The University of Iowa University of Iowa




Porto Novo


11,340,504 (July 2018 est.)




605.3 XOF = 1 USD (2012)

Important Cities

Cotonou, Parakou, Djougou






Major Peoples

Yoruba, Fon, Benin Kingdom


Muslim 27.7%, Catholic 25.5%, Protestant 13.5%, Vodoun 11.6%, Christian 9.5%, other 11% (2013 est.)



Principal Language

Fon, Yoruba, Adja, Bariba

Official Language



Head Of State

Patrice Talon (since April 6, 2016)

Type of Government

Presidential Republic

Date of Independence

August 1, 1960

Major Exports

Cotton, Cashews, Shea Butter, Textiles, Palm Products, Seafood

Precolonial History

Pre-colonial Bénin was a succession of kingdoms, the most powerful being the kingdom of Dahomey, established by the Fon peoples in the early 17th century, with its capital city at Abomey. European powers began arriving in the mid-17th century. In 1750, the Portuguese founded Porto-Novo in the area that became known as the Slave Coast, trading European commodities with the obas (kings) and sending slaves to Brazil and the Caribbean. The French, who had founded a port at Ouidah in 1704, attempted to suppress the slave trade in the mid-19th century. Their efforts led to both alliances and rivalries with the local peoples. The French defeated the last king of Abomey and conquered Dahomey, declaring a protectorate over the kingdom in 1894. The colony was granted independence from France in 1960.

Postcolonial History

In the early years of independence, the nation was plagued by political instability, including many coups d’état and changes of government. In 1972, a group of officers established a military revolutionary government and named Major Mathieu Kérékou chief of state. The Kérékou government, with the support of Bénin’s Marxist intellectuals, soon began a process of revolutionary change, attempting to restructure the government, economy, and society along Marxist-Leninist lines. In 1977, a group of mercenaries landed at the Cotonou airport to carry out a coup d’état, but were quickly repulsed by the Kérékou government. The first National Revolutionary Assembly was elected in 1979, and Kérékou was elected president in 1980. He was defeated by former Prime Minister Nicéphore Songo in the 1991 election, marking the country’s shift from a dictatorship to a democracy, but Kérékou returned to power in a series of controversial elections. In 2006, Thomas Boni Yayi defeated Kérékou in the presidential elections. On August 1, 2010, Bénin celebrated fifty years of independence. The same year, the parliament majority accused Boni Yayi of corruption, and flooding drove thousands into homelessness. Boni Yayi was re-elected in 2011 despite claims of voting fraud. Bénin continues to suffer from Nigerian trade protection that bans imports of a growing list of products from Bénin and elsewhere, which has resulted in increased smuggling and criminality in the border region.

Recommended Sources:

One World Nations Online, “Benin” (

Mathurin C. Hougnikpo and Samuel Decalo, Historical Dictionary of Bénin (Lanham, Toronto, Plymouth, UK: The Scarecrow Press, 2013).

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