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Geography of Benin - History

Geography of Benin - History

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It extends eastward for about 640 kilometres (400 mi) from Cape St. Paul to the Nun outlet of the Niger River. To the east it continues by the Bight of Bonny (formerly Bight of Biafra). The Republic of Benin and this bight were both named after the Kingdom of Benin.

Historical associations with the Atlantic slave trade led to the region becoming known as the Slave Coast. As in many other regions across Africa, powerful indigenous kingdoms along the Bight of Benin relied heavily on a long established slave trade that expanded greatly after the arrival of European powers and became a global trade with the colonization of the Americas. [1] Estimates from the 1640s suggest that Benin took in 1200 slaves a year. Restrictions made it hard for slave volume to grow until new states and different routes began to make an increase in slave trade possible. [2]

The Bight of Benin has a long association with slavery, its shore being known as the Slave Coast. An old rhyme says:

Beware, beware the Bight of the Benin, for few come out though many go in.

Beware beware, the Bight of Benin: one comes out, where fifty went in!

This is said to be a slavery jingle or sea shanty about the risk of malaria in the Bight. [3] A third version of the couplet is:

Beware and take care of the Bight of Benin. There's one comes out for forty goes in." [4]

In R. Austin Freeman’s 1927 novel A Certain Dr. Thorndyke, Chapter II, "The Legatee," mention is made of this location. The scene is the Gold Coast colony in Africa where the character Larkom asks, "How does the old mariners’ ditty run? You remember it. 'Oh, the Bight of Benin, the Bight of Benin, One comes out where three go in.'" Life expectancy was short in this locale due to the prevalence of Blackwater fever.

The author Philip McCutchan has written a book titled Beware, beware the Bight of Benin.

A short story by Elizabeth Coatsworth, "The Forgotten Island" (1942), deals with a treasure from Benin. A variation of the rhyme is also mentioned. [5]

Flash For Freedom!, George MacDonald Fraser's 1971 picaresque novel of Harry Flashman's misadventures in—among other places and situations—an English stately home, the 1840s slave trade, antebellum plantation life, and meeting with then-congressman Abraham Lincoln, quotes another variant of the couplet:

Oh, sailor beware of the Bight o' Benin.

There's one as comes out for a hundred goes in.

In Patrick O'Brian's novel The Commodore (1996), Dr. Maturin recites the rhyme when he learned of his ship's destination. Commodore Aubrey checks him, telling him it is bad luck to say that out loud on the way in.

The rhyme is also partially quoted in chapter Context(6) of John Brunner's novel Stand on Zanzibar. The Bight of Benin (as well as the fictional republic of Beninia) is mentioned throughout the novel.

David Bramhall's series of novels "The Greatest Cape" also mentions the rhyme, one of the characters in the first volume, The Black Joke, having been a pirate and a slaver.

In 2007, a collection of short stories entitled The Bight of Benin: Short Fiction by Kelly J. Morris was published by The stories are set in Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.

On 1 February 1852 the British established the Bight of Benin British protectorate, under the authority of Consuls of the Bight of Benin: the republic of Benin and Bight of Benin were named after the Great Benin Empire extending eastward from Cape St. Paul to the Nun outlet of River Niger.

Term Protectorate
May 1852 – 1853 Louis Fraser
1853 – April 1859 Benjamin Campbell
April 1859 – 1860 George Brand
1860 – January 1861 Henry Hand
January 1861 – May 1861 Henry Grant Foote
May 1861 – 6 August 1861 William McCoskry (acting)

On 6 August 1861 the Bight of Biafra protectorate and Bight of Benin protectorate were joined as a united British protectorate, ultimately to be merged into Nigeria.


During the colonial period and at independence, the country was known as Dahomey. On 30 November 1975, it was renamed Benin. [16] "Dahomey changed its name to the Republic of Benin (République du Bénin) in memory of pre-19th century greatness of Ancient Benin of Nigeria", [17] referring to the historic Kingdom of Benin.

Precolonial period Edit

The current country of Benin combines three areas which had distinctly different political systems and ethnicities prior to French colonial control. Before 1700, there were a few important city-states along the coast (primarily of the Aja ethnic group, but also including Yoruba and Gbe peoples) and a mass of tribal regions inland (composed of Bariba, Mahi, Gedevi, and Kabye peoples). The Oyo Empire, located primarily to the east of modern Benin, was the most significant large-scale military force in the region. It regularly conducted raids and exacted tribute from the coastal kingdoms and the tribal regions. [18] The situation changed in the 1600s and early 1700s as the Kingdom of Dahomey, consisting mostly of Fon people, was founded on the Abomey plateau and began taking over areas along the coast. [19] By 1727, king Agaja of the Kingdom of Dahomey had conquered the coastal cities of Allada and Whydah, but it had become a tributary of the Oyo empire and did not directly attack the Oyo allied city-state of Porto-Novo. [20] The rise of the kingdom of Dahomey, the rivalry between the kingdom and the city of Porto-Novo, and the continued tribal politics of the northern region, persisted into the colonial and post-colonial periods. [21]

The Dahomey Kingdom was known for its culture and traditions. Young boys were often apprenticed to older soldiers, and taught the kingdom's military customs until they were old enough to join the army. [22] Dahomey was also famous for instituting an elite female soldier corps, called Ahosi, i.e. the king's wives, or Mino, "our mothers" in the Fon language Fongbe, and known by many Europeans as the Dahomean Amazons. This emphasis on military preparation and achievement earned Dahomey the nickname of "black Sparta" from European observers and 19th-century explorers such as Sir Richard Burton. [23]

Early Portuguese colonization and the slave trade Edit

The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery. [24] They also had a practice of killing war captives in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs. By about 1750, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling African captives to European slave-traders. [25]

Though the leaders of Dahomey appear to have initially resisted the slave trade, it flourished in the region of Dahomey for almost three hundred years, beginning in 1472 with a trade agreement with Portuguese merchants. The area was named the "Slave Coast" because of this flourishing trade. Court protocols, which demanded that a portion of war captives from the kingdom's many battles be decapitated, decreased the number of enslaved people exported from the area. The number went from 102,000 people per decade in the 1780s to 24,000 per decade by the 1860s. [26] The decline was partly due to the Slave Trade Act 1807 banning the trans-Atlantic slave trade by Britain in 1808, followed by other countries. [25] This decline continued until 1885, when the last slave ship departed from the coast of the modern Benin Republic bound for Brazil in South America, which had yet to abolish slavery. The capital's name Porto-Novo is of Portuguese origin, meaning "New Port". It was originally developed as a port for the slave trade.

Among the goods the Portuguese sought were carved items of ivory made by Benin's artisans in the form of carved saltcellars, spoons, and hunting horns - the first pieces of African art produced for sale abroad as exotic objects. [27]

French colonial period Edit

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Dahomey had begun to weaken and lose its status as the regional power. This enabled the French to take over the area in 1892. In 1899, the French included the land called French Dahomey within the larger French West Africa colonial region.

In 1958, France granted autonomy to the Republic of Dahomey, and full independence on 1 August 1960, which is celebrated each year as Independence Day, a national holiday. [28] The president who led the country to independence was Hubert Maga. [29] [30]

Post-colonial period Edit

For the next twelve years after 1960, ethnic strife contributed to a period of turbulence. There were several coups and regime changes, with the figures of Hubert Maga, Sourou Apithy, Justin Ahomadégbé, and Émile Derlin Zinsou dominating the first three each represented a different area and ethnicity of the country. These three agreed to form a Presidential Council after violence marred the 1970 elections.

On 7 May 1972, Maga ceded power to Ahomadégbé. On 26 October 1972, Lt. Col. Mathieu Kérékou overthrew the ruling triumvirate, becoming president and stating that the country would not "burden itself by copying foreign ideology, and wants neither Capitalism, Communism, nor Socialism". On 30 November 1974 however, he announced that the country was officially Marxist, under control of the Military Council of the Revolution (CMR), which nationalized the petroleum industry and banks. On 30 November 1975, he renamed the country to the People's Republic of Benin. [31] [32]

The CMR was dissolved in 1979, and Kérékou arranged show elections in which he was the only allowed candidate. Establishing relations with China, North Korea, and Libya, he put nearly all businesses and economic activities under state control, causing foreign investment in Benin to dry up. [33] Kérékou attempted to reorganize education, pushing his own aphorisms such as "Poverty is not a fatality", resulting in a mass exodus of teachers, along with numerous other professionals. [33] The regime financed itself by contracting to take nuclear waste, first from the Soviet Union and later from France. [33]

In 1980, Kérékou converted to Islam and changed his first name to Ahmed. He changed his name back after claiming to be a born-again Christian. In 1989, riots broke out when the regime did not have enough money to pay its army. The banking system collapsed. Eventually, Kérékou renounced Marxism, and a convention forced Kérékou to release political prisoners and arrange elections. [33] Marxism–Leninism was abolished as the nation's form of government. [34]

The country's name was officially changed to the Republic of Benin on 1 March 1990, after the newly formed government's constitution was completed. [35]

In a 1991 election, Kérékou lost to Nicéphore Soglo. Kérékou returned to power after winning the 1996 vote. In 2001, a closely fought election resulted in Kérékou winning another term, after which his opponents claimed election irregularities.

In 1999, Kérékou issued a national apology for the substantial role that Africans had played in the Atlantic slave trade. [36]

Kérékou and former president Soglo did not run in the 2006 elections, as both were barred by the constitution's restrictions on age and total terms of candidates.

On 5 March 2006, an election was held that was considered free and fair. It resulted in a runoff between Yayi Boni and Adrien Houngbédji. The runoff election was held on 19 March and was won by Boni, who assumed office on 6 April. The success of the fair multi-party elections in Benin won praise internationally. Boni was reelected in 2011, taking 53.18% of the vote in the first round—enough to avoid a runoff election. He was the first president to win an election without a runoff since the restoration of democracy in 1991.

In the March 2016 presidential elections, in which Boni Yayi was barred by the constitution from running for a third term, businessman Patrice Talon won the second round with 65.37% of the vote, defeating investment banker and former Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou. Talon was sworn in on 6 April 2016. [37] Speaking on the same day that the Constitutional Court confirmed the results, Talon said that he would "first and foremost tackle constitutional reform", discussing his plan to limit presidents to a single term of five years in order to combat "complacency". He also said that he planned to slash the size of the government from 28 to 16 members. [38]

In April 2021, President Patrice Talon was re-elected, with more than 86.3% of the votes cast, in Benin's presidential election. [39] The change in election laws resulted in total control of parliament by president Talon's supporters. [40]

Benin's politics take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, in which the President of Benin is both head of state and head of government, within a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the legislature. The judiciary is officially independent of the executive and the legislature, though in practice its independence has been gradually hollowed out by Mr Talon, and the Constitutional Court is now headed by his former personal lawyer. [41] The political system is derived from the 1990 Constitution of Benin and the subsequent transition to democracy in 1991.

Benin scored highly in the 2013 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which comprehensively measures the state of governance across the continent. Benin was ranked 18th out of 52 African countries and scored best in the categories of Safety & Rule of Law and Participation & Human Rights. [42] In its 2007 Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Benin 53rd out of 169 countries. That place had fallen to 78th by 2016, when Mr Talon took office, and has fallen further to 113th since then. [41] Benin has been rated equal-88th out of 159 countries in a 2005 analysis of police, business, and political corruption. [43]

Benin's democratic system has eroded since President Talon took office. [41] In 2018 his government introduced new rules for fielding candidates and raised the cost of registering. The electoral commission, packed with Mr Talon's allies, barred all opposition parties from the parliamentary election in 2019, resulting in a parliament made up entirely of supporters of Mr Talon. That parliament subsequently changed election laws such that presidential candidates need to have the approval of at least 10% of Benin's MPs and mayors. As parliament and nearly all mayors’ offices are controlled by Mr Talon, he now has control over who can run for president.

Benin is divided into 12 departments (French: départements) which, in turn, are subdivided into 77 communes. In 1999, the previous six departments were each split into two halves, forming the current 12. [44] The six new departments were assigned official capitals in 2008.

Ethnic Groups of Benin (2013 Census)

The majority of Benin's 11,485,000 inhabitants live in the south of the country. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 62 years. [48] About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country, including the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from what is now Nigeria in the 12th century) the Dendi in the north-central area (who came from Mali in the 16th century) the Bariba and the Fula in the northeast the Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atakora Mountains the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast. [49]

Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin that include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. [50] The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. [50] The personnel of the many European embassies and foreign aid missions and of nongovernmental organisations and various missionary groups account for a large part of the 5,500 European population. [49] A small part of the European population consists of Beninese citizens of French ancestry. [ citation needed ]

Largest cities Edit

Religion in Benin (CIA World Factbook estimate 2013) [52]

In the 2013 census, 48.5% of the population of Benin were Christian (25.5% Roman Catholic, 6.7% Celestial Church of Christ, 3.4% Methodist, 12.9% other Christian denominations), 27.7% were Muslim, 11.6% practiced Vodun, 2.6% practiced other local traditional religions, 2.6% practiced other religions, and 5.8% claimed no religious affiliation. [1] [53] A government survey conducted by the Demographic and Health Surveys Program in 2011-2012 indicated that followers of Christianity had increased to 57.5% of the population (with Catholics making up 33.9%, Methodists 3.0%, Celestials 6.2% and other Christians 14.5%), while Muslims had declined to 22.8%. [54]

Traditional religions include local animistic religions in the Atakora (Atakora and Donga provinces), and Vodun and 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.

Today the two largest religions are Christianity, followed throughout the south and center of Benin and in Otammari country in the Atakora, and Islam, introduced by the Songhai Empire and 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.

Benin, a narrow, north–south strip of land in West Africa, lies between latitudes 6° and 13°N, and longitudes 0° and 4°E. 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. The distance from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south is about 650 km (404 mi). Although the coastline measures 121 km (75 mi), the country measures about 325 km (202 mi) at its widest point. Four terrestrial ecoregions lie within Benin's borders: Eastern Guinean forests, Nigerian lowland forests, Guinean forest-savanna mosaic, and West Sudanian savanna. [55] It had a 2018 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 5.86/10, ranking it 93rd globally out of 172 countries. [56]

Benin shows little variation in elevation and can be divided into four areas from the south to the north, starting with the low-lying, sandy, coastal plain (highest elevation 10 m (32.8 ft)) which is, at most, 10 km (6.2 mi) wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons communicating with the ocean. Behind the coast lies the Guinean forest-savanna mosaic-covered plateaus of southern Benin (altitude between 20 and 200 m (66 and 656 ft)), which are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Ouémé Rivers.

This geography makes it vulnerable to climate change. With the majority of the country living near the coast in low-lying areas sea level rise could have large effects on the economy and population. [57] Northern areas will see additional regions become deserts, [58] making agriculture difficult in a region with many subsistence farmers.

An area of flat land dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 m (1,312 ft) extends around Nikki and Save.

A range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo these are the Atacora. The highest point, Mont Sokbaro, is at 658 m (2,159 ft). Benin has fallow fields, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrub 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. [49] Pendjari National Park together with the bordering Parks Arli and W in Burkina Faso and Niger are among the most important strongholds for the endangered West African lion. With an estimated 356 (range: 246–466) lions, W-Arli-Pendjari harbors the largest remaining population of lions in West Africa. [59] Historically Benin has served as habitat for the endangered painted hunting dog, Lycaon pictus [60] however, this canid is thought to have been locally extirpated.

Benin's climate is hot and humid. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 1300 mm or about 51 inches. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons per year. 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 (87.8 °F) the minimum is 24 °C (75.2 °F). [49]

Variations in temperature increase when moving north through savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the Harmattan blows from December to March, when grass dries up, other vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be overcast. It is also the season when farmers burn brush in the fields. [49]

The economy of Benin is dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Cotton accounts for 40% of the GDP and roughly 80% of official export receipts. [61] Growth in real output has averaged around 5% in the past seven years, but rapid population growth has offset much of this increase. [ when? ] 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 neighboring states. [62] Benin's overall macroeconomic conditions were positive in 2017, with a growth rate of around 5.6 percent. Economic growth was largely driven by Benin's cotton industry and other cash crops, the Port of Cotonou, and telecommunications. Cashew and pineapple production and processing have substantial commercial potential. The country's primary source of revenue is the Port of Cotonou, although the government is seeking to expand its revenue base. In 2017, Benin imported about $2.8 billion in goods such as rice, meat and poultry, alcoholic beverages, fuel plastic materials, specialized mining and excavating machinery, telecommunications equipment, passenger vehicles, and toiletries and cosmetics. Principal exports are ginned cotton, cotton cake and cotton seeds, cashew, shea butter, cooking oil, and lumber. [63]

Access to biocapacity in Benin is lower than world average. In 2016, Benin had 0.9 global hectares [64] of biocapacity per person within its territory, much less than the world average of 1.6 global hectares per person. [65] In 2016 Benin used 1.4 global hectares of biocapacity per person - their ecological footprint of consumption. This means they use slightly under double as much biocapacity as Benin contains. As a result, Benin is running a biocapacity deficit. [64]

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. [66]

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. [48]

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 labor, and the continuing issue of forced labor. [67]

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 the initiation of the Africa Coast to Europe cable in 2011.

Despite the GDP growth rate of 4-5% remaining consistent over the past two decades, poverty has been increasing. [69] According to the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Analysis in Benin, those living under the poverty line have increased from 36.2% in 2011 to 40.1% in 2015. [70]

The literacy rate in Benin is among the lowest in the world: in 2015 it was estimated to be 38.4% (49.9% for males and 27.3% for females). [48] Benin has achieved universal primary education and half of the children (54%) were enrolled in secondary education in 2013, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Although at one time the education system was not free, [71] Benin has abolished school fees and is carrying out the recommendations of its 2007 Educational Forum. [72]

The government has devoted more than 4% of GDP to education since 2009. In 2015, public expenditure on education (all levels) amounted to 4.4% of GDP, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Within this expenditure, Benin devoted quite a large share to tertiary education: 0.97% of GDP. [73]

Between 2009 and 2011, the share of young people enrolled at university rose from 10% to 12% of the 1825 year age cohort, one of the highest ratios in West Africa. Student enrollment in tertiary education more than doubled between 2006 and 2011 from 50,225 to 110,181. These statistics encompass not only bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. programmes but also students enrolled in non-degree post-secondary diplomas. [73]

National policy framework Edit

The regulatory framework has evolved since 2006 till date when the country's first science policy was prepared. This has since been updated and complemented by new texts on science and innovation (the year of adoption is between brackets): [73]

  • a manual for monitoring and evaluating research structures and organizations (2013)
  • a manual on how to select research programmes and projects and apply to the National Fund for Scientific Research and Technological Innovation (2013) for competitive grants
  • a draft act for funding scientific research and innovation and a draft code of ethics for scientific research and innovation were both submitted to the Supreme Court in 2014
  • a strategic plan for scientific research and innovation (under development in 2015).

Equally important are Benin's efforts to integrate science into existing policy documents:

  • Benin Development Strategies 2025: Benin 2025 Alafia (2000)
  • Growth Strategy for Poverty Reduction 2011–2016 (2011)
  • Phase 3 of the Ten-year Development Plan for the Education Sector, covering 2013–2015
  • Development Plan for Higher Education and Scientific Research 2013–2017 (2014).

In 2015, Benin's priority areas for scientific research were: health, education, construction and building materials, transportation and trade, culture, tourism and handicrafts, cotton/textiles, food, energy and climate change. [73]

The main challenges facing research and development in Benin are: [73]

  • the unfavorable organizational framework for research: weak governance, a lack of co-operation between research structures and the absence of an official document on the status of researchers
  • the inadequate use of human resources and the lack of any motivational policy for researchers and
  • the mismatch between research and development needs.

Human and financial investment in research Edit

In 2007, Benin counted 1,000 researchers (in headcounts). This corresponds to 115 researchers per million inhabitants. The main research structures in Benin are the Centre for Scientific and Technical Research, National Institute of Agricultural Research, National Institute for Training and Research in Education, Office of Geological and Mining Research and the Centre for Entomological Research. [73]

The University of Abomey-Calavi was selected by the World Bank in 2014 to participate in its Centres of Excellence project, owing to its expertise in applied mathematics. Within this project, the World Bank has loaned $8 million to Benin. The Association of African Universities has also received funds to enable it to co-ordinate knowledge-sharing among the 19 universities in West Africa involved in the project. [73]

There are no available data on Benin's level of investment in research and development. [73]

In 2013, the government devoted 2.5% of GDP to public health. In December 2014, 150 volunteer health professionals travelled to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria, as part of a joint initiative by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its specialized agency, the West African Health Organisation, to help combat the epidemic. The Ebola epidemic has been a tragic reminder of the chronic underinvestment in West African health systems. [73]

The Government of Benin devoted less than 5% of GDP to agricultural development in 2010, even though the members of the African Union had agreed to commit at least 10% of GDP to this area in the Maputo Declaration of 2003. They reiterated this goal in the Malabo Declaration adopted in Equatorial Guinea in 2014. In the latter declaration, they reaffirmed their 'intention to devote 10% of their national budgets to agricultural development and agreed to targets such as doubling agricultural productivity, halving post-harvest loss and bringing stunting down to 10% across Africa'. However, African leaders meeting in Equatorial Guinea failed to resolve the debate on establishing a common standard of measurement for the 10% target. [74]

Research output Edit

Benin has the third-highest publication intensity for scientific journals in West Africa, according to Thomson Reuters' Web of Science, Science Citation Index Expanded. There were 25.5 scientific articles per million inhabitants cataloged in this database in 2014. This compares with 65.0 for the Gambia, 49.6 for Cape Verde, 23.2 for Senegal and 21.9 for Ghana. The volume of publications in this database tripled in Benin between 2005 and 2014 from 86 to 270. Between 2008 and 2014, Benin's main scientific collaborators were based in France (529 articles), United States (261), United Kingdom (254), Belgium (198) and Germany (156). [73]

Transport in Benin includes road, rail, water and air transportation. Benin possesses a total of 6,787 km of highway, of which 1,357 km are paved. Of the paved highways in the country, there are 10 expressways. This leaves 5,430 km of unpaved road. The Trans-West African Coastal Highway crosses Benin, connecting it to Nigeria to the east, and Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast to the west. When construction in Liberia and Sierra Leone is finished, the highway will continue west to seven other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) nations. A paved highway also connects Benin northwards to Niger, and through that country to Burkina Faso and Mali to the north-west.

Rail transport in Benin consists of 578 km (359 mi) of single track, 1,000 mm ( 3 ft 3 + 3 ⁄ 8 in ) metre gauge railway. Benin does not, at this time, share railway links with adjacent countries, but construction work has commenced on international lines connecting Benin with Niger and Nigeria, with outline plans announced for further connections to Togo and Burkina Faso. Benin will be a participant in the AfricaRail project.

Cadjehoun Airport, located at Cotonou, has direct international jet service to Accra, Niamey, Monrovia, Lagos, Ouagadougou, Lomé, and Douala, as well as other cities in Africa. Direct services also link Cotonou to Paris, Brussels, and Istanbul.

The HIV/AIDS rate in Benin was estimated in 2013 at 1.13% of adults aged 15–49 years. [75] Malaria is a problem in Benin, being a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children younger than five years. [76]

During the 1980s, less than 30% of the country's population had access to primary health care services. Benin had one of the highest death rates for children under the age of five in the world. Its infant mortality rate stood at 203 deaths for every 1 000 live births. Only one in three mothers had access to child health care services. The Bamako Initiative changed that dramatically by introducing community-based healthcare reform, resulting in more efficient and equitable provision of services. [77] As of 2015 [update] , Benin had the 26th highest rate of maternal mortality in the world. [78] According to a 2013 UNICEF report, 13% of women had undergone female genital mutilation. [79] A comprehensive approach strategy was extended to all areas of healthcare, with subsequent improvement in the health care indicators and improvement in health care efficiency and cost. [80] Demographic and Health Surveys has completed three surveys in Benin since 1996. [81]

Arts Edit

Beninese literature had a strong oral tradition long before French became the dominant language. [82] Félix Couchoro wrote the first Beninese novel, L'Esclave (The Slave), in 1929.

Post-independence, the country was home to a vibrant and innovative music scene, where native folk music combined with Ghanaian highlife, French cabaret, American rock, funk and soul, and Congolese rumba.

Singer Angélique Kidjo and actor Djimon Hounsou were born in Cotonou, Benin. Composer Wally Badarou and singer Gnonnas Pedro are also of Beninese descent.

Biennale Benin, continuing the projects of several organizations and artists, started in the country in 2010 as a collaborative event called "Regard Benin". In 2012, the project became a Biennial coordinated by the Consortium, a federation of local associations. The international exhibition and artistic program of the 2012 Biennale Benin are curated by Abdellah Karroum and the Curatorial Delegation.

A number of Beninese artists have received major international recognition, such as Georges Adéagbo, Meschac Gaba, Romuald Hazoumè, Dominique Zinkpè [fr] and Emo de Medeiros.

Customary names Edit

Many Beninese in the south of the country have Akan-based names indicating the day of the week on which they were born. This is due to influence of the Akan people like the Akwamu and others. [83]

Language Edit

Local languages are used as the languages of instruction in elementary schools, with French only introduced after several years. In wealthier cities, however, French is usually taught at an earlier age. At the secondary school level, local language is generally forbidden and French is the sole language of instruction. Beninese languages are generally transcribed with a separate letter for each speech sound (phoneme), rather than using diacritics as in French or digraphs as in English. This includes Beninese Yoruba, which in Nigeria is written with both diacritics and digraphs. For instance, the mid vowels written é, è, ô, o in French are written e, ɛ, o, ɔ in Beninese languages, whereas the consonants are written ng and sh or ch in English are written ŋ and c. However, digraphs are used for nasal vowels and the labial-velar consonants kp and gb, as in the name of the Fon language Fon gbe /fõ ɡ͡be/ , and diacritics are used as tone marks. In French-language publications, a mixture of French and Beninese orthographies may be seen.

Cuisine Edit

Beninese cuisine is known in Africa for its exotic ingredients and flavorful dishes. Beninese cuisine involves fresh meals served with a variety of key sauces. In southern Benin cuisine, the most common ingredient is corn, often used to prepare dough which is mainly served with peanut- or tomato-based sauces. Fish and chicken are the most common meats used in southern Beninese cuisine, but beef, goat, and bush rat are also consumed. The main staple in northern Benin is yams, often served with sauces mentioned above. The population in the northern provinces use beef and pork meat which is fried in palm or peanut oil or cooked in sauces. Cheese is used in some dishes. Couscous, rice, and beans are commonly eaten, along with fruits such as mangoes, oranges, avocados, bananas, kiwi fruit, and pineapples.

Meat is usually quite expensive, and meals are generally light on meat and generous on vegetable fat. Frying in palm or peanut oil is the most common meat preparation, and smoked fish is commonly prepared in Benin. Grinders are used to prepare corn flour, which is made into a dough and served with sauces. "Chicken on the spit" is a traditional recipe in which chicken is roasted over a fire on wooden sticks. Palm roots are sometimes soaked in a jar with salt water and sliced garlic to tenderize them, then used in dishes. Many people have outdoor mud stoves for cooking.

Sports Edit

Football is generally considered the most popular sport in Benin. In the past decade, baseball has been introduced to the country. [84]

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Benin's Three Largest Cities


Cotonou is Benin’s most populous city and the country’s economic center. The city is located between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Nokoué in the southeastern part of the country. The city is also the seat of government in the country, but not the formally declared capital city. Several important buildings like the Cotonou Stadium, the Ancien Pont Bride, Cotonou Central Mosque, Dantokpa Market, etc., are part of this city. The Port of Cotonou is one of West Africa’s most significant ports. There is also the Cotonou International Airport that connects the city to major capital cities in the region and France.

Cotonou is a thriving center of commerce and a major transport hub. The city also hosts a free trade zone in the interior that allows the landlocked Saharan states to exchange goods. All is not good, and high rates of corruption and illegal trade plagues the city. Two-thirds of the industries of Benin are in Cotonou, and so are the headquarters of the major financial enterprises and banks of the country. Motor vehicles, petroleum products, iron, bauxite, textiles, cement, etc., are the major items manufactured in Benin.


Porto-Novo, encompassing an area of 110 square km, is the capital city of Benin. The port was initially developed to serve as a port to facilitate the slave-trade. The port city is located in an inlet of the Gulf of Guinea. Although it is the formal capital of the country and is the seat of the national legislature, the seat of government is actually in Cotonou. The region surrounding Porto-Novo produces kapok, cotton, and palm oil. Petroleum is also exported from the port of this city. The city houses a major cement factory, a major bank of the country, and the Ouando Market. The city is mostly inhabited by the Ogu, and the Yoruba people.


Parakou is eastern Benin’s biggest city and the Borgou Department’s capital. The city is located on the RNIE 2, the primary north-south highway of Benin. The city is a major market town and industrial center. Cotton and textiles, brewing, and peanut oil manufacturing are the major industries of Parakou. The Grand Marché Azeke is the biggest market in the city and sells an incredible variety of goods. Several other marketplaces dot the city. The city was inhabited by various ethnic groups over time due to its role as a major trade center, and even today, Parakou continues to attract people from different parts of the country.


Benin is situated in West Africa and is bordered to the east by Nigeria, to the north by Niger and Burkina Faso, and to the west by Togo. Benin stretches 700km (435 miles) from the Bight of Benin to the Niger River. The coastal strip is sandy with coconut palms. Beyond the lagoons of Porto Novo, Nokoue, Ouidah and Grand Popo is a plateau rising gradually to the heights of the Atakora Mountains. From the highlands run two tributaries of the Niger, while southwards the Ouémé flows down to Nokoue lagoon. Mono River flows into the sea at Grand Popo and forms a frontier with Togo.

Flag of Benin

5. By about 1750, the Kingdom of Dahomey (a part of Benin) was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling Africans to the European slave-traders.

6. The last ship of slaves departed from Dahomey for Brazil in 1885.

7. The region was a French colony for 58 years between 1900 and 1958.

8. Benin was the first country in the 1990s to make the transition from a dictatorship to a multiparty democracy.

Geography of Benin - History

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 o and 31 o C. Humid in south semiarid in north.

Benin 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 6o3oN 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).


The country can be divided into four main areas from the south to the north. The low-lying, sandy, coastal plain which has a highest elevation of 10 m (33 ft) is, at most, 10 km (6 mi) wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons connected to the ocean. The plateaus of southern Benin, with an altitude ranging between 20 and 200 m (66 and 656 ft), are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Oueme Rivers, an area that has been categorised by the World Wildlife Fund as part of the Guinean forest-savanna mosaic ecoregion. Then an area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 m (1,312 ft) extends around Nikki and Savé. Finally, the Atacora mountain range extends along the northwest border and into Togo with the highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 658 m (2,159 ft).

Benin has fields 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. Previously Benin offered habitat for the endangered painted hunting dog, Lycaon pictus, [1] although this canid is considered to have been extirpated from Benin, due to human population expansion. Woodlands comprise approximately 31 percent of the land area of Benin. [2]

Location: Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Nigeria and Togo

Geographic coordinates: Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.

Map references: Africa

total: 112 622 km 2
country comparison to the world: 102
land: 110 622 km 2
water: 2 000 km 2

    comparative: about half the size of Victoria comparative: 1.5 times larger than New Brunswick comparative: smaller than England
  • United States comparative: slightly smaller than Pennsylvania

Land boundaries:
total: 2 123 km
border countries: Burkina Faso 386 km, Niger 277 km, Nigeria 809 km, Togo 651 km

Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 200 nautical miles (370.4 km)

Climate: tropical hot, humid in south semiarid in north

Terrain: mostly flat to undulating plain some hills and low mountains

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mont Sokbaro 658 m

Natural resources: small offshore oil deposits, limestone, marble, timber

Land use:
arable land: 23.94%
permanent crops: 3.99%
other: 72.06% (2012)

Irrigated land: 230.4 km 2 (2012)

'Total renewable water resources: 26.39 km 3 (2011)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):
total: 0.13 cu km/yr (32%/23%/45%)
per capita: 18.74 cu m/yr (2001)

Natural hazards: hot, dry, dusty harmattan wind may affect north in December to March

Environment - current issues: inadequate supplies of potable water poaching threatens wildlife populations deforestation desertification

Geography - note: Sandbanks create difficult access to a coast with no natural harbors, river mouths, or islands.

Upper Key Stage 2 Benin (900 – 1300)

Study Benin culture in the period 900 to 1300, and contrast features of this West African society with contemporary developments in British history. Learn about the rise of the Benin Kingdom. Consider what brought the Edo people to the rainforests of Benin and how their empire grew. Study the Edo rulers, everyday life, religion and worship, trading currencies and routes and music and art. Find out how the Kingdom of Benin came to an end.

Understand the development of the Benin Kingdom within West Africa, and contrast it with contemporary developments in Europe. Compare art in both areas.

Experience traditional Benin food and music. Use descriptions from 17th-century traders to create drawings of Benin City and find out about the warrior kings and the British role in the end of the Benin Empire.

Learn about the rise and establishment of the Benin Kingdom. Consider what brought the Edo people to the rainforests of Benin. Use freeze framing, image making and role play to bring this learning to life.

How do we know about Benin? What evidence survives from a thousand years ago to tell us about this civilisation on the west coast of Africa? Consider the different types of evidence and how reliable they are.

Imagine what it was like to live among the Benin people by studying their houses and streets, their music, their food and their story telling. Explore Benin cast iron objects and their meanings.

Find out about the legends of the Edo speaking people of Benin. Explore the famous creation story of Olorun and Obatala. Make shrines to the old gods or religious scenes of the Edo people inspired by Benin artwork.

Discover the Oba of Benin and the structure of government. People gave tributes to the Oba through their representative chiefs. Learn how all the rulers were generally men, apart from the important mother of the Oba.

Learn about the trading currencies of the Benin kingdom and how they changed over time. Explore the different trade routes and learn about the trading between foreign traders and the Benin people.

Find out about the development of the Empire of Benin after European contact in the fifteenth century and the effect it had on the area. Learn about the kingdom's decline and how it was colonised by European countries.

Your ethnicity reveals the places where your family story began.


Many people in Togo and Benin speak one of about 20 related Gbe languages. Linguistic evidence indicates that most of the Gbe people came from the east in several migrations between the 10th and 15th centuries. The Gbe were pushed westward during a series of wars with the Yoruba people of Nigeria, then settled in Tado on the Mono River (in present-day Togo).

Around 1600, Fon emigrants from Tado established the Kingdom of Dahomey, a Fon monarchy that ruled Benin for some 300 years. Its standing army, an aggressive economic model that relied on slavery for export and labor, and its “Amazon” warriors (elite troops of fierce, female combat soldiers) made the Kingdom of Dahomey a powerful regional threat. It was also the top trading partner with the Europeans. Other contemporary kingdoms in Benin included Porto-Novo, as well as smaller northern states. In Togo, the Kabye and Lamba (or Lama) peoples migrated to the north between 600 and 1200 A.D. Many other groups who settled in Togo were refugees of wars in Dahomey and what is now Ghana.

Slave Trade

European slave traders first became a force on the coast of West Africa. By 1475 Portuguese traders had reached the Bight of Benin, and by the mid-1500s Spain and England had also legalized the slave trade. As the demand for slaves grew, the Kingdom of Dahomey (and others in the region) provided European traders with a constant supply in exchange for goods and firearms. Dahomey, which had long paid tribute to the Yoruba Empire of Oyo, used its new weapons and power to throw off that yoke.

More than 2 million slaves were sent from the Bight of Benin to the New World, and among them were many from Benin and Togo’s major ethnic groups. The Adja, Mina, Ewe and Fon groups of this region were the third-most enslaved groups sent to the New World. A great number of these went to Haiti and Brazil, where they established their traditional religious practices and ancestor worship, better known today as Voodoo, Santería or Macumba.


With the end of slavery, the Kingdom of Dahomey lost its revenue source and began an economic decline. The French defeated Dahomey in a series of wars between 1890 and 1894, and eventually, both Benin and Togo (minus an area under British control) became part of French West Africa. One result of the French colonial period was that, in many cases, French West Africans had certain citizenship or other rights under French law over time, African communities sprang up in France and other parts of Europe. In 1960, both Benin and Togo declared independence.

Watch the video: Geography Now! Benin (May 2022).


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