2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Africa; African Countries
|République du Bénin
Republic of Benin
| Motto: "Fraternité, Justice, Travail" (French)
"Fellowship, Justice, Labour"
| Anthem: L'Aube Nouvelle (French)
The Dawn of a New Day
|-||Date||August 1, 1960|
|-||Total|| 112,622 km² ( 101st)
43,483 sq mi
|-||July 2005 estimate||8,439,0002 ( 89th)|
|-||Density||75/km² ( 118th3)
|GDP ( PPP)||2005 estimate|
|-||Total||$8.75 billion ( 140th)|
|-||Per capita||$1,176 ( 166th)|
|Gini (2003)||36.5 (medium)|
|HDI (2007)||▲ 0.437 (low) ( 163rd)|
|Currency|| West African CFA franc (
|Time zone||WAT ( UTC+1)|
|-||Summer ( DST)||not observed ( UTC+1)|
|1||Cotonou is the seat of government.|
|2||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.|
|3||Rank based on 2005 estimate.|
Benin (IPA: /bə'nɪn/), officially the Republic of Benin, is a country in Western Africa. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north; its short coastline to the south leads to the Bight of Benin. Its capital is Porto Novo, but the seat of government is Cotonou. Benin was known as Dahomey until 1975.
The name "Benin" has no proper connection to Kingdom of Benin (or Benin City). The name Dahomey was changed in 1975 to The People's Republic of Benin, named after the body of water on which the country lies, the Bight of Benin. This name was picked due to its neutrality, since the current political boundaries of Benin encompass over fifty distinct linguistic groups and nearly as many individual ethnic groups. The name Dahomey was the name of the ancient Fon Kingdom, and was determined to be an inappropriate name.
The African kingdom of Dahomey was formed out of 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 to Abomey, including a segment of the royal family of the city of Allada. 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 19th century explorers 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 king and his warriors.
Though the founders of Dahomey appeared initially to resist the slave trade, it flourished in the region of Dahomey for almost three hundred years, leading to the area being named "the Slave Coast". 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 20,000 per year at the beginning of the seventeenth century to 12,000 at the beginning of the 1800s. The decline was partly due to the banning of the trans-Atlantic trade by Britain and other countries. This decline continued until 1885, when the last Portuguese slave ship departed from the coast of present-day Benin bound for Brazil.
Along with the powerful Dahomey Kingdom, other peoples 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. 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 are included in the country's current population.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, Dahomey started to lose its status as the regional power. This enabled the French to take over the area in 1892. In 1899, the French included land called Dahomey within the French West Africa colony.
In 1958, France granted autonomy to the Republic of Dahomey, and full independence as of 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 and ethnicity of the country. These three agreed to form a presidential council after violence marred the 1970 elections.
In 1972, a military coup led by Mathieu Kérékou overthrew the council. Kérékou established a Marxist government under the control of Military Council of the Revolution (CNR). In 1975 he renamed the country the People's Republic of Benin. 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.
In 1991 he was defeated Nicéphore Soglo and became the first black African president to step down after an election. Kérékou returned to power after winning the 1996 vote. In 2001, a closely fought election resulted in Kérékou's winning another term. His opponents claimed election irregularities.
President Kérékou and former President Soglo did not run in the 2006 elections, as both were barred by the constitution's restricting age and total terms of candidates. 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.
On March 5, 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 March 19 and was won by Yayi Boni, who assumed office on April 6. The success of the fair multi-party elections in Benin won high praise internationally. Benin is widely considered a model democracy in Africa.
United States President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush briefly visited Benin on February 16 2008, marking the first visit of a major head of state to this tiny country. President Yayi Boni presented President Bush with the Grand Cross of the National Order of Benin and thanked him for US economic aid.
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 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.
Departments and communes
Benin is divided into 12 departments (French: départements), and subdivided into 77 communes. In 1999, the previous six departments were each split into two halves, forming the current 12. The new six departments have not been assigned a capital yet.
Stretched between the Niger River in the northeast and the Bight of Benin in the south, Benin's elevation is about the same for the entire country. Most of the population lives in the southern coastal plains, where Benin's largest cities are also located, including Porto Novo and Cotonou. The north of the country consists mostly of savanna and semi-arid highlands.
Running southernly, down the middle of the country is the Oueme River.
The climate in Benin is hot and humid with relatively little rain compared to other West African countries, although there are two rainy seasons (April-July and September-November). In the winter the dust winds of the harmattan can make the nights rather cold.
The largest city and commercial capital is Cotonou. The name Cotonou is from the Fon phrase ku tɔ nu 'at the lake of the dead', from the adjacent lagoon. This is a reference to the belief that falling stars represent the souls of those who have just died falling to the underworld. It is said that when Cotonou was founded, the lights of the lacustrine village of Ganvié across the lagoon were reflected in the waters, suggesting fallen stars at the bottom. Ganvié is a fishing village sitting in the water on stilts at the western shore of the lagoon.
The town of Ouidah is the spiritual capital of Vodun, and is known locally as Glexwe. It was a major slaving port under Portuguese occupation. The town of Abomey is the old capital of the Fon kingdom of Dahomey, and the Fon king continues to reside there.
In Atakora province, Betamaribe settlements straddling the Togolese border are called tata somba 'Somba houses'; they are famous for their fortifications, with livestock housed inside and the people sleeping in huts among the granaries on the roofs.
The economy of Benin remains underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Growth in real output has averaged a stable 5% in the past six years, but rapid population rise has offset much of this increase. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. In order to raise growth still further, Benin has 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. The 2001 privatization policy should continue in telecommunications, water, electricity, and agriculture in spite of initial government reluctance. The Paris Club and bilateral creditors have eased the external debt situation, while pressing for accelerated structural reforms.
Although trade unions in Benin represent up to 75% of the formal workforce, the large informal economy has been noted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITCU) to contain ongoing problems, including a lack of women's wage equality, the use of child labour, and the continuing issue of forced labour.
There are several dozen ethnolinguistic groups in Benin, representing three of Africa's language families: Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, and Afroasiatic. The latter is represented by Hausa living mostly as merchants in the north, while Nilo-Saharan is represented by the Dɛndi, descending from the Songhai Empire. The Dɛndi language predominates along the Niger River in the far north, and is used as a lingua franca in Muslim areas throughout the north, in Alibori, Borgou, and Donga provinces. Of the Niger-Congo family, five branches are represented:
- Mande by the Boko or Busa, now in the far eastern corner (southern Alibori-northern Borgou), but previously more widely spread before being largely absorbed by the Bariba
- West Atlantic by the nomadic Fulbe scattered across the northeast
- Benue-Congo by the Yoruba of Collines and Plateau provinces, such as the old kingdom of Sakete, and the capital city of Porto-Novo, having expanded west from Oyo and Ife in the twelfth to nineteenth centuries
- Gur (Voltaic) languages predominate in the four northern provinces, with the Batɔmbu (Bariba) of the old Borgou (Bariba) Kingdom occupying most of the countryside in its successor provinces of Borgou and Alibori, as well as the provincial captital of Parakou; the Yom throughout much of Donga province and its capital Djougou; and several groups in the Atakora, including the Bɛtamaribɛ of the Otammari country around the provincial capital of Natitingou, the Biali, the Waama of Tanguiéta, and the Gulmàceba.
- Kwa, especially the Gbe languages spoken by the Tado peoples in the southern and central provinces: the Aja who established themselves in Kouffo province from neighboring Togo and gave rise to the other Tado peoples of Benin, except for the Mina of Mono province, who arrived separately from Togo or Ghana: The Fɔn culture centered in Zou province around the old Fɔn capital of Abomey, but also dominant in Cotonou and southern Atlantique areas such as Ouidah; the Maxi in central Collines, especially around Savalou; the Ayizɔ of central Atlantique ( Allada); the Xwla and Xueda in the lagoons of the coast; the Tɔfin of Ouémé; and the Gun of Porto-Novo. Other Kwa languages are spoken by the Anii in southern Donga in the region of Bassila, and the Fooɖo in western Donga near the town of Ouaké.
The largest ethnic group are the Fon, with 1.7 million speakers of the Fon language (2001), followed by the various Yoruba groups (1.2 million), the Aja (600,000), the Bariba (460,000), the Ayizo (330,000), the Fulbe (310,000), and the Gun (240,000). Near the ports in the south can be found people who are descended from returned Brazilian slaves. There are also small numbers of Europeans, principally French, and people from the western Asia, mainly Lebanese, and East Asia, chiefly Indians.
According to the 2002 census, 27.1 percent of the population of Benin is Roman Catholic, 24.4 percent Muslim, 17.3 percent Vodun, 5 percent Celestial Christian, 3.2 percent Methodist, 7.5 percent other Christian, 6 percent other traditional local religious groups, 1.9 percent other religious groups, and 6.5 percent claim no religious affiliation.
Indigenous religions include local animistic religions in the Atakora (Atakora and Donga provinces) and Vodun among the Yoruba and Tado peoples in the centre and south of the country. The town of Ouidah on the central coast is the spiritual centre of Beninese Vodun.
The Yoruba and Tado pantheons correspond closely:
- The supreme deity Mawu (in the Fon language) or Olodumare (in Yoruba)
- The god of the earth and smallpox, Sakpata or Cankpana
- The god of thunder, Xevioso or Cango
- The god of war and iron, Gu or Ogun
The major introduced religions are Islam, introduced by the Songhai Empire and Hausa merchants, and now followed throughout Alibori, Borgou, and Donga provinces, as well as among the Yoruba, by 10-15% of the population; and Christianity, followed nominally by another 10-15% throughout the south and centre of Benin and in Otammari country in the Atakora. Most Christians, however, continue to hold Vodun beliefs and have incorporated into Christianity the pantheon of Vodun.
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.
During the 1980s, less than 30 percent of the 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 1000 live births. Only one of three mothers had access to child healthcare services. The Bamako Initiative changed that dramatically by introducing community-based healthcare reform, resulting in more efficient and equitable provision of services. A comprehensive approach strategy was extended to all areas of health care, with subsequent improvement in the health care indicators and improvement in health care efficiency and cost.