Benin - Tips

Bureau of African Affairs
May 2007

Background Note: Benin

Flag of Benin is two equal horizontal bands of yellow - top - and red with a
vertical green band on the hoist side.


Republic of Benin

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.

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
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.

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, Supreme Court, High Court of Justice.
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

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.

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 12o
30N 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

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.

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.

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

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%, 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),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 (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. 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 to ensure
success for his anti-corruption agenda in the legislature.

Principal Government Officials
President of the Republic (Head of State and Head of the Government)--Boni
Administrative and Institutional Reform--Bio Gounou Idrissou Sina
Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Fishing--Cossi Gaston Dossouhoui
Culture, Sports, and Leisure--Theophile Montcho
Development, Economy, and Finance--Pascal Irenee Koupaki
Environment and Protection of Nature--Jean-Pierre Babatounde
Family, Women, and Child Welfare--Guecadou Bawa Yorou-Orou Guidou
Foreign Affairs--Mariam Aladji Boni-Diallo
Health--Flore Gangbo
Higher Education and Vocational Training--Mathurin Nago
Industry and Trade--Moudjaidou Issifou Soumanou
Justice in Charge of Relations with the Institutions of the Republic,
Spokesman of the Government--Abraham Zinzindohoue
Labor and Civil Service--Emmanuel Tiando
Mines, Energy, and Water--Jocelyn Degbe
National Defense--Issifou Kogui N'Douro
Primary and Secondary Education--Evelyne Sossouhounto Kaneho
Public Security and Local Communities--Edgard Charlemagne Alia
Tourism and Craft Industry--Soumanou Toleba
Minister Delegate for African Integration and Benin Diaspora in the Office of
the Minister of Foreign Affairs--
Albert Agossou
Minister Delegate for Budget in the Office of the Minister of Development,
Economy, and Finance--Albert Segbegnon Houngbo
Minister Delegate for Communication and New Technology in the Office of the
President of the Republic--Venance Gnigla
Minister Delegate for Microfinance and Promotion of Small and Medium Size
Businesses in the Office of the Minister of Development, Economy, and
Finance--Sakinatou Abdou Alfa Orou-Sidi
Minister Delegate for Transports, Public Works, and Urban Development in the
Office of the President of the Republic--Alexandre Kpedeti Dossou

Ambassador to the United States--Sègbé Cyrille Oguin
Permanent Representative to the United Nations--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.

Next Elections Scheduled
Local elections--Either December 2007 or January 2008; no date selected.

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

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.

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.

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


to Leave a Comment or