated 40% of the population lived in cities in 2005. Porto-Novo, the capital, had a population of about 238,000 in 2005.

7 Migration

Many Beninese migrate to Nigeria and Ghana for seasonal labor. In 1995, there were 70,000 refugees from Togo in Benin. The total number of refugees living in Benin in 2004 was 5,855. The total number of migrants living in Benin in 2000 was 101,000. The net migration rate for 2005 was 0.

8 Ethnic Groups

The population of Benin (where residents are called Beninese) is 99% African. However, there are at least 42 different ethnic groups represented. 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 northern Benin. The Yoruba (more than 12%), essentially a farming people, came from Nigeria and are settled along the eastern 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 settled. Other African groups include the Holli, the Dendi, and the Pilapila (or Yowa). The remaining 1% of the population is largely European, numbering about 5,500.

9 Languages

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) and Fulani.

10 Religions

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 Christian, with a majority belonging to the Roman Catholic Church. Other groups include Methodists, Baptists, 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, Eckankas, and the Baha’i faith. About 20% of the population are Sunni Muslim. Certain Christian and Muslim holidays are officially observed, along with one traditional indigenous holiday.

11 Transportation

In 2004, Benin had 578 kilometers (359 miles) of narrow-gauge railroad. Of Benin’s 6,787 kilometers (4,217 miles) of roads, only about 1,357 kilometers (843 miles) are paved. In 2003, Benin had about 9,400 passenger cars and 14,900 commercial vehicles.

Cotonou is Benin’s one deepwater port, capable of handling three million tons of cargo annually. There is an international airport at Cotonou and another major airport at Parakou. In 2003, domestic and international flights carried 46,000 passengers.

12 History

The modern borders of Benin (formerly called Dahomey) were determined by England and France in the late 19th-century partition of Africa. The Portuguese, the first Europeans to establish trading posts on the West African coast, founded 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. In the mid-19th century, the slave trade was gradually replaced by trade in palm oil. Rivalry between England and France in Porto-Novo, in which a series of local kings took different sides, eventually ended with a French protectorate being established in 1882.

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 colony of the federation of French West Africa in 1904. The French ruled the country until 1 August 1960, when Dahomey proclaimed its independence.

After independence, the country suffered from extreme political instability, with military coups in 1963, 1965 (twice), 1967, 1969, and 1972. The coup on 26 October 1972 established Major Mathieu Kérékou as the leader of a military regime. It represented a clear break with all earlier Dahomeyan governments, introducing revolutionary changes in the political and economic life of the country. In late 1974, Kérékou said that the national revolution would follow a Marxist-Leninist course, and the state took over many industries. On 1 December 1975, the country’s name was changed to the People’s Republic of Benin.

BOIGRAPHICAL PROFILE

Name: Thomas Yayi Boni

Position: President of a republic under multiparty democratic rule

Took Office: 6 April 2006

Birthplace: Tchaourou, Borgou, Benin

Birthdate: 1952

Religion: Evangelical Christian

Education: Paris University, doctorate in economics

Of interest: Boni is a former head of the West African Development Bank.

In 1980, Kérékou made an official visit to Libya. During the visit, he converted to the Islamic faith in the presence of the Libyan leader, Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi and took the first name Ahmed. The two countries then signed a major bilateral cooperation agreement.

Through the years, hundreds of government opponents have been imprisoned, often without trial. Opposition came mostly from the banned Communist Party (Parti Communiste du Dahomey; PCT) and student protesters. However, in 1989, Kérékou announced that the country would no longer follow a Marxist-Leninist philosophy. Democratic reforms were instituted and on 2 December 1990, a new constitution was adopted by popular referendum.

The country’s name was changed from People’s Republic of Benin to Republic of Benin. Benin’s first free elections in 30 years, for both president and parliament, were held on 10 March 1991. Kérékou lost the presidential election to his opponent Nicephore Soglo. However, no one party was able to gain control of the National Assembly. A working coalition was formed to run the government. In September 1996, Soglo was narrowly defeated in a runoff presidential election by his old rival Kérékou (who was reelected in March 2001).

Despite deteriorating security in both urban and rural areas, Benin made significant political progress in the 1990s. It established an independent electoral commission, a Constitutional Court and a High Court of Justice, and kept the armed forces under government control.

In May 2002, Niger and Benin submitted a boundary dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. At issue were sectors of the Niger and Mékrou Rivers and islands in them.

In December 2002 elections, three million people went to the polls in Benin to elect mayors and municipal councilors, who were previously appointed by the government. These were the first municipal and communal elections since the end of one-party rule in 1990.

President Mathieu Kérékou who had led Benin for almost the entire time since 1972 was barred from running for reelection in 2006 by a constitutional age limit. In the presidential elections held in March 2006, Thomas Yayi Boni was elected in the second round with 74.5% of the vote.

13 Government

The 1990 constitution led to multiparty elections. The president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. A directly elected National Assembly of 83 members has a maximum term of four years.

The country is divided into 12 provinces, which are in turn divided into districts. There are elected provincial, district, commune, town, and village councils.

14 Political Parties

Benin’s partisan politics (firm adherence to a particular party) are characterized by frequent splits and mergers. As of 1996, there were more than 80 recognized political parties. Party allegiances in the National Assembly are constantly changing. The 2003 multiparty general elections resulted in 52 seats in the National Assembly for supporters of the president, Thomas Yayi Boni, with opposition candidates winning 31 of the 83 seats.

15 Judicial System

Each district has a court with the power to try cases, and each province has a court to handle appeals. At the lowest level, each commune, village, and city ward has its own court. The highest court is the Supreme Court. A Constitutional Court is responsible for reviewing the constitutionality of laws and for deciding disputes between the president and National Assembly. Under the 1990 constitution, people who are arrested must be brought before a judge within 48 hours.

16 Armed Forces

In 2005, the armed forces had 4,550 personnel. The army of 4,300 included 3 infantry battalions. There were 150 personnel in the air force, whose major equipment included 13 transports, and 1 utility and 2 support helicopters. There was a navy of 100 personnel and 1 patrol boat. A paramilitary police force totaled 2,500.

17 Economy

In the early 2000s, rapid population growth, inefficient state-owned enterprises, and high civil service salaries continued to offset economic growth. Corruption remained a major obstacle to economic development.

Agriculture is the most important sector in the Benin economy, accounting for 32% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004.

Yearly Growth Rate

This economic indicator tells by what percent the economy has increased or decreased when compared with the previous year.

About 90% of this output is produced on family farms using little modern technology. They mainly produce domestically consumed crops such as maize, sorghum, millet, paddy rice, cassava, yams, and beans. Benin is self-sufficient in food. Cotton, palm oil, and peanuts are grown and exchanged for cash.

Not enough wood is produced to meet the national demand for fuel. The fishing sector is in decline due to overfishing.

Benin’s mineral resources are limited. Limestone, marble, and petroleum reserves are exploited commercially. Gold is produced only by independent prospectors.

18 Income

In 2005, Benin’s gross domestic product (GDP) was $8.7 billion, or $1,200 per person. The annual growth rate of the GDP was estimated at 3.5%, down from about 5% in 2004. The average annual inflation rate was 3.2% in 2002.

19 Industry

Benin’s industrial sector, which accounted for about 14% of the gross domestic product in 2005, centers primarily on construction materials, chemical production, textiles, and the processing of agricultural products. Benin’s industrial electricity needs are met by hydroelectric power from the Akosombo Dam in Ghana and the Nangbeto Dam on the Mono River.

Benin is one of the countries involved in the planned $500 million, 620-kilometer (385-mile) West African natural gas pipeline to run from Nigeria to Côte d’Ivoire. Work on the pipeline began in 2005.

SONAPRA is the state-owned cotton enterprise, and revenues from the cotton sector of the economy are large. There are no plans to privatize (turn over ownership to private owners) SONAPRA. The state-owned oil company, Sonacop, was privatized in 1999. Cement, textile, tobacco, breweries, and public transportation enterprises were also privatized.

20 Labor

Benin had a labor force of around 2 million people in 2000; slightly more than half were engaged in agriculture. Less than 2% of the labor force was salaried. As of 2005, around 75% of wage earners were unionized, but the percentage is much smaller in the private sector. The minimum wage was $50 per month in 2005, but was only enough to provide minimal food and shelter for a family. The Labor Code of Benin prohibits child labor (under the age of 14) in

Components of the Economy

This pie chart shows how much of the country’s economy is devoted to agriculture (including forestry, hunting, and fishing), industry, or services.

any form, but the code is not well enforced. An estimated 75% of apprentices working as seam-stresses, hairdressers, carpenters, and mechanics were under the legal employment age in 2000.

21 Agriculture

Benin is predominantly an agricultural country. In 2003, about 51% of workers were employed in the agricultural sector. Agriculture accounted for 32% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004. Small, independent farmers produce 90% of agricultural output, but only about 17% of the total area is cultivated. Agricultural development has been hindered by a lack of transportation, poor utilization of credit, and inefficient and insufficient use of fertilizer, insecticides, and seeds.

The main food crops are manioc, yams, corn, sorghum, beans, rice, sweet potatoes, pawpaws, guavas, bananas, and coconuts. Annual production estimates are 2.5 million tons of yams, 4 million tons of manioc, 803,000 tons of corn, 190,000 tons of sorghum, 70,000 tons of rice, 105,000 tons of dry beans, 75,000 tons of sweet potatoes, and 40,000 tons of millet. Benin generally produces all the food crops it needs to feed its people.

Cotton production has increased in importance. Total cotton yield was about 150,000 tons in 2004. Peanut production has also recently become important, with about 121,000 tons of shelled groundnuts produced annually. Palm oil production was 13,500 tons and palm kernel output was 22,000 tons in 2004. Other annual crop production includes 10,000 tons of cashews, 13,000 tons of bananas, 12,000 tons of mangoes, and 20,000 tons of coconuts.

22 Domesticated Animals

In 2004, there were an estimated 1.7 million head of cattle, 700,000 sheep, 1.4 million goats, 309,000 hogs, and 13 million chickens. Most of Benin’s cattle are in the north, but there is also a small hardy type in the lagoon area. Horses are rare because of the ravages of trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness). Poultry are mainly confined to the south of the country.

Estimated annual 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.

23 Fishing

Ocean fishing, which had been carried on largely by fishermen from Ghana, is gaining importance at Cotonou and other coastal centers. In 2003, exports of fish commodities amounted to nearly $1.9 million. Lagoon and river fishing remain of primary importance. Out of an estimated catch of 41,900 tons in 2003, about 30,000 tons were from inland waters.

24 Forestry

There are about 3.4 million hectares (nearly 8.4 million acres) classified as forest and woodland, accounting for about 31% of the total land area. Most forests are in northern Benin and their use 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, an estimated 494,000 million cubic meters (17.4 million cubic feet) of round-wood were produced.

25 Mining

With the exception of oil, Benin is relatively poor in mineral resources. Sedimentary phosphate deposits have been located along the Mekrou River in the north. There is low-grade iron ore at Loumbou-Loumbou and Madekali. Limestone is quarried for use in cement plants. There is potential for small-scale gold mining in the Atacora gold zone, in the northwest. Other mineral resources included chromium, rutile, and diamonds; small quantities of industrial diamonds are exported. In 2004, the country produced 250,000 tons of hydraulic cement, 21,000 tons of clay, and 20 kilograms of gold, and 29,000 cubic meters of gravel.

26 Foreign Trade

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. China, India, and Ghana are the leading export markets. Benin’s imports

Yearly Balance of Trade

The balance of trade is the difference between what a country sells to other countries (its exports) and what it buys (its imports). If a country imports more than it exports, it has a negative balance of trade (a trade deficit). If exports exceed imports there is a positive balance of trade (a trade surplus).

come mainly from China, France, Th ailand, and Côte d’Ivoire.

27 Energy and Power

Production from the Sémé offshore oil field was begun in October 1982 by Saga Petroleum, a Norwegian firm working under a service contract. Oil reserves are estimated at 44 million barrels, but there is currently no refinery in Benin.

Installed electrical capacity in 2001 was an estimated 0.1 million kilowatts. Total domestic power output in 2000 was 0.05 billion kilowatt hours, of which hydropower accounted for 0.002 billion kilowatt hours and fossil fuels for the rest.

Selected Social Indicators

The statistics below are the most recent estimates available as of 2006. For comparison purposes, data for the United States and averages for low-income countries and high-income countries are also given. About 15% of the world’s 6.5 billion people live in high-income countries, while 37% live in low-income countries.

IndicatorBenin Low-income countriesHigh-income countriesUnited States
sources: World Bank. World Development Indicators. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2006; Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2006; World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.
Per capita gross national income (GNI)*$1,090 $2,258$31,009$39,820
Population growth rate3.3% 2%0.8%1.2%
People per square kilometer of land74 803032
Life expectancy in years: male54 587675
female55 608280
Number of physicians per 1,000 people<.05 0.43.72.3
Number of pupils per teacher (primary school)52 431615
Literacy rate (15 years and older)34.7% 65%>95%99%
Television sets per 1,000 people12 84735938
Internet users per 1,000 people14 28538630
Energy consumed per capita (kg of oil equivalent)292 5015,4107,843
CO2 emissions per capita (metric tons)0.25 0.8512.9719.92
* The GNI is the total of all goods and services produced by the residents of a country in a year. The per capita GNI is calculated by dividing a country’s
GNI by its population and adjusting for relative purchasing power. n.a.: data not available >: greater than <: less than

28 Social Development

A social insurance system provides benefits to employed persons as well as pensions for old age, disability, and survivorship. Maternity benefits, worker’s compensation, and family allowances are also offered. Because most people are self-employed or work in agriculture, they do not enjoy these benefits, however. Female circumcision is still legal and is practiced in Benin.

29 Health

Most serious epidemic diseases have been brought under control by mobile health units and other facilities. Estimated average life expectancy in 2005 was 54 years for men and 55 years for women. The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 81 per 1,000 live births.

As of 2004, the number of people living with human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) was estimated at 68,000.

In rural areas, the typical dwelling of northern Benin is a round hut of beaten mud with a cone-shaped thatch roof. 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.

The government has helped improve the overall appearance and sanitation facilities in towns and villages. Low-cost housing projects

have been developed. Many residents have been looking to build more modern “Western-style” homes. However, most construction materials for such a structure need to be imported, making materials (and labor) too expensive for many residents to consider this an option.

31 Education

Since 1975, all education has been free, public, secular, and compulsory from ages 6 to 12. Six years of primary education are followed by six years at a general, vocational, or technical secondary school. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary education averages 52 to 1 in 2004.

The National University of Benin at Cotonou, founded in 1970, offers courses in agriculture, medicine, liberal arts, science, law, economics, and politics. The adult illiteracy rate for 2004 was estimated at 65.3% (54% for males and 77% for females).

32 Media

Virtually all media in Benin are controlled by the government. The state provides telegraph and telephone service. Government-owned radio and television services broadcast in French, English, and 18 indigenous languages. In 2003, there were 9 mainline phones for every 1,000 people and 34 mobile cellular phones for every 1,000 people.

As of 2005, there was only one television station. In 2003, there were 445 radios for every 1,000 people and 12 television sets for every 1,000 people. There were only 3.7 personal computers in use for every 1,000 people. In 2005, 14 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. 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, speech, and the press, and the government is said to respect this freedom.

33 Tourism and Recreation

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 promote safaris in the two national parks, where strong 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. Benin had 72,288 visitors in 2002.

34 Famous Beninese

Perhaps the most famous historical ruler in the area now known as Benin was Béhanzin (d.1906), who was king from 1889 until he was defeated by the French in 1894.

35 Bibliography

BOOKS

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

Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Benin. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1995.

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

Koslow, Philip. Dahomey. New York: Chelsea House, 1997.

Malaquais, Dominique. The Kingdom of Benin. New York: Franklin Watts, 1998.

Rich, Susan, Margot Volem, and Cynthia A. Black. Africa South of the Sahara. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 2000.

Sheehan, Sean. Great African Kingdoms. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1999.

WEB SITES

Country Pages. www.state.gov/p/af/ci/bn/. (accessed on January 15, 2007).

Government Home Page. www.benintourisme.com. (accessed on January 15, 2007).

World Heritage List. whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/bj. (accessed on January 15, 2007).

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Benin

Benin

Compiled from the September 2006 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Benin

PROFILE

GEOGRAPHY

PEOPLE

HISTORY

ECONOMY

FOREIGN RELATIONS

U.S.-BENINESE RELATIONS

TRAVEL

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 116,622 sq. km. (43,483 sq. mi.).

Cities: Capital—Porto-Novo (pop. 295,000). Political and economic capital—Cotonou (pop. 2 million).

Terrain: Mostly flat plains of 200 meters average elevation, but the Atacora Mountains extend along the northwest border, with the highest point being Mont Sokbaro 658 meters.

Climate: Tropical, average temperatures between 24° and 31°C. Humid in south; semiarid in north.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Beninese (singular and plural).

Population: (2005 est.) 7.86 million.

Annual growth rate: (2006 est.) 2.73%.

Ethnic groups: African 99% (42 ethnic groups, most important being Fon, Adja, Yoruba, and Bariba), Europeans 5,500.

Religions: Indigenous beliefs (ani-mist) 50%, Christian 30%, Muslim 20%.

Languages: French (official), Fon and Yoruba in the south; Nagot, Bariba and Dendi in the north.

Education: (2001 est.) Literacy—Total population 33.6%; men 46.4%, women 22.6%.

Health: (2005 est.) Infant mortality rate—79.56/1,000. Life expectancy—53.04 yrs.

Work force: The labor market is characterized by an increased reliance on informal employment, family helpers, and the use of apprentices. Training and job opportunities are not well matched.

Government

Type: Republic under multiparty democratic rule.

Independence: August 1, 1960.

Constitution: December 10, 1990.

Government branches: Executive—President, elected by popular vote for 5-year term, appoints the Cabinet. Legislative—Unicameral, 83-seat National Assembly directly elected by popular vote for 4-year terms. Judicial—Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, High Court of Justice.

Political subdivisions: Twelve departments: Alibori, Atakora, Atlantique, Borgou, Collines, Couffo, Donga, Littoral, Mono, Oueme, Plateau, and Zou.

Political parties: (partial listing of major parties) La Renaissance du Bénin (RB), Party of Democratic Renewal (PRD), Social-Democrat Party (PSD), African Movement for Development and Progress (MADEP), Party of Democratic Renewal-Rainbow (PRD-Arc-en-ciel), Alliance Etoile, Action Front for Democratic Renewal (FARD-ALAFIA), African Congress for Renewal (CAR-DUNYA), Impulse for Progress and Democracy (IPD), Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP), National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), New Generation for the Republic (NGR), Our Common Cause (NCC), Ensemble, National Rally for Democracy (RND), Rally for Progress and Renewal (RPR), Movement for the People Alternative (MAP), National Rally for Unity and Democracy (RUND), Congress of African Democrat (CAD), Movement for Citizens’ Commitment and Awakening (MERCI), Democratic Union for Economic and Social Development (UDES), Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), Communist Party of Benin (PCB).

Economy

GDP: (2005 est.) $8.6 billion.

Real GDP growth rate: (2005) 3.9%.

Per capita GDP: (2005) $1,100.

Inflation rate: (2005) 3.2%.

Natural resources: Small offshore oil deposits, unexploited deposits of high quality marble limestone, and timber.

Agriculture: Products—corn, sorghum, cassava, tapioca, yams, beans, rice, cotton, palm oil, cocoa, peanuts, poultry, and livestock. Arable land—13%. Permanent crops 4%, permanent pastures 4%, forests and woodland 31%.

Business and industry: Textiles, cigarettes, food and beverages, construction materials, petroleum.

Trade: Exports—$485 million: cotton, crude oil, palm products, cocoa. Imports—$726 million: foodstuffs, tobacco, petroleum products, energy, and capital goods. Major trade partners—Nigeria, France, China, Italy, Brazil, Libya, Indonesia, U.K., Ivory Coast.

GEOGRAPHY

Benin, a narrow, north-south strip of land in West Africa, lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. Benin’s latitude ranges from 6o30N to 12o30N and its longitude from 10E to 3o40E. Benin is bounded by Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east, and the Bight of Benin to the south. With an area of 112,622 square kilometers, roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Benin extends from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, a distance of 700 kilometers (about 500 mi.). Although the coastline measures 121 kilometers (about 80 mi.), the country measures about 325 kilometers (about 215 mi.) at its widest point. It is one of the smaller countries in West Africa: eight times smaller than Nigeria, its neighbor to the east. It is, however, twice as large as Togo, its neighbor to the west. A relief map of Benin shows that it has little variation in elevation (average elevation 200 meters).

The country can be divided into four main areas from the south to the north. The low-lying, sandy, coastal plain (highest elevation 10 meters) is, at most, 10 kilometers wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons communicating with the ocean. The plateaus of southern Benin (altitude between 20 meters and 200 meters) are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Oueme Rivers. An area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 meters extends around Nikki and Save. Finally, a range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo; this is the Atacora, with the highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 658 meters. Two types of landscape predominate in the south. Benin has fields of lying fallow, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrubs and dotted with huge baobab trees. Some forests line the banks of rivers. In the north and the northwest of Benin the Reserve du W du Niger and Pendjari National Park attract tourists eager to see elephants, lions, antelopes, hippos, and monkeys.

Benin’s climate is hot and humid. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 36 cm. (14 in.), not particularly high for coastal West Africa. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons. 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 31°C (89°F); the minimum is 24°C (75°F).

Variations in temperature increase when moving north through a savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the Harmattan blows from December to March. Grass dries up, the vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be overcast. It also is the season when farmers burn brush in the fields.

PEOPLE

The majority of Benin’s 7.86 million people live in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 53 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendi in the north-central area (they came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fulbe (Peul) in the northeast; the Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atacora Range; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.

Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin that include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European embassies and foreign aid missions and of nongovernmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large number of the 5,500 European population.

Several religions are practiced in Benin. Animism is widespread (50%), and its practices vary from one ethnic group to the other. Arab merchants introduced Islam in the north and among the Yoruba. European missionaries brought Christianity to the south and central areas of Benin. Muslims account for 20% of the population and Christians for 30%. Many nominal Muslims and Christians continue to practice animistic traditions. It is believed that voodoo originated in Benin and was introduced to Brazil and the Caribbean Islands by slaves taken from this particular area of the Slave Coast.

HISTORY

Benin was the seat of one of the great medieval African kingdoms called Dahomey. Europeans began arriving in the area in the 18th century, as the kingdom of Dahomey was expanding its territory. The Portuguese, the French, and the Dutch established trading posts along the coast (Porto-Novo, Ouidah, Cotonou), and traded weapons for slaves. Slave trade ended in 1848. Then, the French signed treaties with Kings of Abomey (Guézo, Toffa, Glèlè) to establish

French protectorates in the main cities and ports. However, King Behanzin fought the French influence, which cost him deportation to Martinique. As of 1900, the territory became a French colony ruled by a French Governor. Expansion continued to the North (kingdoms of Parakou, Nikki, Kandi), up to the border with former Upper Volta. On December 4, 1958, it became the République du Dahomey, self-governing within the French community, and on August 1, 1960, the Republic of Benin gained full independence from France.

Post-Independence Politics

Between 1960 and 1972, a succession of military coups brought about many changes of government. The last of these brought to power Major Mathieu Kérékou as the head of a regime professing strict Marxist-Leninist principles. The Revolutionary Party of the People of Benin (PRPB) remained in complete power until the beginning of the 1990s. Kérékou, encouraged by France and other democratic powers, convened a national conference that introduced a new democratic constitution and held presidential and legislative elections. Kérékou’s principal opponent at the presidential poll, and the ultimate victor, was Prime Minister Nicéphore Soglo. Supporters of Soglo also secured a majority in the National Assembly.

Benin was thus the first African country to effect successfully the transition from dictatorship to a pluralistic political system. In the second round of National Assembly elections held in March 1995, Soglo’s political vehicle, the Parti de la Renaissance du Benin, was the largest single party but lacked an overall majority. The success of a party formed by supporters of ex-president Kérékou, who had officially retired from active politics, encouraged him to stand successfully at both the 1996 and 2001 presidential elections.

During the 2001 elections, however, alleged irregularities and dubious practices led to a boycott of the runoff poll by the main opposition candidates. The four top-ranking contenders following the first round presidential elections were Mathieu Kérékou (incumbent) 45.4%, Nicephore Soglo (former president) 27.1%, Adrien Houngbedji (National Assembly Speaker) 12.6%, and Bruno Amoussou (Minister of State) 8.6%. The second round balloting, originally scheduled for March 18, 2001, was postponed for days because both Soglo and Houngbedji withdrew, alleging electoral fraud. This left Kérékou to run against his own Minister of State, Amoussou, in what was termed a “friendly match.”

In December 2002, Benin held its first municipal elections since before the institution of Marxism-Leninism. The process was smooth with the significant exception of the 12th district council for Cotonou, the contest that would ultimately determine who would be selected for the mayoralty of the capital city. That vote was marred by irregularities, and the electoral commission was forced to repeat that single election. Nicephore Soglo’s Renaisance du Benin (RB) party won the new vote, paving the way for the former president to be elected Mayor of Cotonou by the new city council in February 2002.

National Assembly elections took place in March 2003 and were generally considered to be free and fair. Although there were some irregularities, these were not significant and did not greatly disrupt the proceedings or the results. These elections resulted in a loss of seats by RB—the primary opposition party. The other opposition parties, the Party for Democratic Renewal (PRD) led by the former Prime Minister Adrien Houngbedji and the Alliance Etoile (AE), have joined the government coalition. RB currently holds 15 of the National Assembly’s 83 seats.

Former West African Development Bank Director Boni Yayi won the March 2006 election for the presidency in a field of 26 candidates. International observers including the United Nations, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and others called the election free, fair, and transparent. President Kérékou was barred from running under the 1990 constitution due to term and age limits. Yayi was inaugurated on April 6, 2006.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 1/24/2007

Pres.: Thomas YAYI Boni

Min. of Admin. & Institutional Reform: Bio Gounou Idrissou SINA

Min. of Agriculture: Roger DOVONOU

Min. of Civil Service & Labor: Emmanuel TIANDO

Min. of Commerce & Industry: Moudjaidou Issoufou SOUMANOU

Min. of Culture, Sports, & Leisure: Theophile MONTCHO

Min. of Development, Finance, & Economy: Pascal KOUPAKI

Min. of Environment & Natural Protection: Jean Pierre BABATUNDE

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Mariam Aladji Boni DIALLO

Min. of Health: Flore GANGBO

Min. of Higher Education & Professional Training: Mathurin NAGO

Min. of Justice & Institutional Relations: Nestor DAKO

Min. of Mines, Energy, & Water: Jocelyn DEGBEY KUADJO

Min. of National Defense: Issifou Kogui N’DOURO

Min. of Primary & Secondary Education: Evelyne SOSSOUHOUTO

Min. of Public Security & Local Govt.: Edgar ALLIA

Min. of Public Works & Transport: Richard SENOU

Min. of Tourism & Artisans: Soumanou Seibou TOLEBA

Min. of Urban Development & Social Housing: Francois NOUDEGBESSI

Min. of Women, Children, & Family: Guecadou BAWA YOROU

Min.-Del. to the Min. of Development, Finance, & Economy in Charge of Budget: Albert HOUNGBO

Min.-Del. to the Min. of Development, Finance, & Economy in Charge of Microfinance & Promotion of Small & Medium Enterprises: Sakinatou ABDOU ALFA OROU

Min.-Del. to the Min. of Foreign Affairs in Charge of African Integration & Relations of the Beninese Diaspora: Albert AGOSSOU

Min.-Del. to the Pres. in Charge of Communications & New Technologies: Venance GNIGLA

Governor, Central Bank: Charles Konan BANNY

Ambassador to the US: Cyrille Segbe OGUIN

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Jean-Marie EHOUZOU

Benin maintains an embassy in the United States at 2124 Kalorama Road, Washington, DC 20008, tel. 202-232-6656. The Permanent Representative of the Republic of Benin to the United Nations is located at 4 East 73rd Street, New York, NY 10021 tel. 212-249-6014, fax 212-734-4735.

ECONOMY

Benin’s economy is chiefly based on agriculture. Cotton accounts for 40% of GDP and roughly 80% of official export receipts. There also is production of textiles, palm products, and cocoa. Corn, beans, rice, peanuts, cashews, pineapples, cassava, yams, and other various tubers are grown for local subsistence. Benin began producing a modest quantity of offshore oil in October 1982. Production ceased in recent years but exploration of new sites is ongoing. A modest fishing fleet provides fish and shrimp for local subsistence and export to Europe. A number of formerly government-owned commercial activities are now privatized, and the government, consistent with its commitments to the IMF and World Bank, has plans to continue on this path. Smaller businesses are privately owned by Beninese citizens, but some firms are foreign owned, primarily French and Lebanese. The private commercial and agricultural sectors remain the principal contributors to growth.

Economic Development

Since the transition to a democratic government in 1990, Benin has undergone a remarkable economic recovery. A large injection of external investment from both private and public sources has alleviated the economic difficulties of the early 1990s caused by global recession and persistently low commodity prices (although the latter continues to affect the economy). The manufacturing sector is confined to some light industry, which is mainly involved in processing primary products and the production of consumer goods. Benin is dependent on imported electricity, mostly from Ghana, which currently accounts for a significant proportion of the country’s imports. Benin has several initiatives to attract foreign capital to build electricity generation facilities in Benin in order to break this dependency. The service sector has grown quickly, stimulated by economic liberalization and fiscal reform. Membership of the CFA Franc Zone offers reasonable currency stability. Benin sells its products mainly to France and, in smaller quantities, to the Netherlands, Korea, Japan, and India. France is Benin’s leading source for imports. Benin also is a member of the West African economic community ECOWAS.

In March 2003, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to support a comprehensive debt reduction package for Benin under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Debt relief under HIPC amounts to approximately $460 million. Benin received $27.1 million in 2002 and received $32.9 million in 2003. HIPC will reduce Benin’s debt-to-export ratio, freeing up considerable resources for education, health, and other anti-poverty programs.

Despite its growth, the economy of Benin still remains underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. Growth in real output averaged a sound 5% from 1996 to 2003, but a rapid population rise offset much of this growth on a per capita basis. Real economic growth for 2004 was estimated at 5%. Commercial and transport activities, which make up a large part of GDP, are vulnerable to developments in Nigeria, including fuel shortages. Recent heightened enforcement of Nigerian customs regulations, an unfavorable exchange rate with the Naira and difficulties at Cotonou’s port have contributed to the economic downturn.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Abroad, Benin has strengthened ties with France, the former colonial power, as well as the United States and the main international lending institutions. Benin also has adopted a mediating role in the political crises in Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, and Togo and provided a contribution to the UN force in Haiti. In early 2003, Benin provided a peacekeeping contingent to the ECOWAS stabilization force in Cote d’Ivoire. Benin’s democratic standing, stability, and positive role in international peacekeeping have helped Benin’s international stature continue to grow. Benin enjoys stable relations with Nigeria, the main regional power. Benin held a seat on the UN Security Council; its membership term ended December 31, 2005.

U.S.-BENINESE RELATIONS

The United States and Benin have had an excellent history of relations in the years since Benin embraced democracy. The U.S. Government continues to assist Benin with the improvement of living standards that are key to the ultimate success of Benin’s experiment with democratic government and economic liberalization, and are consistent with U.S. values and national interest in reducing poverty and promoting growth. The bulk of the U.S. effort in support of consolidating democracy in Benin is focused on long-term human resource development through U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs.

Efforts to pursue this national interest are spearheaded by USAID, which has effective programs focused on primary education, family health (including family planning), women’s and children’s health, and combating sexually transmitted diseases, especially the spread of HIV. USAID’s Democracy and Governance program also emphasizes encouraging greater civil society involvement in national decision making; strengthening mechanisms to promote transparency and accountability; improving the environment for decentralized private and local initiatives; and enhancing the electoral system and the national legislature. A panoply of military-to-military cooperation programs reinforces democratizing efforts. U.S.-Benin military cooperation is now being expanding, both bilaterally and within a broader regional framework.

The U.S. advances the ethos of law enforcement by working with Beninese authorities to crack down on crimes, help eradicate corruption, promote good governance, the rule of law, and greater official accountability. The U.S. Public Affairs Office in Cotonou leads the U.S.-Benin cultural, professional, and educational exchanges, with a focus on helping educate the Government of Benin and the public on the trade opportunities and advantages of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The PA Office also helps in expanding efforts to build a more responsible media.

The U.S. Peace Corps program in Benin provides ongoing opportunities for increased understanding between Beninese and Americans. The approximately 110 volunteers promote sustainable development through activities in health, education, the environment, and small enterprise development. The U.S. Peace Corps program in Benin is one of the most successful in Africa, in part because of Beninese receptivity and collaboration.

Currently, trade between Benin and the United States is small, but interest in American products is growing. The United States is interested in promoting increased trade with Benin in order to contribute to U.S. trade with Benin’s neighbors, particularly Nigeria, Niger, and Burkina Faso, which receive large amounts of their own imports through the port of Cotonou. Such trade also is facilitated by Benin’s membership in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and in the CFA franc monetary zone. The U.S. Government also works to stimulate American investment in key sectors such as energy, telecommunications, and transportation. Benin has been eligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) since the program began in 2000. It qualified for AGOA textile and apparel benefits in January 2004.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

COTONOU (E) Address: Rue Caporal Bernard Anani; APO/FPO: 2120 Cotonou Place, Dulles, VA 20189-2120; Phone: 229 21 30 06 50; Fax: 229 21 30 19 74; INMARSAT Tel: 762768573, 763682952 763682956; Workweek: Mon-Thurs 8:00-5:30, Fri 7:30-1:00; Website: http://usembassy.state.gov/benin/.

AMB:Gayleatha B. Brown
AMB OMS:Sharon Hollander
DCM:Richard Holtzapple
POL/ECO:Daniel Hall
CON:Shelly Dittmar
MGT:Ruth Wagoner
AID:Rudolph Thomas
CLO:Emmanuel Sika
FIN:Javier Araujo
GSO:Neill Krost
ICASS Chair:Rudolph Thomas
IMO:David Ifversen
ISSO:Patricia Rainey
PAO:John Cushing
RSO:Paul Hussar
State ICASS:John Cushing

Last Updated: 9/8/2006

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet : August 23, 2006

Country Description: Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo; however, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin’s largest city and the site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity.

Entry/Exit Requirements: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20008; Tel: 202-232-6656.

Safety and Security: U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach at any time of day, alone. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized Xerox copy of the photo page of their passport. They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.

The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime: Street robberies are a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occurs along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. You should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. If you decide to visit the beach, do not bring valuables and carry only a photocopy of your passport. If you are a victim of crime, we ask that you please contact the U.S. Embassy immediately.

There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked, and stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. You should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark. Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.

You should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

  • Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your “discretion” or “confidentiality”;
  • Any deal that seems too good to be true;
  • Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
  • Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
  • Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
  • Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
  • Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by “a reliable contact;”
  • Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
  • Any offer of a charitable donation.

These scams, which may appear to be a legitimate business deal requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense—if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. You should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel.

Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be “rescued.” If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers’ Health website at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin’s unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.

Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.

Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.

U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.

With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants’ demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle’s documentation available to present to the authorities. Visit the website of Benin’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.gouv.bj.

Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet website at http://www.faa.gov.

Special Circumstances: U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin. The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a “gift” to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.

It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.

Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.

Persons violating Benin’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children’s Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

Registration/Embassy Location: Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy’s mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/

International Adoption : September 2006

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and our current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Patterns of Immigration: Recent immigration visa statistics show that only one immigrant visa has been issued to a Beninese orphan in the last five years.

Adoption Authority: An adoption request must be filed in the local court of the town/city where the child resides. Adoptions are handled by the courts in Benin.

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: A Beninese child can be adopted by a Beninese citizen or by a citizen of another country. Adoptive parents must be either a couple who has been married for five years OR the spouse of a biological parent OR an unmarried individual of at least 35 years of age. Exceptions to these requirements may be obtained by a court order from the local court where the child resides.

Residency Requirements: There is no residency requirement for adoption in Benin.

Time Frame: Adoptions in Benin can take several months. It is likely to take longer if the child you are adopting does not live in a major city. In addition to the actual petition for adoption, adoptive parents must also provide birth certificates for all parties (including any biological parent still living) and this process can take several months.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: Adopting a child in Benin can be done independently by the prospective parent(s). It is advisable to retain a lawyer to assist with the court proceedings. An attorneys list may be found on the U.S. Embassy web site at: http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/listoflawyers.html.

Adoption Fees: Adoptive parents must pay court fees and fees to obtain other needed paperwork. The initial fee to submit documents is only 2000 fCFA (approx. $4), but in some cases there may be additional fees. For example, one family paid for the printing of a book of new forms required to obtain local birth certificates because the local government could not afford to pay for it, and there was no other way to get the birth certificate they needed to continue the processing of their adoption petition. Local courts may also have their own fee structures for filing petitions.

Adoption Procedures: An adoption request can be filed by a couple who has been married at least five years, the spouse of one of the biological parents, or an unmarried individual of at least 35 years of age. There is no maximum age defined in the law. All adoptive parents must be childless and the age difference between the parent(s) and the child must be at least 15 years.

The local judge hearing the case can make an exception if he/she believes it is warranted and grant an adoption to parent(s) who have biological or adoptive children already.

Prospective parent(s) are required to submit a written request to the Tribunal along with a certified agreement to adopt the child, birth certificates (for themselves, the child and any biological parent), a marriage certificate (if applicable), a document of consent by the biological parent(s) and paperwork documenting their ability to support the child financially (e.g. bank statements etc.

Although there is a new Family Code in Benin that is supposed to regularize procedures and forms throughout the country, it has not been fully implemented and different localities may have different procedures or may not know/have access to the appropriate forms or procedures for family related issues. The adoption process can be complicated and lengthy and a local lawyer is probably the best resource for the questions of any prospective adoptive parent(s). For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Documentary Requirements: Prospective parent(s) are required to submit a written request along with a certified agreement to adopt the child, birth certificates (for themselves, the child and any biological parent), a marriage certificate (if applicable), a document of consent by the biological parent(s) and paperwork documenting their ability to support the child financially (e.g. bank statements etc.).

Embassy of the Republic of Benin
2124 Kalorama Road, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
Telephone: (202) 232-6656
Fax: (202) 265-1996

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adoptive parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adopting Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel. state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy Cotonou
Rue Caporal Bernard Anani
01 BP 2012
Cotonou, Benin

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Benin may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Benin. General questions regarding intercountry adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children’s Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

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Benin

Benin

Type of Government

Benin is a republic, with government power distributed among independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The executive branch is led by the president, who serves as both chief of state and head of government. The president is elected by popular vote to a five-year term. The legislative branch consists of a single chamber, the National Assembly, or Assemblee Nationale. Assembly members are elected by direct popular vote to four-year terms. The judicial branch includes the Constitutional Court, which reviews the constitutionality of legislation and decides disputes between the president and the National Assembly; the Supreme Court, which is the nation’s highest court for nonconstitutional judicial review; and the High Court of Justice, which hears cases involving crimes against the nation committed by government officials.

Background

The Republic of Benin is located on the northern coast of the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, on a bay called the Bight of Benin, and occupies about as much land as Tennessee. It is bordered on the west by Togo and the east by Nigeria. Other neighboring countries are Burkina Faso to the northwest, and Niger across the River Niger to the northeast. Benin occupies the part of Africa that was once Dahomey, an important West African kingdom that rose to prominence in the seventeenth century. Dahomey’s origins can be traced to a group of Aja people from the coastal kingdom of Allada. These Aja moved northward into territory controlled by the Fon people, eventually achieving dominance over them and establishing a stable kingdom.

The first Europeans in Dahomey were the Portuguese, who set up a trading post at Porto-Novo on the coast of what is now Benin. As the slave trade continued to expand, the Portuguese were followed by traders from England, Holland, Spain, and France. During the early eighteenth century, the English, French, and Portuguese all built forts in the region. Dahomey’s kings amassed great wealth through slave trade, and they used guns obtained from their European trade partners to conquer neighboring kingdoms.

Benin’s modern geographical boundaries are the result of rivalries between English and French colonists during the partition of Africa that took place in the late nineteenth century. After jockeying with the English for dominant position in Porto-Novo and surrounding territories, the French finally subdued Dahomey and established a colony there in 1894.

Dahomey remained under French control through the first half of the twentieth century, becoming a component colony of the federation of French West Africa in 1904. In 1958 Dahomey became an autonomous republic within the French Community. A new constitution was adopted and a legislative assembly elected the following year. In 1960 the republic declared its complete independence from France.

Government Structure

After assuming power in a 1972 military coup, Major Mathieu Kérékou (1933–) essentially ruled by decree. The National Council of the Revolution, with Kérékou as its leader, became the nation’s ruling authority in 1973. Two years later, Dahomey was renamed Benin. As required by law, the National Council dissolved itself in 1979 and was replaced by the 336-member National Revolutionary Assembly (NRA). The NRA elected Kérékou president in 1980 and 1984.

A new constitution adopted in 1990 established a multiparty system and established that the president be elected by popular vote to a five-year term, with a two-term maximum. The constitution also created a directly elected National Assembly, composed of eighty-three seats. There is universal suffrage for persons at least eighteen years old.

Benin is divided into twelve provinces, each of which contains several districts. Councils are elected at the village, town, commune, district, and provincial levels. While the process of devolving authority to increasingly local levels has been taking place since 1990, progress has been slow, as the central government has resisted handing over control of budgets and other key decisions to local officials.

Benin’s legal system was originally based on French and customary law. Kérékou changed that in 1981, when he introduced a system of people’s courts, with a Central People’s Court presiding over all judicial activities. The overhaul of Benin’s government in 1990 brought the creation of a new Constitutional Court, with responsibility for judicial review of all constitutional matters beginning in 1993. The 1990 constitution also created a High Court of Justice, which decides issues involving abuses by government officials, and a Supreme Court, the nation’s highest court for reviewing nonconstitutional matters.

Benin’s constitution contains a wide range of protections for citizens. Human and civil rights are safeguarded, and citizens accused of crimes enjoy the presumption of innocence and the rights to counsel, to a fair public trial, to confront witnesses, and to examine government evidence. The constitution also protects the privacy of citizens, and outlaws unwarranted police searches of private property.

Political Parties and Factions

There are many political parties in Benin, with smaller ones banding together in short- or long-term coalitions as they seek influence in the National Assembly. The Force Cowrie for an Emerging Benin (Forces Cauris pour un Benin Emergent; FCBE), a party aligned with newly elected President Thomas Yayi Boni, gained prominence by winning a plurality of seats in the Assembly in March 2007. One of the biggest coalitions in recent years has been the Union for the Future of Benin (Union pour le Bénin du Futur; UBF), formed in 2002 as more than fifty parties and factions supporting Kérékou joined forces for that year’s elections. UBF is led by Bruno Amoussou, president of the Social Democratic Party. Another key component party of UBF is the Action Front for Renewal and Development (Front d’Action pour le Renouveau et le Developpement; FARD), founded in 1994 by five deputies aligned against then-Prime Minister Nicephore Soglo (1934–). Another major party is the African Movement for Democracy and Progress (Mouvement Africain pour le Democratie et le Progres; MADEP), led by Idji Kolawole, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and president of the National Assembly. Prior to the March 2003 elections, these and several other parties made up the Presidential Movement, a broad alliance that controlled the National Assembly in support of Kérékou. Among opposition parties during the Kérékou era, Benin Revival (Le Renaissance du Bénin; RB), formed by Rosine Soglo, the former prime minister’s wife, has been influential, as has the Democratic Renewal Party, led by Adrien Houngbedji (1942–).

Major Events

A period of extreme political instability followed independence. Military coups took place in 1963, 1965 (two of them), 1967, 1969, and 1972. Kérékou, brought to power in the 1972 coup, established a Marxist-Leninist communist state called the People’s Republic of Benin, with a single ruling party, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Benin (PRB), in charge. A National Revolutionary Assembly was elected—from a slate composed entirely of candidates from the People’s Revolutionary Party—in 1979, and the following year this Assembly elected Kérékou to a new term as president. Later in 1980, Kérékou visited Libya, where he forged a friendly relationship with Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi and converted to Islam.

With worldwide communism on the decline, and with Benin in social and economic turmoil, a national conference was convened in 1990 to discuss the future of the nation. The National Conference—the first such gathering anywhere in Africa—turned into a public gripe session about the Kérékou era. On December 2, 1990, a new constitution was adopted through a public referendum, and a transitional government was named to replace Kérékou. National elections for the presidency and legislature were held in March 1991, with Nicephore Soglo emerging victorious in the race for prime minister. This sequence of events—the first successful transfer of power in Africa from a dictator to a freely and democratically elected leader—has been referred to as a “civilian coup,” and it foreshadowed similar developments in a number of African countries.

During the early stages of the new republic, there was a fair amount of tension between the executive and legislative branches, and following a wave of protest and continuing economic strife, a second National Convention was held. A new round of Assembly elections was held on March 28, 1995. A presidential election was held the following year, and remarkably, Kérékou defeated Soglo in a runoff to regain the presidency. Kérékou defeated Soglo again in a 2001 rematch. The following year, Benin undertook a program of decentralization, which brought the first municipal elections since the end of one-party rule in 1990. Some three million voters elected mayors and other local officials, posts that had previously been appointed by the national government.

Twenty-First Century

As the 2006 elections approached, the 72-year-old Kérékou announced that he would not seek to have the constitutional provision placing an age limit of 70 on presidential candidates changed, in effect meaning that he was stepping down as leader of Benin. The 70-year-old Soglo was likewise ineligible to run. With these two powerhouses out of the picture, Thomas Yayi Boni, a political outsider and former director of the West African Development Bank, was elected president of Benin. In National Assembly elections held in March 2007, the FCBE, a party associated with Yayi, won a plurality of seats, giving the new president substantial leverage in the legislature.

International observers hailed Benin’s most recent elections as free and generally clean, and while corruption still exists, its government is one of the more open democracies in the region. Nevertheless, the nation continues to be mired in extreme poverty. Its economy is dependent on subsistence farming and cotton production. The main challenge of the twenty-first century is to preserve the stability of its government while fostering economic development of a more diverse nature, including development of new agricultural sectors and Western tourism.

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.

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

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Benin

Benin

  • Area: 43,483 sq mi (112,620 sq km) / World Rank: 101
  • Location: Northern and Eastern Hemispheres, in West Africa, bordering Nigeria to the east, the South Atlantic Ocean to the east, Togo to the west, Burkina Faso to the northwest, Niger to the north
  • Coordinates: 9°30′N, 2°15′E
  • Borders: 1,233 mi (1,989 km) total / Burkina Faso, 190 mi (306 km); Niger 165 mi (266 km); Nigeria, 479 mi (773 km); Togo, 399 mi (644 km)
  • Coastline: 75 mi (121 km)
  • Territorial Seas: 12 NM (22 km)
  • Highest Point: Mt. Sokbaro, 2,159 ft (658 m)
  • Lowest Point: Sea level
  • Longest Distances: 413 mi (665 km) N-S / 207 mi (333 km) E-W
  • Longest River: Niger River, 2,600 mi (4,184 km)
  • Largest Lake: Lake Ahémé, 39 sq mi (100 sq km)
  • Natural Hazards: Harmattan winds in the north
  • Population: 6,590,782 (July 2001 est.) / World Rank: 94
  • Capital City: Porto-Novo, southeastern Benin
  • Largest City: Cotonou, 400,000 (2000 est.) on the southern coast

OVERVIEW

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. From south to north, Benin's major geographical divisions consist of a coastal belt that includes sandbanks and lagoons; a savannacovered clay plateau; and, in the northern two-thirds of the country, a higher plateau region that includes the Atakora Mountains and the Niger Plains. Benin is situated on the African Tectonic Plate.

MOUNTAINS AND HILLS

Mountains

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

Plateaus

North of the coastal region, 300 to 750 ft (90 to 230 m) above sea level, lies a fertile, savanna-covered clay plateau called the terre de barre, composed of lateritic clay and bisected by the swampy Lama depression.

INLAND WATERWAYS

Lakes

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

Rivers

Benin's longest river is the Niger River, which forms part of its border with Niger in the northeast and is navigable for 55 mi (89 km) in Benin. The longest river located entirely within Benin's borders is the Ouémé, which is 285 mi (459 km) long.

Most of Benin's rivers flow in a generally north-south direction. Those in the north, including the Alibori, the Mékrou, and the Sota, drain into the Niger and are prone to flooding. The Ouémé flows southward through about two-thirds of Benin, starting at about the center and winding its way southeast to the Porto-Novo lagoon. The river is navigable for about 125 mi (200 km) of its length. To the southwest, the Mono River forms part of the border with Togo and is navigable for 62 mi (100 km). Other than the Ouémé, the major river in the southern part of the country is the Kouffo.

Wetlands

A large, swampy, depression called the Lama Marsh extends across the terre de barre plateau in south-central Benin.

THE COAST, ISLANDS, AND THE OCEAN

Benin is bounded on the south by a wide, natural indentation on the Gulf of Guinea called the Bight of Benin. Benin has no natural harbors, and access to its coast is further impeded by the sandbanks that form part of its coastal belt. Benin's coastal belt includes four lagoons: Grand Popo, Ouidah, Cotonou, and Porto Novo.

CLIMATE AND VEGETATION

Temperature

Southern Benin, which lies near the equator, has a hot, humid tropical climate, with average temperatures around 80°F (27°C). The north has a semiarid climate with greater variability, ranging from 56°F (13°C) in June to 104°F (40°C) in January.

Rainfall

Southern Benin's primary rainy season occurs from March to July, with a secondary rainy period between September and November. The hot, dry harmattan wind blows during the dry season between December and March.

Average annual rainfall is highest (53 in / 135cm) in the central part of the country and lower in the north (38 in / 97 cm). The driest part of Benin is the southwest, which averages 32 in (82 cm) of rain per year.

Grasslands

Most of Upper Benin (above about 9°N) has a sparse covering of savanna and is mainly infertile, except for the northeastern plains around Kandi that descend to the Niger River valley.

Forests and Jungles

Mahogany, ebony, and various species of palm have been cultivated in the southernmost part of Benin, but tracts of original rainforest are still found north of Abomey, where they alternate with savanna.

HUMAN POPULATION

Close to half of Benin's inhabitants are urban dwellers, and about 75 percent of the population lives in the southern half of the country.

NATURAL RESOURCES

Mineral resources include marble, limestone, gold, and modest offshore oil deposits. Other natural resources are timber and hydropower from the Nangbeto Dam on the Mono River, which has supplied most of Benin's electricity since 1988.

FURTHER READINGS

Ben-Amos, Paula Girshick. Art, Innovation, and Politics inEighteenth-Century Benin. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

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

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

Population Centers – Benin
(2002 POPULATION ESTIMATES)
Name Population
Cotonou 536,827
Porto-Novo (capital) 179,138
Djougou 134,099
Parakou 103,577
SOURCE : Bureau Central du Recensement, Institut National de la Statistique et de l'Analyse Économique, Ministère du Plan et de la Restructuration Économique, Benin.
Provinces – Benin
POPULATIONS FROM 2002 CENSUS
Name Population Area (sq mi) Area (sq km) Capital
Atacora 649,308 12,050 31,200 Natitingou
Atlantique 1,066,373 1,250 3,200 Cotonou
Borgou 827,925 19,700 51,000 Parakou
Mono 676,377 1,450 3,800 Lokossa
Quémé 876,574 1,800 4,700 Porto-Novo
Zou 818,998 7,200 18,700 Abomey
SOURCE : Bureau Central du Recensement, Institut National de la Statistique et de l'Analyse Économique, Ministère du Plan et de la Restructuration Économique, Benin.

Manning, Patrick. Slavery, Colonialism, and Economic Growth in Dahomey, 1640–1960. Cambridge. Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Scholefield, Alan. The Dark Kingdoms: The Impact of WhiteCivilization on Three Great African Monarchies. New York: Morrow, 1975.

World Desk Reference. Benin. http://www.travel.dk.com/wdr/BJ/mBJ_Intr.htm# (Accessed February 21, 2002)

GEO-FACT

T he area of low precipitation in southwest Benin—a dramatic exception to the high rainfall elsewhere in this tropical region—is called the "Benin window." It is thought to have resulted from the destruction of the native rainforest, which decreased the evaporation of moisture into the air that results in local "convection rains."

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Benin

Benin

At a Glance

NORTH AMERICA

Official Name: Republic of Benin

Continent: Africa

Area: 42,710 square miles (110,620 sq km)

Population: 6,590,782

Capital City: Porto-Novo

Largest City: Cotonou (472,290)

Unit of Money: CFA franc

Major Languages: French (official), Fon, Yorba

Literacy: 37%

Land Use: 13% arable, 4% permanent crop, 4% meadow, 31% forest, 48% other

Natural Resources: Oil, limestone, marble, timber

Government: Multiparty democratic republic

Defense: 25 million

The Place

Benin is a 420-mile-(675-km) long country on the western coast of Africa. The Atlantic Ocean forms its southern coast.

There are five distinct regions in Benin. The highest point in the country is in the Atakora Mountains, in the northwest, which reach 2,103 feet (641 m) above sea level. In the northeast, the sloping Niger Plains extend down to the Niger River valley. There are four plateaus rising up toward the center of the country. To the south of these plateaus lies the barre region. This fertile area is slightly hilly, with a top elevation of about 1,300 feet (400 m). In the southern region of Benin, the coastline is low and flat, with many lagoons and marshes.

Benin's climate differs in the northern and southern regions. In the north, there are two seasons—one rainy and one dry. In the south, however, there are four seasons—two wet and two dry.

The People

Although Benin's population is not extremely large, the country has one of the highest population growth rates in western Africa (3.3%). This is because the country's birth rate is higher than the rest of the region while its death rate is lower. Almost half of the country is under the age of 15. Life expectancy is 54 years.

The majority of Beninese—about 68% of the population—live in the southern coastal areas. About 500,000 people are settled around the port of Cotonou. Many reside there to be close to the commercial part of the country, since this is the only large city. More than 75% of Beninese live in rural areas. The population decreases sharply in the north. There are only a few villages scattered throughout this dry area.

Quality of life in Benin depends on the area in which a person lives. In Cotonou, there are new buildings, movie theaters, and hotels. In less developed areas, customs are much more traditional. Extended families live together, and many aspects of daily life center around the town marketplace.

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Benin

BENIN

Compiled from the December 2003 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.




Official Name:
Republic of Benin




PROFILE
GEOGRAPHY
PEOPLE
HISTORY
ECONOMY
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-BENINESE RELATIONS
TRAVEL


PROFILE


Geography

Area: 116,622 sq. km. (43,483 sq. mi.).

Cities: Capital—Porto-Novo (pop. 295,000). Political and economic capital—Cotonou (pop. 1 million).

Terrain: Mostly flat plains of 200 meters average elevation, but the Atacora Mountains extend along the northwest border, with the highest point being Mont Sokbaro 658 meters.

Climate: Tropical, average temperatures between 24° and 31°C. Humid in south; semiarid in north.


People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Beninese (singular and plural). Population: (2001 est.) 6.4 million. Annual growth rate: (2001 est.) 2.6%.

Ethnic groups: African 99% (42 ethnic groups, most important being Fon, Adja, Yoruba, and Bariba), Europeans 5,500.

Religions: Indigenous beliefs (animist) 50%, Christian 30%, Muslim 20%.

Languages: French (official), Fon and Yoruba in the south; Nagot, Bariba and Dendi in the north.

Education: (2001 est.) Literacy—Total population 38.6%; men 52.2%, women 24.6%.

Health: (2001 est.) Infant mortality rate—94.00/1,000. Life expectancy—52.8 yrs.

Work force: The labor market is characterized by an increased reliance on informal employment, family helpers, and the use of apprentices. Training and job opportunities are not well matched.


Government

Type: Republic under multiparty democratic rule.

Independence: August 1, 1960.

Constitution: December 10, 1990.

Branches: Executive—President, elected by popular vote for 5-year term, appoints the Cabinet. Legislative—Unicameral, 83-seat National Assembly directly elected by popular vote for 4-year terms. Judicial—Constitutional Court: seven members nominated by National Assembly and then appointed by the President; Supreme Court: 13 members, six elected by National Assembly, the Constitutional Court (except for its President) ex officio, and the President of the Supreme Court ex officio. Constitutional Court: seven members nominated by President of the Republic (three) and by National Assembly (4). Supreme Court: president nominated by the Presi dent of the Republic after advice of the President of the National Assembly. High Court of Justice: All members of Constitutional Court (except its president), six deputies, and President of the National Assembly.

Subdivisions: Twelve departments: Alibori, Atakora, Atlantique, Borgou, Collines, Couffo, Donga, Littoral, Mono, Oueme, Plateau, and Zou.

Political parties: (partial listing of major parties) La Renaissance du Bénin (RB), Party of Democratic Renewal (PRD), Social-Democrat Party (PSD), African Movement for Development and Progress (MADEP), Party of Democratic Renewal-Rainbow (PRD-Arc-en-ciel), Alliance Etoile, Action Front for Democratic Renewal (FARD-ALA-FIA), African Congress for Renewal (CAR-DUNYA), Impulse for Progress and Democracy (IPD), Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP), National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), New Generation for the Republic (NGR), Our Common Cause (NCC), Ensemble, National Rally for Democracy (RND), Rally for Progress and Renewal (RPR), Movement for the People Alternative (MAP), National Rally for Unity and Democracy (RUND), Congress of African Democrat (CAD), Movement for Citizens' Commitment and Awakening (MERCI), Democratic Union for Economic and Social Development (UDES), Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), Communist Party of Benin (PCB).


Economy

GDP: (2001 est.) $2.4 billion.

Real GDP growth rate: (2002) 5.8%.

Per capita GDP: $380.

Inflaion rate: 2.4% (2002). 3% (2003).

Natural resources: Small offshore oil deposits, unexploited deposits of high quality marble limestone, and timber.

Agricultural: Products—corn, sorghum, cassava, tapioca, yams, beans, rice, cotton, palm oil, cocoa, peanuts, poultry, and livestock. Arable land—13%. Permanent crops 4%, permanent pastures 4%, forests and woodland 31%. Business and industry: Textiles, cigarettes, food and beverages, construction materials, petroleum.

Trade: Exports—$396 million: cotton, crude oil, palm products, cocoa. Imports—$807 million: foodstuffs, tobacco, petroleum products, energy, and capital goods. Major trade partners—Nigeria, France, China, Italy, Brazil, Libya, Indonesia, U.K., Ivory Coast.




GEOGRAPHY

Benin, a narrow, north-south strip of land in West Africa, lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. Benin's latitude ranges from 6°30N to 12°30N and its longitude from 10E to 3°40E. Benin is bounded by Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east, and the Bight of Benin to the south. With an area of 112,622 square kilometers, roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Benin extends from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, a distance of 700 kilometers. (about 500 mi.). Although the coastline measures 121 kilometers. (about 80 mi.), the country measures about 325 kilometers. (about 215 mi.) at its widest point. It is one of the smaller countries in West Africa: eight times smaller than Nigeria, its neighbor to the east. It is, however, twice as large as Togo, its neighbor to the west. A relief map of Benin shows that it has little variation in elevation (average elevation 200 meters).

The country can be divided into four main areas from the south to the north. The low-lying, sandy, coastal plain (highest elevation 10 meters) is, at most, 10 kilometers wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons communicating with the ocean. The plateaus of southern Benin (altitude comprised between 20 meters and 200 meters) are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Oueme Rivers. An area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 meters extends around Nikki and Save. Finally, a range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo; this is the Atacora, with the highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 658 meters. Two types of landscape predominate in the south. Benin has fields of lying fallow, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrubs and dotted with huge baobab trees. Some forests line the banks of rivers. In the north and the northwest of Benin the Reserve du W du Niger and Pendjari National Park attract tourists eager to see elephants, lions, antelopes, hippos, and monkeys.


Benin's climate is hot and humid. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 36 cm. (14 in.), not particularly high for coastal West Africa. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons. 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 31°C (89°F); the minimum is 24°C (75°F).


Variations in temperature increase when moving north through a savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the Harmattan blows from December to March. Grass dries up, the vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be overcast. It also is the season when farmers burn brush in the fields.




PEOPLE

The majority of Benin's 6.7 million people live in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 50 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendi in the north-central area (they came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fulbe (Peul) in the northeast; the Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atacora Range; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.


Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin that include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European embassies and foreign aid missions and of nongovernmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large number of the 5,500 European population.


Several religions are practiced in Benin. Animism is widespread (50%), and its practices vary from one ethnic group to the other. Arab merchants introduced Islam in the north and among the Yoruba. European missionaries brought Christianity to the south and central areas of Benin. Muslims account for 20% of the population and Christians for 30%. Many nominal Muslims and Christians continue to practice animistic traditions. It is believed that voodoo originated in Benin and was introduced to Brazil and the Caribbean Islands by slaves taken from this particular area of the Slave Coast.


HISTORY

Benin was the seat of one of the great medieval African kingdoms called Dahomey. Europeans began arriving in the area in the 18th century, as the kingdom of Dahomey was expanding its territory. The Portuguese, the French, and the Dutch established trading posts along the coast (Porto-Novo, Ouidah, Cotonou), and traded weapons for slaves. Slave trade ended in 1848. Then, the French signed treaties with Kings of Abomey (Guézo, Toffa, Glèlè) to establish French protectorates in the main cities and ports. However, King Behanzin fought the French influence which cost him deportation to Martinique. As of 1900, the territory became a French colony ruled by a French Governor. Expansion continued to the North (kingdoms of Parakou, Nikki, Kandi), up to the border with former Upper Volta. On December 4, 1958, it became the République du Dahomey, self-governing within the French community, and on August 1, 1960, the Republic of Benin gained full independence from France.


Post-Independence Politics

Between 1960 and 1972, a succession of military coups brought about many changes of government. The last of these brought to power Major Mathieu Kérékou as the head of a regime professing strict Marxist-Leninist principles. The Revolutionary Party of the People of Benin (PRPB) remained in complete power until the beginning of the 1990s. Kérékou, encouraged by France and other democratic powers, convened a national conference that introduced a new democratic constitution and held presidential and legislative elections. Kérékou's principal opponent at the presidential poll, and the ultimate victor, was Prime Minister Nicéphore Soglo. Supporters of Soglo also secured a majority in the National Assembly.


Benin was thus the first African country to effect successfully the transition from dictatorship to a pluralistic


political system. In the second round of National Assembly elections held in March 1995, Soglo's political vehicle, the Parti de la Renaissance du Benin, was the largest single party but lacked an overall majority.

The success of a party formed by supporters of ex-president Kérékou, who had officially retired from active politics, encouraged him to stand successfully at both the 1996 and 2001 presidential elections.

During the 2001 elections, however, alleged irregularities and dubious practices led to a boycott of the runoff poll by the main opposition candidates. The four top-ranking contenders following the first round presidential elections were Mathieu Kerekou (incumbent) 45.4%, Nicephore Soglo (former president) 27.1%, Adrien Houngbedji (National Assembly Speaker) 12.6%, and Bruno Amoussou (Minister of State) 8.6%. The second round balloting, originally scheduled for March 18, 2001, was postponed for days because both Soglo and Houngbedji withdrew, alleging electoral fraud. This left Kerekou to run against his own Minister of State, Amoussou, in what was termed a "friendly match."


In December 2002, Benin held its first municipal elections since before the institution of Marxism-Leninism. The process was smooth with the significant exception of the 12th district council for Cotonou, the contest that would ultimately determine who would be selected for the mayoralty of the capital city. That vote was marred by irregularities, and the electoral commission was forced to repeat that single election. Nicephore Soglo's Renaisance du Benin (RB) party won the new vote, paving the way for the former president to be elected Mayor of Cotonou by the new city council in February 2002.


National Assembly elections took place in March 2003 and were generally considered to be free and fair. Although there were some irregularities, these were not significant and did not greatly disrupt the proceedings or the results. These elections resulted in a loss of seats by RB—the primary opposition party. The other opposition parties, the Party for Democratic Renewal (PRD) led by the former Prime Minister Adrien Houngbedji and the Alliance Etoile (AE) have joined the government coalition. RB currently holds 15 of the National Assembly's 83 seats.

Principal Government Officials
Last Updated: 6/24/03


President: Kerekou, Mathieu

Min. of Agriculture, Husbandry, & Fishery: Sehoueto, Lazare

Min. of Civil Service, Labor, & Administrative Reform: Batoko, Ousmane

Min. of Commerce, Industry, Community Development, & Employment Promotion: Akplogan, Fatiou

Min. of Communications & the Promotion of New Information Technologies: Zossou, Gaston

Min. of Culture, Handicrafts, & Tourism: Dohou, Frederic

Min. of Education & Scientific Research: Alahassa, Damien Zinsou

Min. of Energy, Mining, & Water Resources: Fassassi, Kamarou

Min. of Family Affairs, Social Welfare, & Solidarity: Lauriano, Massiyatou

Min. of Environment, Housing, & Urban Affairs: Gnacadja, Luc

Min. of Finance & Economy: Laourou, Gregoire

Min. of Foreign Affairs & African Integration: Biaou, Rogatien

Min. of Health: Kandissounon-Seignon, Celine

Min. of Higher Education & Scientific Research: Bagnan, Kemoko

Min. of Institutional Relations: Adihou, Alain

Min. of Interior, Security, & Territorial Administration: Tawema, Daniel

Min. of Justice, Legislative Affairs, & Human Rights: Sossa, Dorothee

Min. of Labor, Public Function, & Administrative Reform: Arouna, Aboubacar

Min. of Primary & Secondary Education: Rafiatou, Karimou

Min. of Public Health: Kandissounon, Celine Seignon

Min. of Public Works & Transportation: Akobi, Hamed

Min. of State for National Defense: Osho, Pierre

Min. of Technical Education & Professional Formation: Hounkpe, Lea

Min. of Youth, Sports, & Recreation: Houde, Valentin Aditi

Ambassador to the US: Oguin, Cyrille Segbe

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Adechi, Joel

Benin maintains an embassy in the United States at 2124 Kalorama Road, Washington, DC 20008, tel. 202-232-6656. The Permanent Representative of the Republic of Benin to the United Nations is located at 4 East 73rd Street, New York, NY 10021 tel. 212-249-6014, fax 212-734-4735.




ECONOMY

Benin's economy is chiefly based on agriculture. Cotton accounts for 40% of GDP and roughly 80% of official export receipts. There also is production of textiles, palm products, and cocoa. Corn, beans, rice, peanuts, cashews, pineapples, cassava, yams, and other various tubers are grown for local subsistence. Benin began producing a modest quantity of offshore oil in October 1982. Production ceased in recent years but exploration of new sites is ongoing. A modest fishing fleet provides fish and shrimp for local subsistence and export to Europe. A number of formerly government-owned commercial activities are now privatized, and the government, consistent with its commitments to the IMF and World Bank, has plans to continue on this path. Smaller businesses are privately owned by Beninese citizens, but some firms are foreign owned, primarily French and Lebanese. The private commercial and agricultural sectors remain the principal contributors to growth.


Economic Development

Since the transition to a democratic government in 1990, Benin has undergone a remarkable economic recovery. A large injection of external investment from both private and public sources has alleviated the economic difficulties of the early 1990s caused by global recession and persistently low commodity prices (although the latter continues to affect the economy). The manufacturing sector is confined to some light industry, which is mainly involved in processing primary products and the production of consumer goods. Benin is dependent on imported electricity, mostly from Ghana, which currently accounts for a significant proportion of the country's imports. Benin has several initiatives to attract foreign capital to build electricity generation facilities in Benin in order to break this dependency. The service sector has grown quickly, stimulated by economic liberalization and fiscal reform. Membership of the CFA Franc Zone offers reasonable currency stability. Benin sells its products mainly to France and, in smaller quantities, to the Netherlands, Korea, Japan, and India. France is Benin's leading source for imports. Benin also is a member of the West African economic community ECOWAS.


In March 2003, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to support a comprehensive debt reduction package for Benin under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Debt relief under HIPC amounts to approximately $460 million. Benin received $27.1 million in 2002 and is slated to receive $32.9 million in 2003. HIPC will reduce Benin's debt-to-export ratio, freeing up considerable resources for education, health, and other anti-poverty programs.


Despite its rapid growth, the economy of Benin still remains underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Growth in real output averaged a sound 5% since 1996, but a rapid population rise offset much of this growth on a per capita basis. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. Commercial and transport activities, which make up a large part of GDP, are vulnerable to developments in Nigeria, particularly fuel shortages.




FOREIGN RELATIONS

Abroad, Benin has strengthened ties with France, the former colonial power, as well as the United States and the main international lending institutions. Benin also has adopted a mediating role in the political crises in Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, and Togo and provided a contribution to the UN force in Haiti. In early 2003, Benin provided a peacekeeping contingent to the ECOWAS' stabilization force in Cote d'Ivoire. Benin's democratic standing, stability, and positive role in international peacekeeping have helped Benin's international stature continue to grow. Benin enjoys stable relations with Nigeria, the main regional power.




U.S.-BENINESE RELATIONS

The United States and Benin have had an excellent history of relations in the years since Benin embraced democracy. The U.S. Government continues to assist Benin with the improvement of living standards that are key to the ultimate success of Benin's experiment with democratic government and economic liberalization, and are consistent with U.S. values and national interest in reducing poverty and promoting growth. The bulk of the U.S. effort in support of consolidating democracy in Benin is focused on long-term human resource development through U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs. Efforts to pursue this national interest are spearheaded by USAID, which has effective programs focused on primary education, family health (including family planning), women's and children's health, and combating sexually transmitted diseases, especially the spread of HIV. USAID's Democracy and Governance program also emphasizes encouraging greater civil society involvement in national decision making; strengthening mechanisms to promote transparency and accountability; improving the environment for decentralized private and local initiatives; and enhancing the electoral system and the national legislature. A panoply of military-to-military cooperation programs reinforces democratizing efforts. U.S.-Benin military cooperation is now being expanding, both bilaterally and within a broader regional framework.

The U.S. advances the ethos of law enforcement by working with Beninese authorities to crack down on crimes, help eradicate corruption, promote good governance, the rule of law, and greater official accountability.


The U.S. Public Affairs Office in Cotonou leads the U.S.-Benin cultural, professional, and educational exchanges, with a focus on helping educate the Government of Benin and the public on the trade opportunities and advantages of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The PA Office also helps in expanding efforts to build a more responsible media.


The U.S. Peace Corps program in Benin provides ongoing opportunities for increased understanding between Beninese and Americans. The approxi mately 120 volunteers promote sustainable development through activities in health, education, the environment, and small enterprise development. The U.S. Peace Corps program in Benin is one of the most successful in Africa, in part because of Beninese receptivity and collaboration.


Currently, trade between Benin and the United States is small, but interest in American products is growing. The United States is interested in promoting increased trade with Benin in order to contribute to U.S. trade with Benin's neighbors, particularly Nigeria, Niger, and Burkina Faso, which receive large amounts of their own imports through the port of Cotonou. Such trade also is facilitated by Benin's membership in the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and in the CFA franc monetary zone. The U.S. Government also works to stimulate American investment in key sectors such as energy, telecommunications, and transportation. Benin is eligible for the African Growth and Opportunities Act but has not yet qualified for the Act's apparel provision, which would allow Benin to export apparel with few restrictions to the U.S. market.


Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Cotonou (E), rue Caporal Bernard Anani, B.P. 2012, Tel [229] 30-06-50, 30-05-13, 30-17-92, AMB/DCM/IMO/Self_Help Fax 30-14-39; IMET Fax 30-06-70; CON Fax 30-66-82; ADM/Budget &Fiscal/GSO Fax 30-19-74; USAID Fax 30-12-60; AID 30-05-00; PC 31-38-93; Public Diplomacy 30-03-12. Embassy (State Department): [email protected]; Public Affairs: [email protected]; work-week: Monday through Friday.

AMB: [Vacant]
AMB OMS: Jacqueline A. Lawrence
DCM/ECO: David E. Brown
POL: Lisa Ficek
CON: Kristen Grauer
MGT: Don D. Curtis
GSO: Shannon K. Nagy
RFMO: Chandra B. Littles
RSO: Tracey F. Lunsford
FMS: Timothy L. Giles (res. Accra)
IPO: Michael C. Lawrence
IMS: David J. Ifversen
PAO: Jennifer J. Schaming
AID: Harry M. Lightfoot
DAO: COL Ann Sue Sandusky (res. Abidjan)
FAA: Ed Jones (res. Dakar)
IRS: Marlene Sartipi (res. Paris)
FCS: Scott Pozil (res. Abidjan)

Last Modified: Monday, December 15, 2003




TRAVEL


Consular Information Sheet December 30, 2003


Country Description: Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital city is Porto Novo; its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity.

Entry Requirements: A passport and visa are required. Airport visas are not routinely available. Travelers should obtain the latest information from the Embassy of the Republic of Benin, 2124 Kalorama Rd., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 232-6656. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Embassy of Benin. Travelers who intend to visit Nigeria should obtain Nigerian visas prior to arriving in Benin as the Nigeri an Embassy in Cotonou may decline to consider applications for visas by U.S. citizens not resident in Benin.


Safety and Security: U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.


The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous (a rough surf and a strong undertow) and result in several drownings each year.


Crime: Street robberies are a significant problem in Cotonou, especially in the wealthier Haie-Vive and Cocotiers areas. Some robberies and muggings occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novatel Hotels) and the beach near hotels frequented by international visitors. Some of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Isolated and poorly-lit areas are best avoided. Therefore, we encourage you not to walk around the city or the beaches before dawn or after dusk. If you are a victim of street crime, we ask that you please contact the Embassy immediately.


The loss or theft abroad of a U S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. U.S. citizens may refer to the department of state's pamphlets A Safe Trip Abroad and Tips for Travelers to Sub-Saharan Africa for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphlets are available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/ or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

Business Fraud: Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout western Africa, including Benin. The scams pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently, an increasing number of American citizens have been the targets of such scams.


The business scam may appear to be a legitimate business deal requiring advance payments on contracts. Persons contemplating business deals in Benin with the Commercial Section of the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou if they have any doubts about the legitimacy of a potential business client or partner.


Typically, these scam operations begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country. A series of "advance fees" must then be paid in order to conclude the transaction: for example, fees to open a bank account, or to pay certain taxes. In fact, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees. One common variation of this scheme involves individuals claiming to be refugees or other victims of various western African conflicts (notably Sierra Leone) who contact U.S. citizens to request their help in transferring large sums of money out of Benin. Another typical ploy has persons claiming to be related to present or former political leaders who need assistance to transfer large sums of cash.


The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense - if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Any unsolicited business proposal originating from Benin should be carefully checked out before any funds are committed, any goods or services are provided, or any travel is undertaken. For additional information, single copies of the Department of State's brochure, Tips for Business Travelers to Nigeria, are available at no charge by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management, Room 4811, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818. This brochure and an accompanying booklet entitled Advance Fee Business Scams are also available at the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.


Medical Facilities: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Further information on prescription drugs is found in the section on Customs Regulations.


Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.


Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.


Other Health Information: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.


Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:


Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality. Deep sand and/or ditches are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended. Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets often consist of deeply potholed dirt.

Cotonou has no public transportation system. Most Beninese rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and "zemidjans," which are moped taxis. All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Buses and bush taxis offer service in country. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States.


Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely sold in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations.


U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained, overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Undisciplined drivers render traffic movements unpredictable. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps - commonly used on paved roads in and near villages - are seldom indicated. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights. With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting. There have been occasional carjackings, robberies and murders on rural roads in Benin at night and the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel on such roads after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well.


For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.


Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service between the U.S. and Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/.


The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.


Customs Regulations: 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 Beninese Embassy.


Photography Restrictions: Travelers should obtain permission in advance before taking photographs or videotaping any official persons, places or events. In the weeks prior to the March 2001 presidential elections in Benin, at least one U.S. citizen was detained and extensively interrogated by the police on suspicion of having filmed or photographed a government building.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.


Embassy Location and Registration: 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 Embassy fax number is (229) 30-06-70; the fax number of the Consular Section is 30-66-82.

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Benin

Benin

POPULATION 6,787,625
VODUN 57 percent
ROMAN CATHOLIC 21 percent
MUSLIM 15 percent
PROTESTANT 4 percent
INDEPENDENT 3 percent

Country Overview

INTRODUCTION

Set in western Africa along the Gulf of Guinea, the Republic of Benin is a small, narrow country between Togo to the west and Nigeria to the east. To the north is Burkina Faso and Niger. Until 1975 Benin was called Dahomey, a name derived from the former kingdom of Dahomey, which dominated the slave trade between the interior and the Atlantic coast from the early eighteenth to the late nineteenth century. Among the largest ethnic groups represented in Benin are the Fon, Aja, and Gun. The population also contains groups of Yoruba- and Ewe-speaking peoples.

Traditionally Dahomeans have practiced Vodun, a religion involving the worship of hundreds of deities (vodun) who play an intermediary role between the Supreme Being (Mawu) and humans. Beginning in the sixteenth century slaves transported from Dahomey took the religion with them to the New World, where a derogatory and sensationalized form, voodoo, captured the Western imagination. Vodun remains the dominant religion of contemporary Benin.

Islam had trickled into the northern part of what became Benin well before the colonial period. Traders and clerics brought Islam with them and lived under the auspices of non-Islamic leaders who hoped to profit from the wider Islamic trade network. In 1815 the Fulani Jihad of Sokoto (present-day northern Nigeria), led by Uthman dan Fodio (1754–1817), extended the influence of Islam in the region.

Portuguese missionaries, first arriving in the seventeenth century, introduced Christianity to Dahomey as they tried to convert one Dahomean king after another to Roman Catholicism. In the early twentieth century, after Dahomey became a French colony, Catholicism began to gain some measure of popularity with the establishment of mission schools, where the local elite sent their children to get a Western education. Most in the educated class became functionaries of the colonial administration and provided the political leadership when decolonization got underway after World War II. In 1958 Dahomey gained administrative autonomy within a French community of West African states. The country gained independence from France on 1 August 1960.

RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE

The military government of President Mathieu Kérékou, who held power from 1972 to 1991, pursued a Marxist-Leninist ideology and antireligious campaigns and witch-hunts, undermining the influence of Vodun. After the restoration of democratic politics in 1990, however, Vodun rapidly regained its traditional vitality. From May to June 1991 a national symposium, which brought various Vodun leaders together, sought to gain legal recognition for the religion. Two years later Ouidah 92, an international Vodun festival organized and held in Benin, attracted thousands of national and international participants, especially people of African descent from the Americas. Pope John Paul II's visit to Benin in 1993 and his much-publicized meeting with Vodun leaders reflected the atmosphere of tolerance the government intended to promote.

The 1990 constitution guarantees freedom of worship as long as the state's secular status is respected. Persons who wish to form a religious group, however, must register with the Ministry of Interior. It is rare for the government to refuse permission to register.

Major Religion

VODUN

DATE OF ORIGIN 1400 c.e.
NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS 3.9 million

HISTORY

Vodun is rooted in ancient beliefs and practices that originated in the southern part of Benin along the Atlantic coast. Situated between a rain forest and savannah, the area was a meeting place for the Fon, Ewe, and Gun cultures, among others. From the early sixteenth century onward, this part of West Africa gradually became an important conduit of the Atlantic slave trade. Passing through the region en route to slave ships moored on the coast, captives from different West African societies—including some who were new to Vodun—drew upon Vodun spirituality, which they then transported to the New World.

Successive kingdoms, among them Allada and, beginning around the 1720s, Dahomey, controlled this part of West Africa. Two deities, Mawu (male) and Lisa (female), came to symbolize the political control over religious life the Dahomean monarchy achieved under King Tegbesu (reigned 1740–74). By joining the two deities the monarchy asserted that power and authority derived from a male-female pairing. All throughout the colonial period, despite the growing presence of Christianity, Vodun continued to play an important political and sociocultural role in the lives of Dahomeans, and its elements became enshrined in Christian practices.

In the postcolonial era Vodun came under attack during the rule (1972–91) of Marxist dictator Mathieu Kérékou (born in 1933). Ironically, Kérékou maintained a close relationship with the leading Vodun priests, whose influence he perceived as a political threat. After Nicéphore Soglo (born in 1935) was elected president in 1991, Vodun was reinstated as a national religion. Kérékou returned to power with a victory in the 1996 presidential election, and he used a Christian discourse to distance himself from the previous military regime, which he associated with Vodun and occult forces. He publicly identified himself with Christianity, the constitution, and democracy, while denouncing Soglo and the opposition as well as the military regime of the past. Nevertheless, Vodun regained its traditional sociocultural status and was recognized in 1996 as an official religion alongside Christianity and Islam.

EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS

According to oral tradition, Kpojito (Reign Mate) Hwanjile—who served the kings Tegbesu, Kplinga, and Agonglo from 1740 to 1797—introduced several deities to Abomey (the residence of the kings of Dahomey). From Aja lands along the coast, she is believed to have brought the twin deities Mawu and Lisa, creators of the world to whom all other gods were subordinate. The highest-ranking woman in the kingdom, Hwanjile single-handedly took control of religious life in Dahomey by the mid-eighteenth century.

Although spirit mediums and various forms of divination existed in Dahomey before the eighteenth century, the system of divination known among Yoruba-speaking peoples as Fá, or Ifa, was, according to tradition, introduced in Abomey during the reign of Tegbesu's predecessor, Agaja (1716–40). King Tegbesu, however, was the first king initiated in Fá, which gave him access to his kpoli, a sacred object that he could use to learn the details of his destiny.

Sossa Guedehoungue was considered the country's chief priest by most Vodun believers until his death in 2001. Daagbo Hounon Houna (born in 1923) of Ouidah, the heartland of Vodun, had contested Guedehoungue's position, claiming that his own family's successive accessions to the priesthood date back to 1452. After Guedehoungue's death, Daagbo Hounon Houna became Benin's chief priest of Vodun.

MAJOR THEOLOGIANS AND AUTHORS

The term Vodun first appeared in print in a Doctrina Christiana of 1658, which the ambassador of the king of Allada presented to the court of Spain. The study translated the word Vodun as "god" or "sacred." Some scholarly controversy continues over the etymology of the word, and different scholars insist that the correct spelling is Vodun, Vodoun, or the French Vaudou. They reject voodoo, the corrupted version of the word that was sensationalized and trivialized by colonial authorities and Hollywood moviemakers and in Western media representations.

Bernard Maupoil, a French colonial official who served in Dahomey from 1934 to 1936, wrote a detailed study of divination and Dahomean religion based on the memoirs of Gedegbe, one of the chief diviners of King Behanzin (reigned 1889–94). During the 1930s American anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits also relied on a local informant, René Aho, a grandson of King Glele (reigned 1858–89), as a source for his ethnographic study of Dahomey, in which Vodun was covered in great detail.

HOUSES OF WORSHIP AND HOLY PLACES

As in other traditional religions of West Africa, Vodun holds that the Supreme Being or Creator designates shrines where sacrifices are to be performed to protect believers against misfortunes, illness, and evil forces. These shrines may take different forms, such as altars, mud huts, groves of trees, and rocks. Any place where ancestral spirits converge and receive libations from the living becomes a sacred space. Apart from being the focal point of worship, the shrine is important because it serves as the unifying center of a localized unit, such as a family, clan, or lineage. Members identify with the deity of a particular shrine because they share common experiences of initiation and worship. Each member is bound to the shrine on both an emotional and spiritual level. Only rarely do important ceremonies take place away from the shrine of the deity or deities that the local group worships.

WHAT IS SACRED?

All the elements of the universe bear spiritual relevance to Vodun because they are the creation of the Supreme Being. There is, therefore, a deity of the earth, a deity of the sky, a deity of the sea, and a deity representing the ancestors. Some pantheons include pythons and trees as deities. Masks, wooden statues and statuettes, dancing-wands, clay pots, calabashes, kola nuts, palm oil, and seashells are all revered items associated with Vodun rituals and ceremonies. Some items—masks and wooden statues, for example—take on added sacredness when they represent a deity.

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS

Since 1996 Benin has celebrated National Vodun Day on January 10, giving the religion an official status alongside Christianity and Islam. The celebrations on National Vodun Day involve, among other things, paying homage to the gods and ancestors through prayers led by the chief priest of Vodun. Colorful costume parades also take place in Ouidah, a coastal town well known for its Vodun tradition; there slaves once boarded ships destined for the New World. Other ceremonies, such as the homage paid to the sea at the end of each year, usually attract thousands of believers and spectators.

MODE OF DRESS

Vodun does not prescribe any specific dress for its followers. It is not strange, therefore, to see Vodun practitioners in Muslim attire (typical of people from the north) or in French suits (signifying the European influence in the south). Traditionalists are more likely to prefer African costumes to Western clothing. At a funeral service for a Vodun believer, the colors most commonly worn by those in attendance are black, red, and white. Special ceremonies may require costumes for initiates, dancers, and priests, and these vary from clan to clan.

DIETARY PRACTICES

There are no rules about what Vodun believers should eat. Diet is dictated mostly by economic necessity rather than spiritual considerations. Thus, the rural poor consume bush meat (apes and monkeys) more frequently than those who make their living as merchants, bankers, and government functionaries in Cotonou or Porto Novo.

RITUALS

Vodun rituals in Benin range from the mundane to the highly elaborate, depending on the occasion. Rituals generally are emotional experiences that are intended to elicit specific responses from the gods. To this end a connection between the natural world of things and the spiritual realm has to be made through the use of herbs, wine, perfumes, pastes of blood and ashes, animals, and mixtures of leaves and bark, among other things. These objects by themselves are believed to be dwellings of gods. A ritual can be an act as simple as dropping some wine on the ground as a libation for an ancestor before a meal. Alternatively, it can involve covering the entire body with pastes in order to transform the worshiper into a living Vodun sculpture. In any case Vodun thrives on ceremonies and rituals that are performed to appease the gods so that they will prevent misfortune, illness, and malevolence.

Some Vodun rituals involve intense dancing to a pulsating drumbeat that is aimed at inducing a hypnotic trance. The dances are in honor of the gods or ancestors. The audience, including family members of the dancers and other Vodun adherents, generally watches in complete silence.

At a funeral of a Vodun adherent, a ritual is performed to extricate the Vodun spirit from the deceased, leaving the dead to continue the afterlife journey. There are two reasons for this ritual. Spirits are guardians of the living, not the dead, and they serve only as an intermediary between humans and the Creator, to whom the dead is simply returned. The Vodun spirit of the deceased is recalled and reserved for someone who will inherit it.

RITES OF PASSAGE

Three rites of initiation typical of the Fon of southern Benin are central to Vodun. The first rite—the most important one, which everyone must go through—introduces the child to the family community, including the deceased members and guardian spirits. This rite is performed in the living room of a representative of an ancestor. A divine healer reveals the child's joto, the Vodun or protective force that will direct the child's existence. The second rite marks late adolescence and takes place when boys and girls reach about the age of twenty. At this time youthful freedom must be surrendered to the will of the Supreme Being in order to gain more strength. A divine healer thus offers a sacrifice to clear the initiate's path of obstacles and misfortune. The last initiation rite, performed in adulthood, is reserved for men. It gives the initiate access to the Fá divination system.

MEMBERSHIP

Vodun is an organized religion that recognizes four categories of membership. The chief priest, or voduno, represents the highest category, followed by his assistant, the xunso, or "carrier." Then there is the believer, or vodunsi, and the Legbáno, who incarnates the Legbá, the messenger of Vodun. The position of chief priest is hereditary, though in precolonial and colonial times a chief priest had to be confirmed by the king. Priestesses are as much revered as their male counterparts. Chief priests and chief priestesses wield tremendous influence over their followers. The families of candidates for initiation bring them to the chief priest, who performs rites giving social recognition to initiates as active participants in Vodun ceremonies. Both women and men can become active members of Vodun. While members may pass on their membership to relatives, outsiders attracted to the power of a particular deity can become members only after going through the proper initiation ceremonies.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

Vodun emphasizes good behavior and meaningful moral choices geared toward keeping the peace in society. Because Vodun does not preclude dialogue with other religions, its practitioners tolerate nonbelievers. Social cohesion is central to Vodun, and its significance is not limited to the community of believers. Rather, peaceful coexistence with others in the wider community is an essential element of Vodun's ethos.

Vodun rests on a strong sense of attachment to family—both living and dead members—which forms the basis of wider social relations within the community. Underlying most social relations are expectations of mutual respect between family members and different families, clans, and generations. The young are expected to respect elders because of their age and wisdom. Elders in turn advise and guide the young because they are vulnerable to the caprices of life. Girls and women are expected to obey their fathers and husbands because the latter are the heads of family. Laziness is abhorred because the gods do not support those who do not consciously make an effort to improve their lot. Labor is, therefore, a spiritual undertaking. Initiates of Vodun, for example, may be asked to cultivate the farm of a chief priest without any material compensation.

SOCIAL ASPECTS

Each family, clan, or lineage has its special Vodun spirit, which provides meaning for its existence. It is difficult, therefore, to divorce everyday life from spiritual life. The family, the first unit of social organization, is a bloodline community united by an ancestor. The family owes its spirit great loyalty and must honor the prohibitions prescribed in sacred practices. Traditionally marriage was considered a union of lineages rather than of two individuals, and procreation was the avowed purpose of marriage. In the past marriages were arranged by heads of lineages, with at least the tacit consent of the would-be husband and wife. Nowadays individuals are more likely to choose their spouses, though both families involved must give their consent before the marriage can be finalized.

POLITICAL IMPACT

As in precolonial and colonial times, Vodun continues to have great impact on politics in Benin. The influence of chief priests among believers has been an important reason for politicians to seek their support. President Mathieu Kérékou, who viewed Vodun as detrimental to his Marxist-Leninist ideology, banned the religion in 1972. Vodun was reinstated as a national religion only after a national conference held in 1990 returned the country to multiparty politics. In 1996 President Nicéphore Soglo declared that January 10 was National Vodun Day, thereby giving the religion official recognition. State-run television now features coverage of National Vodun Day.

CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES

Although since the 1990s violent confrontations over religious issues have been rare in Benin, Vodun continues to be viewed as a challenge to Christian evangelization, especially with the growing influence of Pentecostalism in the country. Moreover, President Kérékou has used pro-Christian rhetoric to denounce political opposition and the previous military regime, raising concerns about the constitution's guarantee of freedom of religious expression.

National and international activists against female circumcision have accused Vodun adherents of encouraging the practice. Most Vodun believers say that the practice is not part of Vodun and that the accusations constitute a smear campaign by other religious groups, especially Christians, to discredit the religion.

CULTURAL IMPACT

Among artistic forms of expression in Benin, woodcarving has been the one most influenced by Vodun. Statues and statuettes of the gods and human forms, or gbo, that are believed to protect households and their owners are common in shrines and homes. Some statues are carved specifically for sale to European tourists, however. Brass casting is another highly developed art form that is used for religious expression. It is common to see carvings that glorify various gods in both public and private spaces.

Vodun's influence on contemporary music has been exemplified by the music of internationally known Beninese songwriter and performer Angélique Kidjo (born in 1960). Kidjo combines traditional beats and pop music and uses lyrics that draw upon the spiritual influences of Vodun. She also celebrates the connections between Benin and Brazil, where the descendants of African slaves have kept alive their African heritage.

Other Religions

Vodun has coexisted with Islam since precolonial times and with Christianity since the colonial era. In present-day Benin, Muslims are represented most heavily in the northern and southeastern parts of the country. Almost all Muslims belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. In recent decades the Ahmadiyya movement, a heterodox sect that originated in India in the late nineteenth century, has sought to extend its influence in Benin by opening a number of centers. Christianity is more common in southern Benin, especially in Cotonou, the economic capital of the country. Many people who nominally identify themselves as Christians and Muslims also participate in Vodun.

As in most of sub-Saharan Africa, the Malikite school, one of four Sunni branches, predominates in Benin. Shiism never made much headway across the Sahara. The Tijaniyya and Qadiriyya Sufi orders also have followings in Benin. Islam most probably spread into the northern part of Benin by trade routes linked to such Sudanic empires as Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, bringing Muslim traders and clerics. They settled among non-Muslims, attempting at first to convert the local leadership. Islam advanced slowly until the colonial period, when more people began to convert, in part as a reaction against French rule. Today most Muslims in Benin belong to the Fulani, Bariba, and Dend ethnic groups, which are found predominantly in the northern part of the country. Despite their Islamic faith many Muslims in Benin are known to consult Vodun priests and visit Vodun shrines, practices that are also common among the country's Christians.

Although European activities along the coast of Benin began as early as the sixteenth century, it was not until the following century that the first significant step was taken to introduce Christianity in the kingdom of Allada. In 1685 King Toxonu sent an envoy to Philip VI of Spain and Louis XIV of France asking them to send missionaries to his kingdom. Capuchin missionaries working in Sierra Leone were then asked to send missionaries to the kingdom of Allada. The subsequent arrival of nine missionaries had little impact on converting the local people to Christianity, however. Attempts by priests of the Orders of Saint Thomas and Saint Augustine during the same period met a similar fate. In 1689 Portuguese Roman Catholic priests established a chapel in Ouidah. It was not until the 1860s, however, that missionary activities in the interior began in earnest with the efforts of the Society of African Missions of Lyon.

During the eighteenth century two Portuguese priests sent to convert the king of Dahomey, Agonglo, to Roman Catholicism failed to accomplish their mission because Agonglo was assassinated before converting. It is not clear whether the king was killed because his followers feared that he was going to make Christianity the state religion. In any case Christianity did not gain much of a following because powerful persons in Abomey feared that it might pose a threat to Vodun.

After Dahomey was incorporated into French West Africa in 1904, Roman Catholicism slowly began to win more converts through the establishment of mission schools. Although the number of converts was relatively small and mostly confined to the southern part of Benin, the mission-educated elite began to develop a separate identity. While some members of the elite, like their European mentors, condemned Vodun as a pagan practice, the majority continued to practice Vodun, seeing no conflict between the Christian concept of God and the Vodun Mawu, the Supreme Being. Although a seminary was opened in Dahomey in 1913, it was not until 1928 that the first African priest was ordained.

Christians in Benin are predominantly Roman Catholic and represent about a fifth of the country's population. The Catholic Church in Benin comprises two archdioceses and eight dioceses. Other Christian groups in Benin include Aladura (independent African churches), Assemblies of God, Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostals, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Aladura churches have proliferated in Benin since the early 1990s. These churches, which broke away from mainstream congregations during the early twentieth century, have their origin among the Yoruba. Generally, evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Benin have been more directly involved in politics than the Catholic Church has. After Mathieu Kérékou returned to the presidency in 1996 and declared himself a born-again Christian, he invited to Benin German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, whose tent meetings in Cotonou attracted thousands of Christians and curious onlookers.

Tamba M'bayo

See Also Vol. 1: African Indigenous Beliefs, Islam, Roman Catholicism

Bibliography

Akinjogbin, I.A. Dahomey and its Neighbors: 1708–1818. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967.

Bay, Edna G. Wives of Leopard: Gender, Politics, and Culture in the Kingdom of Dahomey. Charlottesville, Va., and London: University of Virginia Press, 1998.

Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Benin. 3rd ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1995.

Eades, J.S., and Chris Allen, comps. Benin. Oxford and Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 1996.

Falcon, Paul. "Religion du vodun." Études dahoméenes 18–19 (1970): 1–211.

Herskovits, Melville J. Dahomey: An Ancient West African Kingdom. 2 vols. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1967.

Law, Robin. "Dahomey and the Slave Trade: Reflections on the Historiography of the Rise of Dahomey." Journal of African History 27, no. 2 (1986): 237–67.

Manning, Patrick. Slavery, Colonialism, and Economic Growth in Dahomey, 1640–1960. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Sulikowski, Ulrike. "Eating the Flesh, Eating the Soul: Reflections on Politics, Sorcery, and Vodun in Contemporary Benin." In L'invention religieuse en Afrique: Histoire et religion en Afrique noire. Edited by Jean-Pierre Chrétien, 379–92. Paris: A.C.C.T.; Karthala, 1993.

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Benin

BENIN

Compiled from the January 2005 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Benin


PROFILE

Geography

Area: 116,622 sq. km. (43,483 sq. mi.).

Cities: Capital—Porto-Novo (pop. 295,000). Political and economic capital—Cotonou (pop. 2 million).

Terrain: Mostly flat plains of 200 meters average elevation, but the Atacora Mountains extend along the northwest border, with the highest point being Mont Sokbaro 658 meters.

Climate: Tropical, average temperatures between 24º and 31ºC. Humid in south; semiarid in north.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Beninese (singular and plural).

Population: (2004 est.) 7.25 million.

Annual growth rate: (2001 est.) 2.89%.

Ethnic groups: African 99% (42 ethnic groups, most important being Fon, Adja, Yoruba, and Bariba), Europeans 5,500.

Religions: Indigenous beliefs (ani-mist) 50%, Christian 30%, Muslim 20%.

Languages: French (official), Fon and Yoruba in the south; Nagot, Bariba and Dendi in the north.

Education: (2001 est.) Literacy—Total population 38.6%; men 52.2%, women 24.6%.

Health: (2001 est.) Infant mortality rate—94.00/1,000. Life expectancy—52.8 yrs.

Work force: The labor market is characterized by an increased reliance on informal employment, family helpers, and the use of apprentices. Training and job opportunities are not well matched.

Government

Type: Republic under multiparty democratic rule.

Independence: August 1, 1960.

Constitution: December 10, 1990.

Branches: Executive—President, elected by popular vote for 5-year term, appoints the Cabinet. Legislative—Unicameral, 83-seat National Assembly directly elected by popular vote for 4-year terms. Judicial—Constitutional Court: seven members nominated by National Assembly and then appointed by the President; Supreme Court: 13 members, six elected by National Assembly, the Constitutional Court (except for its President) ex officio, and the President of the Supreme Court ex officio. Constitutional Court: seven members nominated by President of the Republic (three) and by National Assembly (4). Supreme Court: president nominated by the President of the Republic after advice of the President of the National Assembly. High Court of Justice: All members of Constitutional Court (except its president), six deputies, and President of the National Assembly.

Administrative subdivisions: Twelve departments: Alibori, Atakora, Atlantique, Borgou, Collines, Couffo, Donga, Littoral, Mono, Oueme, Plateau, and Zou.

Political parties: (partial listing of major parties) La Renaissance du Bénin (RB), Party of Democratic Renewal (PRD), Social-Democrat Party (PSD), African Movement for Development and Progress (MADEP), Party of Democratic Renewal-Rainbow (PRD-Arc-en-ciel), Alliance Etoile, Action Front for Democratic Renewal (FARD-ALAFIA), African Congress for Renewal (CAR-DUNYA), Impulse for Progress and Democracy (IPD), Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP), National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), New Generation for the Republic (NGR), Our Common Cause (NCC), Ensemble, National Rally for Democracy (RND), Rally for Progress and Renewal (RPR), Movement for the People Alternative (MAP), National Rally for Unity and Democracy (RUND), Congress of African Democrat (CAD), Movement for Citizens' Commitment and Awakening (MERCI), Democratic Union for Economic and Social Development (UDES), Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), Communist Party of Benin (PCB).

Economy

GDP: (2003 est.) $7.7 billion.

Real GDP growth rate: (2003) 5.5%.

Per capita GDP: $1,100.

Inflation rate: 1.5% (2003).

Natural resources: Small offshore oil deposits, unexploited deposits of high quality marble limestone, and timber.

Agricultural: Products—corn, sorghum, cassava, tapioca, yams, beans, rice, cotton, palm oil, cocoa, peanuts, poultry, and livestock. Arable land—13%. Permanent crops 4%, permanent pastures 4%, forests and woodland 31%.

Business and industry: Textiles, cigarettes, food and beverages, construction materials, petroleum.

Trade: Exports—$485 million: cotton, crude oil, palm products, cocoa. Imports—$726 million: foodstuffs, tobacco, petroleum products, energy, and capital goods. Major trade partners—Nigeria, France, China, Italy, Brazil, Libya, Indonesia, U.K., Ivory Coast.


GEOGRAPHY

Benin, a narrow, north-south strip of land in West Africa, lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. Benin's latitude ranges from 6º30N to 12º30N and its longitude from 10E to 3º40E. Benin is bounded by Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east, and the Bight of Benin to the south. With an area of 112,622 square kilometers, roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Benin extends from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, a distance of 700 kilometers. (about 500 mi.). Although the coastline measures 121 kilometers. (about 80 mi.), the country measures about 325 kilometers. (about 215 mi.) at its widest point. It is one of the smaller countries in West Africa: eight times smaller than Nigeria, its neighbor to the east. It is, however, twice as large as Togo, its neighbor to the west. A relief map of Benin shows that it has little variation in elevation (average elevation 200 meters).

The country can be divided into four main areas from the south to the north. The low-lying, sandy, coastal plain (highest elevation 10 meters) is, at most, 10 kilometers wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons communicating with the ocean. The plateaus of southern Benin (altitude comprised between 20 meters and 200 meters) are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Oueme Rivers. An area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 meters extends around Nikki and Save. Finally, a range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo; this is the Atacora, with the highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 658 meters.

Two types of landscape predominate in the south. Benin has fields of lying fallow, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrubs and dotted with huge baobab trees. Some forests line the banks of rivers. In the north and the northwest of Benin the Reserve du W du Niger and Pendjari National Park attract tourists eager to see elephants, lions, antelopes, hippos, and monkeys.

Benin's climate is hot and humid. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 36 cm. (14 in.), not particularly high for coastal West Africa. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons. 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 31ºC (89ºF); the minimum is 24ºC (75ºF).

Variations in temperature increase when moving north through a savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the Harmattan blows from December to March. Grass dries up, the vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be over-cast. It also is the season when farmers burn brush in the fields.


PEOPLE

The majority of Benin's 7.25 million people live in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 50 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendi in the north-central area (they came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fulbe (Peul) in the northeast; the Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atacora Range; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.

Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin that include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European embassies and foreign aid missions and of nongovernmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large number of the 5,500 European population.

Several religions are practiced in Benin. Animism is widespread (50%), and its practices vary from one ethnic group to the other. Arab merchants introduced Islam in the north and among the Yoruba. European missionaries brought Christianity to the south and central areas of Benin. Moslems account for 20% of the population and Christians for 30%. Many nominal Moslems and Christians continue to practice animistic traditions. It is believed that voodoo originated in Benin and was introduced to Brazil and the Caribbean Islands by slaves taken from this particular area of the Slave Coast.


HISTORY

Benin was the seat of one of the great medieval African kingdoms called Dahomey. Europeans began arriving in the area in the 18th century, as the kingdom of Dahomey was expanding its territory. The Portuguese, the French, and the Dutch established trading posts along the coast (Porto-Novo, Ouidah, Cotonou), and traded weapons for slaves. Slave trade ended in 1848. Then, the French signed treaties with Kings of Abomey (Guézo, Toffa, Glèlè) to establish French protectorates in the main cities and ports. However, King Behanzin fought the French influence which cost him deportation to Martinique. As of 1900, the territory became a French colony ruled by a French Governor. Expansion continued to the North (kingdoms of Parakou, Nikki, Kandi), up to the border with former Upper Volta. On December 4, 1958, it became the République du Dahomey, self-governing within the French community, and on August 1, 1960, the Republic of Benin gained full independence from France.

Post-Independence Politics

Between 1960 and 1972, a succession of military coups brought about many changes of government. The last of these brought to power Major Mathieu Kérékou as the head of a regime professing strict Marxist-Leninist principles. The Revolutionary Party of the People of Benin (PRPB) remained in complete power until the beginning of the 1990s. Kérékou, encouraged by France and other democratic powers, convened a national conference that introduced a new democratic constitution and held presidential and legislative elections. Kérékou's principal opponent at the presidential poll, and the ultimate victor, was Prime Minister Nicéphore Soglo. Supporters of Soglo also secured a majority in the National Assembly.

Benin was thus the first African country to effect successfully the transition from dictatorship to a pluralistic political system. In the second round of National Assembly elections held in March 1995, Soglo's political vehicle, the Parti de la Renaissance du Benin, was the largest single party but lacked an overall majority. The success of a party formed by supporters of ex-president Kérékou, who had officially retired from active politics, encouraged him to stand successfully at both the 1996 and 2001 presidential elections.

During the 2001 elections, however, alleged irregularities and dubious practices led to a boycott of the runoff poll by the main opposition candidates. The four top-ranking contenders following the first round presidential elections were Mathieu Kerekou (incumbent) 45.4%, Nicephore Soglo (former president) 27.1%, Adrien Houngbedji (National Assembly Speaker) 12.6%, and Bruno Amoussou (Minister of State) 8.6%. The second round balloting, originally scheduled for March 18, 2001, was postponed for days because both Soglo and Houngbedji withdrew, alleging electoral fraud. This left Kerekou to run against his own Minister of State, Amoussou, in what was termed a "friendly match."

In December 2002, Benin held its first municipal elections since before the institution of Marxism-Leninism. The process was smooth with the significant exception of the 12th district council for Cotonou, the contest that would ultimately determine who would be selected for the mayoralty of the capital city. That vote was marred by irregularities, and the electoral commission was forced to repeat that single election. Nicephore Soglo's Renaisance du Benin (RB) party won the new vote, paving the way for the former president to be elected Mayor of Cotonou by the new city council in February 2002.

National Assembly elections took place in March 2003 and were generally considered to be free and fair. Although there were some irregularities, these were not significant and did not greatly disrupt the proceedings or the results. These elections resulted in a loss of seats by RB—the primary opposition party. The other opposition parties, the Party for Democratic Renewal (PRD) led by the former Prime Minister Adrien Houngbedji and the Alliance Etoile (AE) have joined the government coalition. RB currently holds 15 of the National Assembly's 83 seats.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 6/24/03

President: Kerekou , Mathieu
Min. of Agriculture, Husbandry, & Fishery: Sehoueto , Lazare
Min. of Civil Service, Labor, & Administrative Reform: Batoko , Ousmane
Min. of Commerce, Industry, Community Development, & Employment Promotion: Akplogan , Fatiou
Min. of Communications & the Promotion of New Information Technologies: Zossou , Gaston
Min. of Culture, Handicrafts, & Tourism: Dohou , Frederic
Min. of Education & Scientific Research: Alahassa , Damien Zinsou
Min. of Energy, Mining, & Water Resources: Fassassi , Kamarou
Min. of Family Affairs, Social Welfare, & Solidarity: Lauriano , Massiyatou
Min. of Environment, Housing, & Urban Affairs: Gnacadja , Luc
Min. of Finance & Economy: Laourou , Gregoire
Min. of Foreign Affairs & African Integration: Biaou , Rogatien
Min. of Health: Kandissounon-Seignon , Celine
Min. of Higher Education & Scientific Research: Bagnan , Kemoko
Min. of Institutional Relations: Adihou , Alain
Min. of Interior, Security, & Territorial Administration: Tawema , Daniel
Min. of Justice, Legislative Affairs, & Human Rights: Sossa , Dorothee
Min. of Labor, Public Function, & Administrative Reform: Arouna , Aboubacar
Min. of Primary & Secondary Education: Rafiatou , Karimou
Min. of Public Health: Kandissounon , Celine Seignon
Min. of Public Works & Transportation: Akobi , Hamed
Min. of State for National Defense: Osho , Pierre
Min. of Technical Education & Professional Formation: Hounkpe , Lea
Min. of Youth, Sports, & Recreation: Houde , Valentin Aditi
Ambassador to the US: Oguin , Cyrille Segbe
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Adechi , Joel

Benin maintains an embassy in the United States at 2124 Kalorama Road, Washington, DC 20008, tel. 202-232-6656. The Permanent Representative of the Republic of Benin to the United Nations is located at 4 East 73rd Street, New York, NY 10021 tel. 212-249-6014, fax 212-734-4735.


ECONOMY

Benin's economy is chiefly based on agriculture. Cotton accounts for 40% of GDP and roughly 80% of official export receipts. There also is production of textiles, palm products, and cocoa. Corn, beans, rice, peanuts, cashews, pineapples, cassava, yams, and other various tubers are grown for local subsistence. Benin began producing a modest quantity of offshore oil in October 1982. Production ceased in recent years but exploration of new sites is ongoing. A modest fishing fleet provides fish and shrimp for local subsistence and export to Europe. A number of formerly government-owned commercial activities are now privatized, and the government, consistent with its commitments to the IMF and World Bank, has plans to continue on this path. Smaller businesses are privately owned by Beninese citizens, but some firms are foreign owned, primarily French and Lebanese. The private commercial and agricultural sectors remain the principal contributors to growth.

Economic Development

Since the transition to a democratic government in 1990, Benin has undergone a remarkable economic recovery. A large injection of external investment from both private and public sources has alleviated the economic difficulties of the early 1990s caused by global recession and persistently low commodity prices (although the latter continues to affect the economy). The manufacturing sector is confined to some light industry, which is mainly involved in processing primary products and the production of consumer goods. Benin is dependent on imported electricity, mostly from Ghana, which currently accounts for a significant proportion of the country's imports. Benin has several initiatives to attract foreign capital to build electricity generation facilities in Benin in order to break this dependency. The service sector has grown quickly, stimulated by economic liberalization and fiscal reform. Membership of the CFA Franc Zone offers reasonable currency stability. Benin sells its products mainly to France and, in smaller quantities, to the Netherlands, Korea, Japan, and India. France is Benin's leading source for imports. Benin also is a member of the West African economic community ECOWAS.

In March 2003, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to support a comprehensive debt reduction package for Benin under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Debt relief under HIPC amounts to approximately $460 million. Benin received $27.1 million in 2002 and received $32.9 million in 2003. HIPC will reduce Benin's debt-to-export ratio, freeing up considerable resources for education, health, and other anti-poverty programs.

Despite its growth, the economy of Benin still remains underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. Growth in real output averaged a sound 5% from 1996 to 2003, but a rapid population rise offset much of this growth on a per capita basis. Economic growth in 2004 is expected to be flat. Commercial and transport activities, which make up a large part of GDP, are vulnerable to developments in Nigeria, including fuel shortages. Recent heightened enforcement of Nigerian customs regulations, an unfavorable exchange rate with the Naira and difficulties at Cotonou's port have contributed to the economic downturn.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Abroad, Benin has strengthened ties with France, the former colonial power, as well as the United States and the main international lending institutions. Benin also has adopted a mediating role in the political crises in Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, and Togo and provided a contribution to the UN force in Haiti. In early 2003, Benin provided a peacekeeping contingent to the ECOWAS' stabilization force in Cote d'Ivoire. Benin's democratic standing, stability, and positive role in international peacekeeping have helped Benin's international stature continue to grow. Benin enjoys stable relations with Nigeria, the main regional power.


U.S.-BENINESE RELATIONS

The United States and Benin have had an excellent history of relations in the years since Benin embraced democracy. The U.S. Government continues to assist Benin with the improvement of living standards that are key to the ultimate success of Benin's experiment with democratic government and economic liberalization, and are consistent with U.S. values and national interest in reducing poverty and promoting growth. The bulk of the U.S. effort in support of consolidating democracy in Benin is focused on long-term human resource development through U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs.

Efforts to pursue this national interest are spearheaded by USAID, which has effective programs focused on primary education, family health (including family planning), women's and children's health, and combating sexually transmitted diseases, especially the spread of HIV. USAID's Democracy and Governance program also emphasizes encouraging greater civil society involvement in national decisionmaking; strengthening mechanisms to promote transparency and accountability; improving the environment for decentralized private and local initiatives; and enhancing the electoral system and the national legislature. A panoply of military-to-military cooperation programs reinforces democratizing efforts. U.S.Benin military cooperation is now being expanding, both bilaterally and within a broader regional framework. The U.S. advances the ethos of law enforcement by working with Beninese authorities to crack down on crimes, help eradicate corruption, promote good governance, the rule of law, and greater official accountability.

The U.S. Public Affairs Office in Cotonou leads the U.S.-Benin cultural, professional, and educational exchanges, with a focus on helping educate the Government of Benin and the public on the trade opportunities and advantages of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The PA Office also helps in expanding efforts to build a more responsible media.

The U.S. Peace Corps program in Benin provides ongoing opportunities for increased understanding between Beninese and Americans. The approximately 120 volunteers promote sustainable development through activities in health, education, the environment, and small enterprise development. The U.S. Peace Corps program in Benin is one of the most successful in Africa, in part because of Beninese receptivity and collaboration.

Currently, trade between Benin and the United States is small, but interest in American products is growing. The United States is interested in promoting increased trade with Benin in order to contribute to U.S. trade with Benin's neighbors, particularly Nigeria, Niger, and Burkina Faso, which receive large amounts of their own imports through the port of Cotonou. Such trade also is facilitated by Benin's membership in the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and in the CFA franc monetary zone. The U.S. Government also works to stimulate American investment in key sectors such as energy, telecommunications, and transportation. Benin is eligible for the African Growth and Opportunities Act but has not yet qualified for the Act's apparel provision, which would allow Benin to export apparel with few restrictions to the U.S. market.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

COTONOU (E) Address: Rue Caporal Bernard Anani; APO/FPO: 2120 Cotonou Place, Dulles, VA 20189-2120; Phone: 229 30 06 50; Fax: 229 30 19 74; INMARSAT Tel: 762768573; Workweek: Mon-Thurs 7:30-6:00, Fri 7:30-1:00; Website: http://usembassy.state.gov/benin/

AMB:Wayne E. Neill
AMB OMS:Vacant
DCM:Charles E. Luoma-Overstreet
POL/ECO:Kristen Grauer
CON:Lisa Ficek
MGT:Ruth Wagoner
AID:Rudolph Thomas
CLO:Bryan Lunsford
GSO:Mozella Brown
ICASS Chair:Anne Martin
IMO:David Ifversen
ISSO:David Ifversen
PAO:John Cushing
RSO:Tracey Lunsford
State ICASS:Carla Calhoun
Last Updated: 1/6/2005

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

December 27, 2004

Country Description: Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital city is Porto Novo; its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Benin for additional information.

Entry/Exit Requirements: A passport and visa are required. Airport visas are not routinely available. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card ("Carte Jaune") indicating that they have been vaccinated for Yellow Fever. Visit the Embassy of Benin web site at http://www.embassy.org/embassies/bj.html for the most current visa information.

Safety and Security: U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous (a rough surf and a strong undertow) and result in several drownings each year.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-317-472-2328. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

Crime: Street robberies are a significant problem in Cotonou, especially in the wealthier Haie-Vive and Cocotiers areas. Some robberies and muggings occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novato Hotels) and the beach near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, and occasional minor injury to the victim. Isolated and poorly lit areas should be avoided. Therefore, we encourage you not to walk around the city or the beaches before dawn or after dusk.

If you are a victim of street crime, we ask that you please contact the Embassy immediately. Robbery and carjacking after dark on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas are also a major concern.

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout western Africa, including Benin. These scams, which may appear to be a legitimate business deal requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently, an increasing number of American citizens have been the targets of such scams. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense—if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Any unsolicited business proposal originating from Benin should be carefully checked out before any funds are committed, any goods or services are provided, or any travel is undertaken. Information on these scams can be found on the U.S. Secret Service website at http://www.usss.treas.gov/financial_crimes.shtml; look for Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud—Operation 4-1-9.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed See our information on Victims of Crime at http://travel.state.gov/travel/brochure_victim_assistance.html.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Further information on prescription drugs is found in the section on Customs Regulations.

Because malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that travelers should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariamtm), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malaronetm). The CDC has determined that a traveler who is on appropriate anti-malaria prophylaxis has a greatly reduced chance of contracting malaria. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what antimalarials they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites and antimalarials, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health website at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/malinfo.htm.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality. Deep sand and/or ditches are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended. Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets often consist of deeply potholed dirt.

Cotonou has no public transportation system. Most Beninese rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans, which are moped taxis. All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Buses and bush taxis offer service in country. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States.

Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely sold in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations.

U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained, overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Undisciplined drivers render traffic movements unpredictable. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps—commonly used on paved roads in and near villages—are seldom indicated. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights. With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark. Two of these robberies resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well.

Visit the website of the country's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at insert site here.

Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offences. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family/index.html.

Registration/Embassy Location: Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans without internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Cotonou at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard. 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, and are available 24 hours a day. The Embassy fax number is (229) 30-06-70; the fax number of the Consular Section is 30-66-82.

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Benin

Benin

Formerly known as the Republic of Dahomey, the West African Republic of Benin is one of the smallest and most densely populated states in the region. It has a land area of 112,622 square kilometers (43,475 square miles), a section of which is perpendicular to the Gulf of Guinea in the south. To the north of Benin lies Burkina Faso and Republic of Niger, to the east is the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and to the west is the Republic of Togo. The capital and seat of government is Porto Novo.

Although Benin comprises forty-two ethnic groups, its population—estimated at just over 7 million in 2004—is divided between four main ethno-linguistic groups: the Fon speakers, who live in the south and are the country's largest single ethnic group; the Yorubas, who live in the southeast near Nigeria, the group's main homeland; the Volta speakers, who inhabit central and northern Benin; and the Fulani, who live in the north. French is the official language.

Benin was once the center of the ancient and powerful West African kingdom of Dahomey, the name by which the country was known until it was changed in 1975. Benin became a French colony in 1872, finally gaining its political independence from France on August 1, 1960.

Since 1991 Benin has been a multiparty democracy, adopting the presidential-parliamentary system of government. The government consists of a president and eighty-six-member unicameral legislature, the National Assembly. The president serves a five-year term, and national assembly members serve four-year terms. Both are elected by popular vote. A judicial system, headed by a Constitutional Court (Cour Constitutionnelle) with the authority to exercise final jurisdiction over constitutional cases, completes the separation of powers. The judiciary is subject to political influence, but it has shown a surprising degree of independence in many controversial cases. Administratively, the country is divided into six provinces.

Benin's democratic government is the latest in the country's arduous search for a workable political system since independence. After independence, the country witnessed a succession of military governments that ended in 1972 with the rise to power of Mathieu Kérékou (b. 1933) and the establishment of a one-party state based on Marxist-Leninist principles.

Economic hardships and increasing internal strife forced Kérékou to agree to a national conference in 1989 in preparation for the country's return to democratic rule. Two years later, free elections ushered in former Prime Minister Nicéphore Soglo (b. 1935) as president, marking the first successful transfer of power in Africa from a dictatorship to a democracy. Kérékou returned to power following the 1996 elections and was reelected in 2001, making Benin one of the few African states that have achieved a successful transfer of power through the ballot box.

Charges of political intimidation and fraud were frequent in the national elections of 1996 and 2001, and unrest has occurred among some of the armed forces. However, political dissent has been tolerated much more in Benin than in many African countries. Freedom House has rated Benin as free since 1991, making the country one of the five nations in West Africa that have earned the best scores in political and civil freedoms.

See also: Parliamentary Systems; Presidential Systems.

bibliography

"Benin." In CIA World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2005. <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/bn.html>.

Freedom House. "Benin." Freedom in the World 2004. New York: Freedom House, 2004. <http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/freeworld/2004/countryratings/benin.htm>.

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. "Benin." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, 2005. <http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/41588.htm>.

Ayo Ogundele

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Beninese

Beninese

PRONUNCIATION: ben-uh-NEEZ
ALTERNATE NAMES: (former) Dahomey
LOCATION: Benin
POPULATION: 8.3 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
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Songhay; Yoruba

INTRODUCTION

The name Benin comes from an ancient West African kingdom located in present-day southern Nigeria. Until 1972, Benin was called Dahomey, named for the pre-colonial Kingdom of Dan Homey. Benin's history is most easily thought of as pre-colonial, colonial, and independent. Until the French and Portuguese developed ports at Ouidah in 1752 and at Porto Novo in 1894, a succession of kings contested and ruled Benin. European contact consisted mostly of intense slave trading, in which Dahomey's kings engaged for 300 years until it was abolished in 1885.

French domination of the area began in 1863 when France made Porto Novo a protectorate. International pressure had been mounting to end slave traffic from this port, and the French also wanted to counter British influence in neighboring Nigeria. Thus, in the 1880s the French fought a series of battles with the Dahomians, and within 15 years overthrew the last of Dahomey's kings. French missions and schools were less successful in converting Beninese to Christianity, than in graduating thousands of highly qualified students, including several well-known writers and scholars.

Benin gained its independence on 1 August 1960. Ethnic conflict and army insurrections followed leading to six military coups, a socialist revolution, a state-run economy, and near economic disaster. In 1990 however, pro-democracy demonstrations and a national conference ended General Kérékou's 18-year rule. In 1991, Nicéphore Soglo became president through competitive elections, marking Africa's first democratic transfer of power from a dictator. In 1996 and 2001 Kérékou was returned to power at the ballot box, although there were irregularities in the latter election. Student demonstrations and strikes also signaled growing impatience with delayed prosperity. Thomas Boni Yayi succeeded Kérékou in 2006 and earned international attention for his high-profile fight against corruption and his staunch support of free markets.

LOCATION AND HOMELAND

Benin is a small West African country about the size of Pennsylvania. It is flanked to the north by Niger and Burkina Faso, by Nigeria to the east, and by Togo to the west. It has an Atlantic coastline of 125 km, where the principal cities of Cotonou and the capital of Porto Novo are situated. Benin is about 700 km in length, and 325 km in breadth at its widest point. The flat and sandy coastal plain is interspersed by lagoons. Its warm temperatures (70–85°f) and two rainy seasons contrast with the northern, thinly wooded savannah where there is only one short rainy season and temperatures reach over 110°f. An important hilly region in the northwest has elevations of up to 2,500 ft, providing Benin with a water reservoir.

In 2008 estimates placed Benin's population at 8.3 million, growing at about 2.6% a year. The population is young, with nearly half of all Beninese under 15 years old, and only 2.4% over 65. If not for the large number of exiles who left the country in the 1970s, the population would be much higher. The semi-desert north is sparsely populated with 12 persons per sq km, while the coastal south supports as many as 240 persons per sq km in urbanized areas. In just 32 years the rate of urbanization increased from 7% in 1960 to 38% in 1992. Nevertheless, three out of four Beninese live in villages. Of the more than 42 ethnic groups, the Fon make up 40%, and four other groups—the Adja, Bariba, Yoruba, and Aizo/HouJda—account for another 40%. The remaining 20% is spread across the Fulani, Kotokoli, Dendi, and other groups.

LANGUAGE

The peoples of Benin speak 51 languages, making it one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world for its size. French is the official language, and has served to unify Benin. The two major vernaculars in the south are Fon and Yoruba, while in the north Bariba and Fulani dominate. As many as 18 languages are used in education, adult literacy, the media, and broadcasting. High schools teach English as one of the two foreign languages.

FOLKLORE

Benin's nickname, “Land of Songs,” testifies to the role of singing in daily life. Through singing, people express their feelings and narrate their history. Songs are melodious, controversial, satirical, or dramatic to convey the proper emotion. Each ethnic group has its own songs and dances.

Behanzin, king of Dahomey in the late 19th century, towers above the landscape as a national hero. He became king during a period of challenge and intrigue, and went to war with France over a tributary state, Porto Novo, which France had made a protectorate. His kingdom was no match for the superior firepower of the French, and after many battles—some of them victories—he escaped to the bush. Eventually he surrendered and was exiled, and he died in Algeria of pneumonia in 1906. In 1928 his remains were brought back to Benin, where he was reburied with full military honors.

RELIGION

The majority of Beninese practice animist religion. Some 42% are considered Christian, with about 27% of these Catholic. Pope John Paul II's first trip to Africa included a visit to Benin in 1980. About 24% of the population subscribes to Islam, introduced by Arab, Hausa, and Songhai-Dendi traders from the north.

Beninese animists recognize some 5,000–6,000 deities among the Fon, Yoruba, Mina and other coastal groups. Cult leaders are fetishers, diviners, and venerators of spirits. One of the most famous cults, the Python Cult, or the Cult of the Great Serpent, reveres a deity native to the pre-colonial kingdom of Ouidah in the south. The main temple is an unpre-possessing structure across from the cathedral, but it houses huge defanged pythons. Churchgoers typically worship at both places on Sundays. In earlier times, Catholic priests attempted to eradicate the cult, but the local population resisted, burning down missions and chasing out the priests. Kérékou also tried to disgrace, imprison, and brand the fetishers as national traitors. The government has since adopted a collaborative approach, and enlisted fetish priests in national development.

MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Beninese celebrate 12 national holidays, which are an eclectic mix of animist, Muslim, Christian, and secular holidays. The Muslim Tabaski feast and the month long fast of Ramadan, as well as the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, have become ecumenical holidays. Formerly, Independence Day, August 1, was celebrated with parades, folkloric dances, and gala evening balls, but 18 years of Kérékou's revolutionary rule gave a certain ambiguity to patriotic celebrations. Difficult financial times also have made it harder to celebrate, and most Beninese spend national holidays quietly with their families, enjoying a good meal.

RITES OF PASSAGE

Beninese family life, social stability, and tradition depend on rites of passage. The rites are festive occasions and opportunities to restore balance when death occurs. Baptisms are community celebrations. Seven days after birth, a baby's head is shaved completely, the baby receives a name, and family and friends offer prayers for the parents and the child. Friends bring gifts, usually small sums of money, a sheep is butchered, and eating and dancing follow until early in the morning.

Relatives often help choose mates for their nieces and nephews, cousins, and younger sisters and brothers. After a period of engagement, a young man offers gifts of jewelry, clothing, shoes, suitcases, and if his wealth permits, a refrigerator, to his fiancée. This secures the bride-price. Then, a small delegation of the groom's uncles and aunts visits the representatives of the future bride to propose marriage. The groom's side brings money and 40 cola nuts, symbolic of respect and harmony. If their proposal is accepted, the cola nuts are divided among the bride's family and friends, and the date is set.

Weddings are festive and cause for much feasting and celebration. Traditional weddings can last for weeks. The bride is secluded with a few friends and taken care of by elderly women. They apply enJe, a stain, to the palm of the hands and soles of the feet, which eventually turns black. The night before the wedding, the bride sits upon a wooden mortar and is washed by the women. In the morning prayers are offered, and the groom brings additional gifts of shoes and African cloth. Traditional strips of cloth woven together serve to make the wedding gown. The bride wears special sandals, and sometimes the groom's clothing will match that of the bride.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

As in much of Africa, people typically greet each other even if they are strangers passing on the street. Upon waking in the morning, children wash their faces, brush their teeth, and then directly greet their parents good morning. In Fon, one greets another person with “Good morning” (AH-FON Ghan-Jee-Ah), “How are you?” (Ah-Doh Ghan-Jee-Ah), “Th ank you” (Ah-Wah-Nou), and “Good bye” (OH-Dah-Boh). The Muslim form of greeting involves asking about another's family's well-being, and shaking hands is interrupted each time by touching the right hand to the breast. Visitors always are offered a glass of water and, if it is meal time, are expected to join in sharing some food. In the north, people traditionally do not shake hands, though this is changing. When visiting an older family member or a distinguished member of the community, one kneels before the elder in respect.

LIVING CONDITIONS

Living standards remain low. Benin ranks 163rd out of 177 countries in human development. In rural areas, one of two households does not have a safe water supply, and only one in three has access to proper toilet facilities. Malaria, acute respiratory infections, diarrhea, measles, and malnutrition are common. Life expectancy is 55.4 years, and 76 of 1,000 children born will not live to reach their first birthday. Many Beninese are food insecure, especially in the north where insufficient rains and locust infestations devastate crops. About one in four children under five are moderately malnourished and approximately 40% of pregnant women are anemic. Nearly half of all Beninese women still give birth at home without professional assistance.

Despite these serious problems, Benin is improving the health and living environment of its youthful population. The constitution of 1990 made special provisions for the survival, protection, and development of children, which included guarantees for their education. Benin ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in August 1990, one of the first 22 countries to do so. Benin participates in a comprehensive health plan known as the Bamako Health Initiative, which is bringing medicines to the vast majority of the approximately 400 rural health clinics. Of all children under one, 73% are fully immunized against diphtheria, polio and tetanus (1992).

The main roads in Benin are paved, and travel from the coast to the north by bush taxi or minivan is easy. Secondary roads can be rugged and cause considerable wear and tear on vehicles. Together, Benin has 600 miles of paved roads and another 5,000 miles of unpaved roads.

FAMILY LIFE

Beninese place a high value on family and are close-knit. Nuclear families composed of the parents and children may often include a niece or nephew, cousin, grandchild or grandparent. The sense of extended family builds out from this core to include cousins and more distant kin within the clan or lineage. Even these relatives may be referred to as brother and sister.

On average, Beninese women will be expected to have seven pregnancies in their lifetime, but families of 4–6 children are becoming the norm. Typically, the village family—including children if they are not in school—leaves the hut early in the morning only to return late in the day after working the fields, which may be at quite a distance. After the evening meal there may be storytelling around a fire. The institution of family remains resistant to social pressures and most often, if a child is born out of wedlock, the parents will marry so that the child receives a proper upbringing. In polygamous relationships, wives have their own huts in the village, or if in town, apartments in the same house, and share common kitchen and living facilities. Nonetheless, polygamous relationships can lead to quarreling and often add tensions to family life.

CLOTHING

On the coast, women typically wear African pagnes of striking colors and patterns, often with a matching head scarf. Muslim women wear a three-piece cloth outfit, with one piece wrapped around the waist and falling to the ankle, a second wrapped around the chest and reaching around the knee, and a third covering the head. Once married, Muslim women always cover their heads in public. Men traditionally wear boubou-style cotton shirts over pants, which may or may not be of matching patterns. Increasing in popularity is the West African embroidered boubou for men and women, which requires many hours of skill to sew and embroider. Boubous of this quality are very expensive, costing into the hundreds of dollars, and are reserved for special occasions. A cheaper substitute for many people is used clothing (fripperie) shipped in large bales on container ships from Europe and the United States.

FOOD

Despite pockets of food scarcity and insecurity, a great variety of foods exist in Benin and diets vary considerably from south to north. Taboos, handed down in the family, may prohibit the consumption of fish, goat, and beef, depending on the taboo. The staple food is la pate, made by adding boiling water to corn, millet, cassava, or sorghum flour. The accompanying sauces are cooked for a long time and seasoned with onions, tomatoes, garlic, and peppers. Sauces may be based on vegetables or pounded leaves, and may include fish or meat. As elsewhere in Africa, la pate is dipped into the sauce, and is eaten with the right hand. Traditional households eat porridge for breakfast, made from millet, corn, yams, or manioc.

Other specialties in Benin include gari, which is grated manioc, soaked and pressed to remove the natural traces of cyanide, and then cooked in a pot until dried, making a very fine semolina. Gari is enjoyed with peanut-cake snacks. To make peanut cakes, the oil is pressed from the peanuts, and then sugar or salt is added depending on the desired taste. Then the paste is fried. If in need of a quick snack, merchants on street corners in southern towns offer 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).

EDUCATION

Benin's former reputation as Africa's “Latin Quarter” was earned for the high number of Beninese college graduates. Today, its education system faces major challenges. High unemployment has led to a reevaluation of the sacrifices required for Western schooling and young women are pressured to marry rather than finish school. Combined primary, secondary, and tertiary school enrollment was only 50% in 2004, but Beninese were making gains in adult literacy. In 2005 the government estimated that about 35% of all adults could read and write, compared with 23% in 1989.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

Beninese animism, dance, and music have a long and rich history. Perhaps the best known of the traditional dances belong to the Fon people of the southern region. These dances may be performed specifically for a ritual, such as the rada rite, which is one of the three principal cults of Vaudou from the ancient Allada kingdom. Fon dance is becoming modernized, and musical accompaniment is played on a mix of traditional drums and modern instruments such as electric guitars and synthesizers. Beninese musicians depend on skilled craftspeople to produce traditional instruments of high quality, and villages like Adjarra produce over 50 kinds of tam-tams.

Many cultural traditions have roots that can be traced to former kingdoms. In the northeast, Nikki is the capital of a former kingdom whose origins go back to the 15th century. The Baribas, who are wonderful riders, inhabit the area and organize diabolical displays of horsemanship announced by long trumpets that produce unusual noises.

WORK

A great challenge facing Beninese is finding gainful employment at a living wage. Because of the scarcity of decent jobs, as many as 75% of city dwellers work in the informal sector as peddlers, hawkers, and pushcart operators. In the villages, most Beninese (62%) work in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. About 60% of women work in agriculture alone. The principal subsistence crops are manioc, maize and yams, and cash crops include oil, coconut palms, and cotton. Fishing, textiles, a soap factory, and breweries employ less than 7% of the labor force. Nearly a quarter of all children between the ages of 5 and 14 in Benin work. In total, these children number about half a million workers.

Beninese are counting on a recently completed hydroelectric dam on the Mono River to provide power for future industrial projects that will lead to quality jobs. There is some hope that unexplored mineral deposits and offshore oil field development, now underway, will provide additional well-paying jobs.

SPORTS

The Beninese national sport of soccer is played and watched by Beninese everywhere the competitive urge strikes. It is played mainly by boys and young men. The national team is nicknamed “The Squirrels,” and has qualified once for the Africa Nations Cup (2008), but never the World Cup. There also are national teams for tennis and rugby. While not a sport in the western sense, traditional dancing is also extremely popular. Teamwork is an essential ingredient, and Beninese compare and rate dancers and musicians for their agility, creativity, technical skill, and stamina.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION

Entertainment preferences and possibilities vary greatly from urban to rural areas. In the towns and cities where electricity is available, Beninese have the option of watching state-run television. However, many people with the means or savvy are buying and hooking up to satellite dishes. A small proportion of the population has video cassette recorders. Cinemas are always popular. By contrast, electricity has yet to arrive in most villages. There, people make their own fun. Ceremonies, holidays, and traditional feasts constitute the bulk of community recreation. Baptisms, in particular, occur frequently and provide one of the most common forms of entertainment. A village of between 300–400 people may have up to 30 baptisms a year.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES

The royal history of ancient Dahomey is visible in the work of Beninese artists. The palace museum, which contains royal sepulchres and bas-relief sculpture of great intricacy, offers models of this ancient tradition. Beninese artists produce highly refined weaving and sculptures reminiscent of their ancestors' tradition. Tapestries are woven that use symbols and totems of the royal family. Sculptors fashion masks, tables, boxes, scepters, and armchairs. Much Beninese art is inspired by Benin's royal past, and carries on ancient traditions.

Crafts reflect artistic and practical needs. For example, craftswomen make pots of all sizes for carrying and storing water. Blacksmiths not only produce works of art, but are in great demand as bicycle, motorcycle, and automobile repairmen.

In the north, one finds a wide range of handmade instruments, from twin drums to calabashes that produce various tones and pitches to small Beninese guitars. One unique Beninese creation that mirrors life is the Sombas Dwellings. These are miniature round-tiered huts with turrets, resembling fortified castles. Artists have built these realistic models upon escarpments with deep valleys, waterfalls, lawns, and trees.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Benin's major social problems revolve around lack of economic opportunity, poor law enforcement, and the need for public services. High unemployment, low wages, and overdependence on the informal sector are driving educated people to take manual jobs such as driving motorcycle-taxis. Worse however, is the large number of street children, some of whom become prostitutes to support themselves, and others who are subject to trafficking. While the law prohibits human smuggling, Benin is a source, transit point, and destination for trafficked persons, mostly children who are forced into labor or sexually exploited. Some trafficking occurs as “ vidomegon,” a form of servitude in which children are forced to work under an arrangement between two families. Benin's central location in West Africa has made it a transshipment point for illicit drugs from Nigeria to Western Europe and the United States.

GENDER ISSUES

Serious gender issues include discrimination against women, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation (FGM). About 17% of women have undergone FGM. Rape and under-age marriage (under 14 years of age) are prohibited, but weakly enforced. In rural areas, a tradition of abduction and rape by a groom of his prospective bride persists despite efforts by government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to eradicate it. Though not as prevalent as in Ghana, trokosi (“wives of the deity”) is practiced. Trokosi involves sending a young virgin to work at a shrine in hopes that her servitude will atone for a past sin or crime of a family member. These young women are often exploited as sex slaves by traditional priests.

For some time Beninese women have played leading roles in the home and they continue to make many decisions regarding home economics and child care. The husband's job has been to act as the main supporter of the family. Nowadays, the scarcity of work means that men may spend more time away from the home. The consequent demands on Beninese women have forced them to find work outside the home tending small gardens or engaging in small businesses all the while caring for the family. Although women outlive men by 5%, only half as many women can read and write as men, and only about three quarters as many women as men are enrolled in primary, secondary, and university-level schools.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Africa South of the Sahara 2007. London: Europa Publishers, 2008.

Boko, Sylvain, et al, eds. Women in African Development: The Challenges of Globalization and Liberalization in the 21st Century. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2005.

Cornevin, Robert. La Republique Populaire du Benin: Des Origines Dahomeennes a nos Jours. Paris: Editions Maisonneuve et Larose, 1981.

Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Benin. 3rd ed. Lanham, MD, and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1995.

Herskovits, Melville J. Dahomey: An Ancient West African Kingdom. Vols. 1 and 2. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1967.

Miller, Susan Katz. “Sermon on the Farm.” International Wild-life. March/April 1992: 49-51, 1992.

Monserrat Palau Marti. Socíeté et Religion au Benin. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1993.

Roese, Peter M. A Popular History of Benin: The Rise and Fall of a Mighty Forest Kingdom. New York: P. Lang, 2003.

—by R. Groelsema and M. C. Groelsema

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