Introduction Present day Benin was the site of Dahomey, a prominent West African kingdom that rose in the 15th century. The territory became a French Colony in 1872 and achieved independence on 1 August 1960, as the Republic of Benin. A succession of military governments ended in 1972 with the rise to power of Mathieu KEREKOU and the establishment of a government based on Marxist-Leninist principles. A move to representative government began in 1989. Two years later, free elections ushered in former Prime Minister Nicephore SOGLO as president, marking the first successful transfer of power in Africa from a dictatorship to a democracy. KEREKOU was returned to power by elections held in 1996 and 2001, though some irregularities were alleged. KEREKOU stepped down at the end of his second term in 2006 and was succeeded by Thomas YAYI Boni, a political outsider and independent. YAYI has begun a high profile fight against corruption and has strongly promoted accelerating Benin's economic growth.

The African kingdom of Dahomey was formed by a mixture of various local ethnic groups on the Abomey plain. Historians theorized that the insecurity caused by the slave trade may have contributed to mass migrations of different groups, including a segment of the royal family of the city of Allada, to Abomey. These groups coalesced around a strict military culture aimed at securing and eventually expanding the borders of the small kingdom.

Dahomey was known for its distinct culture and traditions. Boys were often apprenticed to older soldiers at a young age, and learned about the kingdom's military customs until they were old enough to join the navy. Dahomey was also famous for instituting an elite female soldier corps, called Ahosi or "our mothers" in the Fongbe language, and known in English as the Dahomean Amazons. This emphasis on military preparation and achievement earned Dahomey the nickname of "black Sparta" from European observers and commentators like Sir Richard Burton. Human sacrifice was a common practice, according to contemporary sources; on holidays and special occasions, thousands of slaves and prisoners of war were beheaded in public. Some Dahomean religious beliefs maintained that decapitation enhanced the prestige and potency of the Dahomean throne and its warriors.

Though the founders of Dahomey appear to have initially been against it, the slave trade was active in the region of Dahomey for almost three hundred years, leading to the area being named "the Slave Coast". The demands of court procedures, which demanded that a portion of war captives from the kingdom's many battles be decapitated, led to a decrease in the amount of enslaved people exported from the area. The number went from 20,000 at the beginning of the seventeenth century to 12,000 in the beginning of the 1800s. The decline is partly due to many colonial countries declaring slave trade illegal. This decline continued until 1885, when the last Portuguese trade vessel with slaves departed from the coast of present day Benin.

Along with the powerful Dahomean kingdom, a range of other nations inhabited the area that would become the Republic of Benin. Of note were the Ketu, Icha, Dassa, Anago, and other sub-groups of the Yoruba-speaking people. These groups were in close contact with related sub-groups in present-day Nigeria, and were often enemies of the Dahomeans. However, some were also citizens of Dahomey and, in regions such as present-day Porto Novo, both groups inter-married.

North of these people were the Borgu, Mahi, and several other ethnic groups that form the country's present population.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Dahomey started to lose its status as the regional power, enabling the French to take over the area in 1892. In 1899, the land became part of the French West Africa colony, still as Dahomey. In 1958, it was granted autonomy as the Republic of Dahomey, and full independence started on August 1, 1960.

For the next 12 years, ethnic strife contributed to a period of turbulence. There were several coups and regime changes, with three main figures dominating - Sourou Apithy, Hubert Maga, and Justin Ahomadegbé - each of them representing a different area of the country. These three agreed to form a presidential council after violence had marred the 1970 elections. In 1972, a military coup led by Mathieu Kérékou overthrew the council. He established a Marxist government under the control of Military Council of the Revolution (CNR), and the country was renamed to the People's Republic of Benin in 1975. In 1979, the CNR was dissolved and elections took place. By the late 1980s, Kérékou abandoned Marxism after an economic crisis and decided to re-establish a parliamentary capitalist system. He was defeated in 1991 elections by Nicéphore Soglo, becoming the first black African president to step down after an election. He returned to power after winning the 1996 vote. In 2001, a closely fought election resulted in Kérékou winning another term. His opponents claimed there were some election irregularities.

President Kérékou and former President Soglo did not run in the 2006 elections, both being barred by the constitution of Benin from running again due to their age and President Kérékou's two recent terms as president. President Kérékou is widely praised for making no effort to change the constitution so that he could remain in office or run again, unlike some African leaders. An election, considered free and fair, was held on March 5, 2006, and resulted in a runoff between Yayi Boni and Adrien Houngbédji. The runoff election was held on March 19 and was won by Yayi Boni, who assumed office on April 6. The success of the fair multiparty elections in Benin won high praise, and Benin is widely considered a model democracy in Africa.

President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush briefly visited this country on Feb. 16, 2008, marking the first visit of a major head of state to this tiny country. He was presented the Grand Cross of the National Order of Benin by President Yayi Boni, who thanked him for the economic aid arranged by Bush.

Geography Location: Western Africa, bordering the Bight of Benin, between Nigeria and Togo
Geographic coordinates: 9 30 N, 2 15 E
Map references: Africa
Area: total: 112,620 sq km
land: 110,620 sq km
water: 2,000 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Pennsylvania
Land boundaries: total: 1,989 km
border countries: Burkina Faso 306 km, Niger 266 km, Nigeria 773 km, Togo 644 km
Coastline: 121 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 200 nm
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: 23.53%
permanent crops: 2.37%
other: 74.1% (2005)
Irrigated land: 120 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 25.8 cu km (2001)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 0.13 cu km/yr (32%/23%/45%)
per capita: 15 cu m/yr (2001)
Natural hazards: hot, dry, dusty harmattan wind may affect north from December to March
Environment - current issues: inadequate supplies of potable water; poaching threatens wildlife populations; deforestation; desertification
Environment - international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: sandbanks create difficult access to a coast with no natural harbors, river mouths, or islands

Benin's politics takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Benin, who is currently Yayi Boni, is both head of state and head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the legislature. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The current political system is derived from the 1990 Constitution of Benin and the subsequent transition to democracy in 1991.

On February 16th 2008, United States President George W. Bush made a brief stop in Benin during which he held a meeting with president Thomas Boni Yayi as well as a press conference at Cadjehoun Airport in Cotounou.The president later proceeded to Tanzania to continue with his five nation African tour.

In its 2007 Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Benin 53rd out of 169 countries.

People Population: 8,078,314
note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 43.9% (male 1,788,248/female 1,754,940)
15-64 years: 53.7% (male 2,138,649/female 2,203,291)
65 years and over: 2.4% (male 77,844/female 115,342) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 17.7 years
male: 17.3 years
female: 18.1 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.674% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 38.1 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 11.94 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 0.58 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.019 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.971 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.675 male(s)/female
total population: 0.983 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 77.85 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 82.32 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 73.26 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 53.44 years
male: 52.28 years
female: 54.63 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 5.08 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 1.9% (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: 68,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: 5,800 (2003 est.)
Major infectious diseases: degree of risk: very high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: malaria and yellow fever
respiratory disease: meningococcal meningitis (2008)
Nationality: noun: Beninese (singular and plural)
adjective: Beninese
Ethnic groups: Fon and related 39.2%, Adja and related 15.2%, Yoruba and related 12.3%, Bariba and related 9.2%, Peulh and related 7%, Ottamari and related 6.1%, Yoa-Lokpa and related 4%, Dendi and related 2.5%, other 1.6% (includes Europeans), unspecified 2.9% (2002 census)
Religions: Christian 42.8% (Catholic 27.1%, Celestial 5%, Methodist 3.2%, other Protestant 2.2%, other 5.3%), Muslim 24.4%, Vodoun 17.3%, other 15.5% (2002 census)
Languages: French (official), Fon and Yoruba (most common vernaculars in south), tribal languages (at least six major ones in north)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 34.7%
male: 47.9%
female: 23.3% (2002 census)
Government Country name: conventional long form: Republic of Benin
conventional short form: Benin
local long form: Republique du Benin
local short form: Benin
former: Dahomey
Government type: republic
Capital: name: Porto-Novo (official capital)
geographic coordinates: 6 29 N, 2 37 E
time difference: UTC+1 (6 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
note: Cotonou (seat of government)
Administrative divisions: 12 departments; Alibori, Atakora, Atlantique, Borgou, Collines, Kouffo, Donga, Littoral, Mono, Oueme, Plateau, Zou
Independence: 1 August 1960 (from France)
National holiday: National Day, 1 August (1960)
Constitution: adopted by referendum 2 December 1990
Legal system: based on French civil law and customary law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Thomas YAYI Boni (since 6 April 2006); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government
head of government: President Thomas YAYI Boni (since 6 April 2006)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president
elections: president elected by popular vote for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); runoff election held 19 March 2006 (next to be held in March 2011)
election results: Thomas YAYI Boni elected president; percent of vote - Thomas YAYI Boni 74.5%, Adrien HOUNGBEDJI 25.5%
Legislative branch: unicameral National Assembly or Assemblee Nationale (83 seats; members are elected by direct popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held 31 March 2007 (next to be held by March 2011)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - FCBE 35, ADD 20, PRD 10, other and independents 18
Judicial branch: Constitutional Court or Cour Constitutionnelle; Supreme Court or Cour Supreme; High Court of Justice
Political parties and leaders: Alliance for Dynamic Democracy or ADD; Alliance of Progress Forces or AFP; African Movement for Democracy and Progress or MADEP [Sefou FAGBOHOUN]; Benin Renaissance or RB [Rosine SOGLO]; Democratic Renewal Party or PRD [Adrien HOUNGBEDJI]; Force Cowrie for an Emerging Benin or FCBE; Impulse for Progress and Democracy or IPD [Theophile NATA]; Key Force or FC [Lazare SÈHOUÉTO]; Movement for the People's Alternative or MAP [Olivier CAPO-CHICHI]; Rally for Democracy and Progress or RDP [Dominique HOUNGNINOU]; Social Democrat Party or PSD [Bruno AMOUSSOU]; Union for the Relief or UPR [Issa SALIFOU]; Union for Democracy and National Solidarity or UDS [Sacca LAFIA]
note: approximately 20 additional minor parties
Political pressure groups and leaders: NA
Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Cyrille Segbe OGUIN
chancery: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 232-6656
FAX: [1] (202) 265-1996
Diplomatic representation from the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Gayleatha B. BROWN
embassy: Rue Caporal Bernard Anani, Cotonou
mailing address: 01 B. P. 2012, Cotonou
telephone: [229] 21-30-06-50
FAX: [229] 21-30-03-84
Flag description: two equal horizontal bands of yellow (top) and red (bottom) with a vertical green band on the hoist side

It is believed that Vodun (or "Voodoo", as it is commonly known) originated in Benin and was introduced to the Caribbean Islands and parts of North America by slaves taken from this particular area of the Slave Coast. The indigenous religion of Benin is practiced by about 60% of the population. Since 1992 Vodun has been recognized as one of Benin's official religions, and a National Vodun Holiday is celebrated on January 10.

Many Beninois in the south of the country have Akan-based names indicating the day of the week they were born on. Twins are important in south Beninois culture, and special names for twins are also used.

Local languages are used as the languages of instruction in elementary schools, with French only introduced after several years. Beninois 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 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 Beninois orthographies may be seen.

Actor Djimon Gaston Hounsou (born April 24, 1964), pronounced "Jie-mon Hahn-soo" is an Academy Award-nominated Beninese actor, dancer and fashion model who was born in Cotonou, Benin. He is now a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Singer Angelique Kidjo who is a five time Grammy nominee and international goodwill ambassador for UNICEF was born in Cotonou, Benin.

Economy Economy - overview: The economy of Benin remains underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. 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. 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. Specific 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 $307 million Millennium Challenge Account grant signed in February 2006. The 2001 privatization policy continues in telecommunications, water, electricity, and agriculture though the government annulled the privatization of Benin's state cotton company in November 2007 after the discovery of irregularities in the bidding process. 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.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $12.18 billion (2007 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $5.425 billion (2007 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 4.5% (2007 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $1,500 (2007 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 33.2%
industry: 14.5%
services: 52.3% (2007 est.)
Labor force: 5.38 million (2007 est.)
Unemployment rate: NA%
Population below poverty line: 37.4% (2007 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: 3.1%
highest 10%: 29% (2003)
Distribution of family income - Gini index: 36.5 (2003)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 2.5% (2007 est.)
Investment (gross fixed): 19.8% of GDP (2007 est.)
Budget: revenues: $936.9 million
expenditures: $1.226 billion (2007 est.)
Agriculture - products: cotton, corn, cassava (tapioca), yams, beans, palm oil, peanuts, cashews; livestock
Industries: textiles, food processing, construction materials, cement
Industrial production growth rate: 4.5% (2007 est.)
Electricity - production: 105 million kWh (2005)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 14.2%
hydro: 85.8%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption: 587 million kWh (2005)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2005)
Electricity - imports: 595 million kWh (2005)
Oil - production: 0 bbl/day (2007)
Oil - consumption: 9,232 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - exports: 0 bbl/day (2007)
Oil - imports: 16,830 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - proved reserves: 8.21 million bbl (1 January 2006 est.)
Natural gas - production: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - consumption: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - exports: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - imports: 0 cu m (2005)
Natural gas - proved reserves: 1.086 billion cu m (1 January 2006 est.)
Current account balance: -$278.8 million (2007 est.)
Exports: $708.7 million f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Exports - commodities: cotton, cashews, shea butter, textiles, palm products, seafood
Exports - partners: China 20.9%, Indonesia 7.7%, India 7%, Netherlands 6.2%, Niger 5.7%, Togo 4.6%, Nigeria 4.3% (2006)
Imports: $976.3 million f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Imports - commodities: foodstuffs, capital goods, petroleum products
Imports - partners: China 46.6%, France 7.5%, Thailand 6% (2006)
Economic aid - recipient: $374.7 million (2006)
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold: $825 million (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external: $1.2 billion (2007)
Market value of publicly traded shares: $NA
Currency (code): Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XOF); note - responsible authority is the Central Bank of the West African States
Currency code: XOF
Exchange rates: Communaute Financiere Africaine francs (XOF) per US dollar - 493.51 (2007), 522.59 (2006), 527.47 (2005), 528.29 (2004), 581.2 (2003)
Fiscal year: calendar year
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: 77,300 (2006)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 1.056 million (2006)
Telephone system: general assessment: inadequate; fixed-line network is almost saturated with fixed-line teledensity stuck at a meager 1 per 100 persons; mobile-cellular telephone subscribership is increasing
domestic: fair system of open-wire, microwave radio relay, and cellular connections; four mobile-cellular providers
international: country code - 229; landing point for the SAT-3/WASC fiber-optic submarine cable that provides connectivity to Europe and Asia; satellite earth station - 7 (Intelsat-Atlantic Ocean) (2007)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 34, shortwave 1 (2007)
Radios: 660,000 (2000)
Television broadcast stations: 6 (2007)
Televisions: 66,000 (2000)
Internet country code: .bj
Internet hosts: 798 (2007)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 4 (2002)
Internet users: 700,000 (2006)
Transportation Airports: 5 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2007)
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 4
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2007)
Railways: total: 758 km
narrow gauge: 758 km 1.000-m gauge (2006)
Roadways: total: 16,000 km
paved: 1,400 km
unpaved: 14,600 km (2005)
Waterways: 150 km (on River Niger along northern border) (2005)
Ports and terminals: Cotonou
Military Military branches: Benin Armed Forces (FAB): Army (l'Arme de Terre), Benin Navy (Forces Navales Beninois, FNB), Benin People's Air Force (Force Aerienne Populaire de Benin, FAPB) (2008)
Military service age and obligation: 21 years of age for compulsory and voluntary military service; in practice, volunteers may be taken at the age of 18; both sexes are eligible for military service; conscript tour of duty - 18 months (2006)
Manpower available for military service: males age 21-49: 1,295,230
females age 21-49: 1,301,936 (2005 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: males age 21-49: 749,774
females age 21-49: 751,329 (2005 est.)
Manpower reaching military service age annually: males age 18-49: 76,661
females: 75,068 (2005 est.)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP: 1.7% (2006)
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: two villages remain in dispute along the border with Burkina Faso; Benin accused Burkina Faso of moving boundary pillars; much of Benin-Niger boundary, including tripoint with Nigeria, remains undemarcated; in 2005, Nigeria ceded thirteen villages to Benin, but border relations remain strained by rival gang clashes; Benin and Togo announced plans in 2006 to construct a joint hydroelectric dam on the Mona River at the southern end of the border
Refugees and internally displaced persons: refugees (country of origin): 26,632 (Togo) (2006)
Illicit drugs: transshipment point used by Nigerian traffickers for narcotics destined for Western Europe; vulnerable to money laundering due to poorly enforced financial regulations