Benin (US English: /bᵻˈniːn/ bǝ-neen or /bᵻˈnɪn/bǝ-nin, UK English: /bɛˈniːn/ beh-neen; French: Bénin), officially the Republic of Benin (French: République du Bénin) and formerly Dahomey, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, and Burkina Fasoand Niger to the north. A majority of the population live on its small southern coastline on the Bight of Benin, part of the Gulf of Guinea in the northernmost tropical portion of the Atlantic Ocean. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is in Cotonou, the country's largest city and economic capital. Benin covers an area of 114,763 square kilometers and its population in 2015 was estimated to be approximately 10.88 million. Benin is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture, with substantial employment and income arising from subsistence farming.
The official language of Benin is French. However, indigenous languages such as Fon and Yoruba are commonly spoken. The largest religious group in Benin is Roman Catholicism, followed closely by Islam, Vodun and Protestantism. Benin is a member of the United Nations, the African Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, La Francophonie, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, the African Petroleum Producers Association and the Niger Basin Authority.
From the 17th to the 19th century, the main political entities in the area were the Kingdom of Dahomey along with the city-state of Porto-Novoand a large area with many different tribes to the north. This region was referred to as the Slave Coast from as early as the 17th century due to the large number of slaves shipped to the New World during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. After slavery was abolished, France took over the country and renamed it French Dahomey. In 1960, Dahomey gained full independence from France, and had a tumultuous period with many different democratic governments, many military coups and military governments.
A Marxist–Leninist state called the People's Republic of Benin existed between 1975 and 1990. In 1991, it was replaced by the current multi-party Republic of Benin.
Benin is a great country to visit on any West African itinerary. You'll find a large quantity of palatial ruins and temples of the once powerful Kingdom of Dahomey (1800s–1894). Moreover, Benin is the birthplace of Vodun (Voodoo) and all that goes with it—to this day Vodun remains the official religion of the country, and an important part of the life of ordinary Beninese. The national parks of Benin are also well worth a visit for their wildlife. Benin is also, fortunately, one of the most stable and safe countries of the region for traveling.
The equatorial south of Benin experiences two rainy seasons of the year, from April to mid July and from mid-September through the end of October. The rainy period in the subequatorial north runs from March until October. The best time of the year to visit the country is from November to February, when the temperature moderates, and the weather is dry with low humidity.
Benin, compared to its neighbours, is geographically smaller, being 112,620km² or a similar size to Honduras or the US state of Ohio. The country is basically divided into five geographic zones, from south to north: the Coastal plain, the plateau, the elevated plateau and savannah, hills in the northwest, and fertile plains in the north.
The nation consists of more than 60 ethnic groups. The major tribes include the Fon (40%), Aja (15%), and Yoruba (12%) in the south of the country, and the Bariba (9%), Somba (8%), and Fulbe (6%) in the north.
The most widespread religion is Christianity (43%), predominantly in the south, and Islam in the north (24%). Most interesting for many visitors, however, is the strong influence of Vodun on Benin, practiced as a principal religion by a good 18% of the populace, and which was spread about the globe largely by the massive quantity of slaves exported by the Dahomey Kingdom.
The majority of Benin's population lives in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 59 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 Dendiin the north-central area (who came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fula (French: Peul or Peulh; Fula: Fulɓe) in the northeast; the Betammaribeand 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 part of the 5500 European population. A small part of the European population consists of Beninese citizens of French ancestry, whose ancestors ruled Benin and left after independence.
In the 2002 census, 42.8% of the population of Benin were Christian (27.1% Roman Catholic, 5% Celestial Church of Christ, 3.2% Methodist, 7.5% other Christian denominations), 24.4% were Muslim, 17.3% practiced Vodun, 6% practiced other local traditional religions, 1.9% practiced other religions, and 6.5% claimed no religious affiliation.
Traditional religions include local animistic religions in the Atakora (Atakora and Donga provinces), and Vodunand Orisha veneration among the Yoruba and Tado peoples in the center and south of the nation. The town of Ouidah on the central coast is the spiritual center of Beninese Vodun.
The major introduced religions are Christianity, followed throughout the south and center of Benin and in Otammari country in the Atakora, and Islam, introduced by the Songhai Empireand Hausa merchants, and now followed throughout Alibori, Borgou and Donga provinces, as well as among the Yoruba (who also follow Christianity). Many, however, continue to hold Vodun and Orisha beliefs and have incorporated the pantheon of Vodun and Orisha into Christianity. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect originating in the 19th century, is also present in a significant minority.
Visas are not required by the following nationalities: Algeria, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Taiwan, and Togo.
Visas can be single entry (USD40) or multiple entry (USD45) and last 30 days. Visas cost USD140 for US citizens. In Paris, a single entry visa costs €70 for all EU citizens.
The economy of Benin is dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Cotton accounts for 40% of GDP and roughly 80% of official export receipts. Growth in real output has averaged around 5% in the past seven years, but rapid population growth has offset much of this increase. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. Benin uses the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro.
Benin’s economy has continued to strengthen over the past years, with real GDP growth estimated at 5.1 and 5.7% in 2008 and 2009, respectively. The main driver of growth is the agricultural sector, with cotton being the country’s main export, while services continue to contribute the largest part of GDP largely because of Benin’s geographical location, enabling trade, transportation, transit and tourism activities with its neighbouring states.
In order to raise growth still further, Benin plans to attract more foreign investment, place more emphasis on tourism, facilitate the development of new food processing systems and agricultural products, and encourage new information and communication technology. Projects to improve the business climate by reforms to the land tenure system, the commercial justice system, and the financial sector were included in Benin's US$307 million Millennium Challenge Account grant signed in February 2006.
The Paris Club and bilateral creditors have eased the external debt situation, with Benin benefiting from a G8 debt reduction announced in July 2005, while pressing for more rapid structural reforms. An insufficient electrical supply continues to adversely affect Benin's economic growth though the government recently has taken steps to increase domestic power production.
Although trade unions in Benin represent up to 75% of the formal workforce, the large informal economy has been noted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITCU) to contain ongoing problems, including a lack of women's wage equality, the use of child labour, and the continuing issue of forced labour.
Benin is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa(OHADA).
Cotonou has the country's only seaport and international airport. A new port is currently under construction between Cotonou and Porto Novo. Benin is connected by two-lane asphalted roads to its neighboring countries (Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria). Mobile telephone service is available across the country through various operators. ADSL connections are available in some areas. Benin is connected to the Internet by way of satellite connections (since 1998) and a single submarine cable SAT-3/WASC (since 2001), keeping the price of data extremely high. Relief is expected with initiation of the Africa Coast to Europe cable in 2011.
Currently, about a third of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day.