Its geography is a narrow strip of land running north-south. In the south, its' coast faces onto the Bight of Benin in the east Atlantic Ocean. Sandbanks create difficult access to a coast with no natural harbors, river mouths, or islands.
Its population is growing at nearly 3% per year.
Benin's major environmental issues include:
- inadequate supplies of potable water;
- poaching threatens wildlife populations;
- deforestation; and,
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, who won a second five-year term in March 2011, has attempted to stem corruption and has strongly promoted accelerating Benin's economic growth.
Geographic Coordinates: 9 30 N, 2 15 E
Area: 112,620 km2 (110,620 km2 land and 2,000 km2 water)
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.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
- Talks continue between Benin and Togo on funding the Adjrala hydroelectric dam on the Mona River
- Benin retains a border dispute with Burkina Faso around the town of Koualou
- Location of Benin-Niger-Nigeria tripoint is unresolved
Coastline: 121 km
Territorial sea: 200 nm
Natural Hazards: hot, dry, dusty harmattan wind may affect north from December to March
Terrain: mostly flat to undulating plain; some hills and low mountains. Its highest point is Mont Sokbaro 658 m.
Climate: tropical; hot, humid in south; semiarid in north.
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
Ecology and Biodiversity
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.
Ecoregions of Benin. Source: World Wildlifee Fund
Source: World Wildlife Fund
People and Society
Population: 9,598,787 (July 2012 est.)
The majority of Benin's 9 million people live in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 59 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the 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 (35%), 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 35%. Many nominal Muslims and Christians continue to practice animistic traditions. Voodoo originated in Benin and was introduced to Brazil and the Caribbean Islands by African slaves taken from this particular area of the Slave Coast.
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)
|Cotonou, Benin (2007). Source: Wikimedia Commons.|
|Western hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) herd in the Pendjari Nationalpark Benin. Source: Martin Wegmann/Wikimedia Commons.|
|Cotton field, northern Benin. Source: Marco Schmidt/Wikimedia Commons|
0-14 years: 44.7% (male 2,126,973/female 2,042,340)
15-64 years: 52.6% (male 2,443,370/female 2,461,421)
65 years and over: 2.7% (male 101,640/female 149,288) (2011 est.)
Population Growth Rate: 2.877% (2012 est.)
Birthrate: 37.55 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Death Rate: 8.79 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)
Net Migration Rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 60.26 years
male: 59 years
female: 61.59 years (2012 est.)
Total Fertility Rate: 5.22 children born/woman (2012 est.)
Languages: French (official), Fon and Yoruba (most common vernaculars in south), tribal languages (at least six major ones in north)
Literacy::( age 15 and over can read and write) 34.7%
female: 23.3% (2002 census)
Urbanization: 42% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 4% (2010-15 est.)
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 (Guezo, Glele) and Hogbonou (Toffa) 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 Republique du Dahomey, self-governing within the French community, and on August 1, 1960, the Republic of Benin gained full independence from France.
Between 1960 and 1972, a succession of military coups brought about many changes of government. The last of these brought to power Major Mathieu Kerekou 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. Kerekou, encouraged by France and other democratic powers, convened a national conference that introduced a new democratic constitution and held presidential and legislative elections. Kerekou's principal opponent at the 1991 presidential poll, and the ultimate victor, was Prime Minister Nicephore Soglo. Supporters of Soglo also secured a majority in the National Assembly. In the 1996 presidential poll Kerekou defeated Soglo, and was reelected in 2001. At the end of his second term in 2006, Kerekou successfully handed power over to Boni Yayi, elected with 75% of the votes cast.
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.
On April 20 and May 1, 2008, Benin held its second local and municipal elections, which were marred by fraud allegations and irregularities. Voters filed appeals with the Supreme Court, which nullified results in a number of communes and ordered new elections and recounting of votes in constituencies where results were contested.
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, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and others called the election free, fair, and transparent. President Kerekou 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), a coalition of parties closely linked to President Yayi, won a plurality of the seats in the National Assembly, providing the president with considerable influence over the legislative agenda. The “G-13” deputies from minor political parties who had joined the FCBE to help President Yayi obtain a majority in the National Assembly subsequently left this coalition and joined undeclared opposition parties, including G4 and Force Cle, forming an unstable though blocking majority.
Government Type: Republic
Capital: Porto-Novo - 276,000 (2009)
Other major cities: Cotonou (seat of government) - 815,000 (2009)
Administrative Divisions: 12 departments;
Independence Day: 1 August 1960 (from France)
Legal System: based on French civil law and customary law. Benin has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; but accepts International Criminal Court (ICCt) jurisdiction.
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
International Environmental Agreements
Benin is party to international agreements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, and Whaling.
Total Renewable Water Resources: 25.8 cu km (2001)
Freshwater Withdrawal: 0.13 cu km/yr (32% domestic, 23% industrial, 45% agricultural)
Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 15 cu m/yr (2001)
Access to improved sources of drinking water: 75% of population
Access to improved sanitation facilities: 12% of population
Heavy rains flooded parts of West and Central Africa in the rainy season of 2010, and among the hardest-hit countries was Benin. In late October 2010, Agence France-Presse reported that more than 40 people had died and some 100,000 more had been displaced. The Ouémé River spilled over its banks in multiple locations, and camps sprang up along the fringes of the coastal city of Cotonou at the river’s mouth.
Acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, these images show the coast of Benin on October 22, 2010 (top), and October 26, 2009 (bottom). Both images use a combination of infrared and visible light to increase the contrast between water and land. Water ranges in color from electric blue to navy. Vegetation appears bright green. Clouds range in color from off-white to pale blue-green.
Although clouds partially obscure the satellite sensor’s view in both images, striking differences are still discernible in the Ouémé River. Both the river and several of its tributaries are swollen in the image from 2010.
The BBC reported that authorities worried about contaminated water spreading cholera in the wake of flooding. Agence France-Presse reported that some 800 cases of cholera had already been reported.
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.
Agricultural Products: cotton, corn, cassava (tapioca), yams, beans, palm oil, peanuts, cashews; livestock
Irrigated Land: 120 sq km (2003)
Natural Resources: small offshore oil deposits, limestone, marble, timber
- arable land: 23.53%
- permanent crops: 2.37%
- other: 74.1% (2005)
128 million kWh
653 million kWh
651 million kWh
8 million bbl
(1 January 2011 est.)
0 cu m
0 cu m
0 cu m
0 cu m
1.133 billion cu m
(1 January 2011 est.)
|Source: CIA Factbook|
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 International Monetary Fund (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 growth.
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's trading partners include Germany, Brazil, U.A.E., Spain, the United States, Singapore, India, Netherlands, Japan, and China. Benin also is a member of ECOWAS.
In March 2003, the World Bank and IMF agreed to support a comprehensive debt reduction package for Benin under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Debt relief under HIPC amounted to approximately $460 million. Benin received $27.1 million in 2002 and received $32.9 million in 2003. HIPC aimed to 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 had averaged almost 4% before the global recession, but fell to 2.7% in 2009 and 3% in 2010. Commercial and transport activities, which make up a large part of GDP, are vulnerable to developments in Nigeria, including fuel shortages.
Inflation has subsided over the past several years.
In order to raise growth, 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.
The Paris Club and bilateral creditors have eased the external debt situation, with Benin benefiting from a G-8 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.
Private foreign direct investment is small, and foreign aid accounts for the majority of investment in infrastructure projects.
Cotton, a key export, suffered from flooding in 2010-11, but high prices supported export earnings.
The government agreed to 25% increase in civil servant salaries in 2011, following a series of strikes, has increased pressure on the national budget.
Benin has appealed for international assistance to mitigate piracy against commercial shipping in its territory.
GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $14.79 billion (2011 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $7.5 billion (2011 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $1,500 (2011 est.)
GDP - composition by sector:
services: 58.4% (2011 est.)
Population Below Poverty Line: 37.4% (2007 est.)
Industries: textiles, food processing, construction materials, cement
Exports: cotton, cashews, shea butter, textiles, palm products, seafood
Imports: foodstuffs, capital goods, petroleum products
Economic Aid Recipient: $374.7 million (2006)
Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XOF)
Ports and Terminals: Cotonou