Bénin

Info

Capital

Porto Novo

Population

9,877,292 (July 2013 est.)

Climate

Tropical

Currency

514.1 FCFA = 1 USD (2012)

Important Cities

Cotonou, Parakou, Ouidah

Area

112,622 sq.km.

People

Nationality

Béninois

Major Peoples

Yoruba, Fon, Benin Kingdom

Religion

Catholic 27.1%, Muslim 24.4%, Vodoun 17.3%, Protestant 10.4%, Christian 5.3%, other 15.5% (2002 census)

Literacy

42.4%

Principal Language

Fon, Yoruba, Adja, Bariba

Official Language

French

Politics

Head Of State

Yayi Boni

Type of Government

Republic

Date of Independence

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” (http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/benin.htm).

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

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