|General background: Dahomey gained its independence
from France in 1960; the name was changed to Benin in
1975. From 1974 to 1989 the country was a socialist
state; free elections were reestablished in 1991.
Area comparative: Slightly smaller than
Climate: Tropical; hot,
humid in south; semiarid in north
Mostly flat to undulating plain; some hills and
Ethnic groups: African 99% (42 ethnic groups,
most important being Fon, Adja, Yoruba, Bariba), Europeans
Religions: Indigenous beliefs 50%, Christian
30%, Muslim 20%
Language: French (official), Fon and Yoruba
(most common vernaculars in south), tribal languages
(at least six major ones in north)
Government type: Republic under multiparty
democratic rule; dropped Marxism-Leninism December
1989; democratic reforms adopted February 1990; transition
to multiparty system completed 4 April 1991
Capital: Porto-Novo is the official capital;
Cotonou is the seat of government
Legal system: Based on French civil law and
customary law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Economic overview: The economy of Benin remains
underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture,
cotton production, and regional trade. Growth in real
output averaged a stable 5% in the past five years,
but rapid population rise 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.
The 2001 privatisation 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.
Communication/Telephone system: Fair system
of open wire, microwave radio relay, and cellular
connections. Satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat
(Atlantic Ocean); submarine cable.
Places of interest: Benin has the hottest attractions
in all of West Africa - the stilted fishing villages
in the lagoon near Porto Novo. The towns however -
and even Cotonou, the biggest - may seem unremarkable
to the short-term visitor. It's the kind of place
that hides its best features. You need to be patient
and observant to glimpse many of the cultural highlights
of Benin. Food lovers needn't worry, though. Beninese
food is possibly the best in the region, and is widely
available. Voodooism and fetishism are still widely
practiced and many of the associated artifacts attract
and repel visitors in equal numbers.
Travel Tips: Benin shares many of the problems
of its neighbors such as bad roads and infrastructure,
poor water and health conditions and institutionalized
corruption, it is comparatively violence-free, is
richer and economically stronger than most of its
neighbors and has the best beaches and landscapes.