Benin, or Republic of Benin, a country in western Africa on the north coast of the Gulf of Guinea. It is bounded by Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria. Benin has an area of 43,484 square miles (112, 622 km 2), about the same as that of Tennessee. Maximum dimensions are about 430 miles (690 km) north-south and 220 miles (350 km) east-west.
Hilliest in the north-central portion, the country slopes gradually downward to the northeast and south. The grassy northern plains extend to the Niger River, which forms part of the border with Niger. The woodlands and savannas of southern Benin are drained by several rivers, including the Ouémé—the nation's longest. Along the coast is a narrow strip of land backed by marshes and lagoons. The Atakora Mountains, in the northwest, though they rarely exceed 2,000 feet (600 m) above sea level, are the highest in Benin.
In the south the weather is hot, rainy, and humid virtually all year; temperatures average about 80° F. (27° C.). Hotter weather and distinct wet and dry seasons prevail elsewhere.
|Facts in brief about Benin|
|Official language: French.|
|Area: 43,484 mi2 (112,622 km2). Greatest distances—north-south, 415 mi (668 km); east-west, 202 mi (325 km). Coastline—77 mi (124 km).|
|Elevation: Highest—Atacora Mountains, about 2,000 ft (610 m) above sea level. Lowest—sea level.|
|Population: Current estimate—8,067,000; density, 186 per mi2 (72 per km2); distribution, 60 percent rural, 40 percent urban. 2002 census—6,769,914.|
|Chief products: Agriculture—beans, cacao, cassava, coffee, corn, cotton, palm oil and kernels, peanuts, sorghum, yams.|
|National anthem: "L'Aube Nouvelle" ("The New Dawn").|
|Flag: The Benin flag has a green vertical stripe on the left side. A yellow stripe appears above a red one at the right.|
|Money: Basic unit—CFA franc. CFA stands for Communaute Financiere Africaine (African Financial Community).|
Benin's population is made up of more than 40 ethnic groups. The predominant groups are the Fon, Adja, Bariba, and Yoruba; there is considerable cultural diversity. There is a small white population, mainly of French descent.
Benin has a population density of about 114 persons per square mile (44 per km 2), 1.6 times that of the United States. The largest cities are Cotonou and Porto-Novo, the capital.
French is the official language, but numerous African tongues are used by the various ethnic groups. The most widely spoken are Fon, Yoruba, and Bariba.
About 70 per cent of the people hold animist beliefs. Of the remainder, half are Christian (most of whom are Roman Catholic), and about half are Muslim.
Primary education begins at age six and lasts five years. Secondary education lasts seven years—beginning with a four-year course followed by a three-year course. The principal institution of higher learning is the University of Benin (founded 1970) at Cotonou. The literacy rate is about 25 per cent.
During 1975–89, Benin's economy was centrally planned. Since then the government has introduced measures to transform the economy to one based on private enterprise. A great majority of the people are engaged in subsistence farming, raising corn, cassava, yams, millet, sorghum, and livestock for their own use. The principal exports are palm kernels and oil, cotton, cacao, and petroleum. Imports, which greatly exceed exports in value, consist mainly of such manufactured goods as textiles, chemicals, and transportation equipment. France and Germany are the main trading partners. The basic currency unit is the CFA franc.
Industry consists mainly of the processing of agricultural products and the manufacture of chemicals and building materials. Fishing is of growing importance. Petroleum is produced at offshore and inland sites.
Benin's transportation system is fairly well developed in the south, where most of the people live. The road network is adequate throughout the country, but the rail network extends only as far north as the central city of Parakou. Cotonou has Benin's only major airport and ocean port.
Under the constitution of 1990, Benin is a republic. The head of state is a president, who is directly elected for a five-year term. The president appoints the prime minister and cabinet. Members of the National Assembly are elected for four-year terms.