total: 112,622 sq km
land: 110,622 sq km
water: 2,000 sq km
Total: 2,123 km
border countries (4):
Burkina Faso 386 km,
Niger 277 km,
Nigeria 809 km,
Togo 651 km
Coastline: 121 km
Total: 2244 km
hot, humid in south;
semiarid in north
mostly flat to undulating plain; some hills and low mountains
mean elevation: 273 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mont Sokbaro 658 m
small offshore oil deposits, limestone, marble, timber
agricultural land: 31.3%
arable land 22.9%; permanent crops 3.5%; permanent pasture 4.9%
other: 28.7% (2011 est.)
230 sq km (2012)
Population – distribution:
the population is primarily located in the south, with the highest concentration of people residing in and around the cities on the Atlantic coast; most of the north remains sparsely populated with higher concentrations of residents in the west
hot, dry, dusty harmattan wind may affect north from December to March
People and Society
Benin has a youthful age structure – almost 65% of the population is under the age of 25 – which is bolstered by high fertility and population growth rates. Benin’s total fertility has been falling over time but remains high, declining from almost 7 children per women in 1990 to 4.8 in 2016. Benin’s low contraceptive use and high unmet need for contraception contribute to the sustained high fertility rate. Although the majority of Beninese women use skilled healthcare personnel for antenatal care and delivery, the high rate of maternal mortality indicates the need for more access to high-quality obstetric care.
Poverty, unemployment, increased living costs, and dwindling resources increasingly drive the Beninese to migrate. An estimated 4.4 million, more than 40%, of Beninese live abroad. Virtually all Beninese emigrants move to West African countries, particularly Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire. Of the less than 1% of Beninese emigrants who settle in Europe, the vast majority live in France, Benin’s former colonial ruler.
With about 40% of the population living below the poverty line, many desperate parents resort to sending their children to work in wealthy households as domestic servants (a common practice known as vidomegon), mines, quarries, or agriculture domestically or in Nigeria and other neighboring countries, often under brutal conditions. Unlike in other West African countries, where rural people move to the coast, farmers from Benin’s densely populated southern and northwestern regions move to the historically sparsely populated central region to pursue agriculture. Immigrants from West African countries came to Benin in increasing numbers between 1992 and 2002 because of its political stability and porous borders.
Fon and related 38.4%, Adja and related 15.1%, Yoruba and related 12%, Bariba and related 9.6%, Fulani and related 8.6%, Ottamari and related 6.1%, Yoa-Lokpa and related 4.3%, Dendi and related 2.9%, other 0.9%, foreigner 1.9% (2013 est.)
French (official), Fon and Yoruba (most common vernaculars in south), tribal languages (at least six major ones in north)
Muslim 27.7%, Roman Catholic 25.5%, Protestant 13.5% (Celestial 6.7%, Methodist 3.4%, other Protestant 3.4%), Vodoun 11.6%, other Christian 9.5%, other traditional religions 2.6%, other 2.6%, none 5.8% (2013 est.)
Ethnicity, Language, and Religion
The largest ethnic group in Benin is Fon/Dahomey which constitutes 39% of the total population. Established in 1600 by the Fon, a group that came about through the intermarriage between the Adja and local Gedevi, the Dahomey ethnic group is the majority in West Africa. Coming from Nigeria and well settled along the eastern boundary of Benin is the Yoruba ethnic group. They are more than 18% of the population. The majority of the Yoruba people in Benin are descendants of the Ife tribe, and the Yoruba people are predominantly of the Muslim religion.
The Adja ethnic group is mostly farmers and lives in the southern part of Benin. They make up 15% of the general country population. This group of people migrated into Benin between the 12th and 13th centuries from River Mono. Dominating the northern side of Benin is the Bariba ethnic group who constitute 9% of the population. They are the first inhabitants of Benin and are concentrated in the capital city, Nikki. There is no ethnic homogeneity in Benin, which was brought about by the high levels of waves of migration, commercial relations with Europe and competition that existed among the pre-colonial Kingdoms.
French is the official language and the language of instruction, but each ethnic group has its own language, which is also spoken. Most adults living in the various ethnic communities also speak the dominant language of each region. The most widely spoken languages are Fon and Gen (Mina), members of the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo family of African languages; Bariba, a member of the Gur branch of the Niger-Congo family; Yoruba, one of a small group of languages that constitute the Yoruboid cluster of the Defoid subbranch of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo family; and Dendi, one of the Songhai languages, which are generally assumed to constitute the primary branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family.
About 30% of the population is nominally Christian, with a majority belonging to the Roman Catholic church. Other denominations include Methodists, Baptist, Assemblies of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, Celestial Christians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Rosicrucians, the Unification Church, Eckankar, and the Baha’i faith. About 20% of the population is Sunni Muslim. The constitution provides for freedom of religion and this right is generally respected in practice. There is no state-sponsored religion.
Education in Benin covers nursery, primary and secondary levels, along with technical, professional and university education, training for the handicapped and informal education. Despite strong demand, still very little such education is available and the 2002 census put gross nursery school enrolment at 14.3% for boys and 12.9% for girls. The government earmarks less and less money for this level, for which data is very fragmentary. The private sector has been active since nursery schools were opened up to it in 1990 and are providing many more places. Enrolment in state nursery schools rose from 13,165 in 1993 to 16,647 in 1999, while private school pupils soared from 916 to 11,404.
The education program adheres to the French model of 6-4-3 and is compulsory from age 6 through to age 11. This period is spent at primary school where children receive their foundation education. The following 4 years are spent at middle school where a general academic curriculum continues. At the end of this period, students write their brevet d’etudes du premier cycle examination which is the equivalent of O-levels. Students who wish to pursue their academic options further proceed to senior high school for another 3 years. After that, they still have to pass their baccalaureate examination which is the key to the doors of the university. If they prefer, they may go to one of 5 vocational schools spread across 12 provinces instead.
The University of Abomey-Calavi (previously known as the University of Dahomey and the National University of Benin, located in Cotonou, was founded in 1970. The university’s student body has been, along with workers, the main political force in the country since the early 1980s. The University of Parakou was founded in 2001. Benin has reformed its vocational training system in line with urban demand for skilled labor. Notable among its strategies is a dual apprenticeship system, where theoretical education alternates with practical apprenticeship training.
Benin’s economy relies heavily on its informal re-export and transit trade to Nigeria, which makes up roughly 20 percent of GDP, and on agriculture. The tertiary sector as a whole account for 50 percent of GDP, while agriculture accounts for about 25 percent of GDP and 45 to 55 percent of employment. The economy is characterized by informality, representing an estimated 65 percent of the total economy and over 90 percent of the labor force. The free market economy of Benin has grown consecutively for four years, though growth slowed in 2017, as its close trade links to Nigeria expose Benin to risks from volatile commodity prices. Cotton is a key export commodity, with export earnings significantly impacted by the price of cotton in the broader market. The economy began deflating in 2017, with prices falling 0.8%.
During the first two years of President TALON’s administration, the government has followed an ambitious action plan to kickstart development through investments in infrastructure, education, agriculture, and governance. Electricity generation, which has constrained Benin’s economic growth, has increased and blackouts have been considerably reduced. Private foreign direct investment is small, and foreign aid accounts for a large proportion of investment in infrastructure projects.
Real GDP growth accelerated from 2.1 percent in 2015 to 4 percent in 2016 and 5.6 percent in 2017 and is expected to reach 6.0 percent in 2018, overcoming the low-growth that resulted from a drop in demand in Nigeria. Cotton production, 5 to 7 percent of GDP and about 27 percent of exports, hit about 451,000 tons in 2016—a 73 percent increase from 2015. The government expected an increase of 11 percent for 2017. Industrial production accelerated at 7.2 percent in 2017, up from 4.5 percent in 2016. The sector will benefit from cotton ginning and dynamism in the construction sub-sector linked to the implementation of a government investment plan. Inflation is estimated at 0.6 percent for 2017 and projected to remain under the West Africa Economic Market Union’s target of 3 percent for 2018. With the partial implementation of the PAG, Benin’s overall fiscal deficit (including grants) was 6.1 percent of GDP in 2017 against a projected 7.9 percent, thanks to the strong performance of domestic revenue. It may shrink to 4.1 percent and 1.9 percent of GDP in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Realizing Benin’s economic potential will require further efforts to upgrade infrastructure, stem corruption, and expand access to foreign markets. In September 2015, Benin signed a second MCC Compact for $375 million that entered into force in June 2017 and is designed to strengthen the national utility service provider, attract private sector investment, fund infrastructure investments in electricity generation and distribution, and develop off-grid electrification for poor and unserved households. As part of the Government of Benin’s action plan to spur growth, Benin passed public-private partnership legislation in 2017 to attract more foreign investment, place more emphasis on tourism, facilitate the development of new food processing systems and agricultural products, encourage new information and communication technology, and establish Independent Power Producers. In April 2017, the IMF approved a three year $150.4 million Extended Credit Facility agreement to maintain debt sustainability and boost donor confidence
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$25.29 billion (2017 est.)
$23.99 billion (2016 est.)
$23.06 billion (2015 est.)
note: data are in 2017 dollars
GDP (official exchange rate):
$12.56 billion (2017 est.)
$9.41 billion (2017 est.)
GDP – real growth rate::
5.4% (2017 est.)
4% (2016 est.)
2.1% (2015 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP):
$2,200 (2017 est.)
$2,200 (2016 est.)
$2,100 (2015 est.)
Gross national saving:
20% of GDP (2017 est.)
17.4% of GDP (2016 est.)
17.6% of GDP (2015 est.)
GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 51.3% (2017 est.)
Agriculture – products:
cotton, corn, cassava (manioc, tapioca), yams, beans, palm oil, peanuts, cashews; livestock
textiles, food processing, construction materials, cement
Population below poverty line:
36.2% (2011 est.)
revenues: $1.372 billion
expenditures: $2.261 billion (2017 est.)
Sustainable agriculture in Benin has become increasingly challenging for many of the country’s farmers. Northern Benin, in particular, is vulnerable to floods, erratic rainfall patterns, and droughts. Many Beninese farmers have emigrated to other African countries as a result. However, efforts are being made to improve Beninese agricultural yields.
Many of Benin’s women farmers are part of an organization called the Mialebouni Association that specializes in cassava farming. In 2012, the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) gave Mialebouni a $150,000 capacity-building grant, followed by a $240,000 enterprise expansion grant in 2016. Mialebouni used the funds to purchase mobile processing stations designed to meet its members’ needs, reduce their hardships and increase profits. The mobile grinders and presses are transported by bicycle to provide processing services in several villages.
Rice, poultry meat, wheat, corn, soybeans, canned fruits and vegetables, tomato sauce/ketchup, vegetable oil, fruit juices, pasta, wine and other spirits, powdered milk, energy drinks, mayonnaise, and snack foods are among the best prospects for U.S. agricultural exports to Benin. Benin has been eligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) since the program began in 2000, and qualified for AGOA textile and apparel benefits in January 2004.
Benin‘s traditional trade links with the European Union, in particular, France and Belgium, remain strong. Chinese foodstuffs are available in open-air markets and supermarkets. Benin’s major trade partners include Nigeria, France, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Argentina, Brazil, U.S., China, and the United Arab Emirates.
Major regional trading partners include Niger, Togo, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso. Due to informal trade, estimates of annual trade with these countries are extremely difficult to determine, but some sources indicate that Benin exports about fifteen thousand metric tons of corn and fifteen hundred metric tons of rice to Nigeria, six thousand metric tons of corn to Niger, fourteen hundred metric tons of corn and two thousand metric tons of rice to Togo. In years where local crops are low yields, Benin has sourced, as much as, ninety-five hundred metric tons of corn and nine hundred fifty metric tons of rice from Togo, and six thousand metric tons of rice and eight hundred metric tons of corn from Nigeria.
population without electricity: 7,300,000
electrification – total population: 29%
electrification – urban areas: 57%
electrification – rural areas: 9% (2013)
Electricity – production:
311.6 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
1.121 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
12.88 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
1.078 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
213,000 kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
97.2% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 124,883
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 1 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 86 (2017)
Internet country code:
percent of population: 12.0% (July 2016 est.)
Benin produced mostly industrial minerals, which included cement, clay, limestone, marble, and sand and gravel. Cassiterite, colored gemstones (aquamarine and tourmaline), gold, and tantalum ore have been produced in small quantities by artisanal miners. Although metals and various industrial minerals were produced in Benin in 2014, cement was the only commodity for which production data were available. Cement production in 2014 was approximately 1.40 million metric tons (Mt), which was essentially unchanged from the 1.42 Mt produced in 2013.
The Government of Benin owns all mineral deposits in the country and grants exclusive rights for exploration, development, and mining. The Government had identified the energy, infrastructure, and mining sectors, among others, as its development priorities and had been revising its mining laws to attract foreign investment. Towards this end, the Mining Code was under review to simplify procedures for awarding mining permits, to increase the duration of mining permits, and to establish special categories for artisanal and semi-industrial mining.
A textile factory at Parakout was revitalized with financing from the West African Development Bank. Benin’s industrial electricity needs are met by hydroelectric power from Akosombo dam in Ghana and the Nangbeto dam on the Mono River in Togo. The Société Beninoise d’Electricité et d’Eau (SBEE) controls most electrical production within Benin (which is minimal), and the Communauté Electrique du Benin (CEB) imports the electricity from Ghana through Togo.
Manufacturing plants and secondary industries include several palm-oil-processing plants in Ahozon, Avrankou, Bohicon, Cotonou, Gbada, and Pobé; cement plants at Onigbolo and Pobé; several cotton-ginning facilities in the north; a textile mill at Parakou; a sugar refining complex at Savé; a soft-drink plant; a brewery; and two shrimp-processing plants.
Electricity is generated thermally by plants located at Bohicon, Parakou, Cotonou, and Porto-Novo. About half of Benin’s demand for electricity is met by importing power from Ghana’s Volta River Project at Akosombo. In 1988 operations commenced at the hydroelectric installation of the Mono River Dam, a joint venture between Benin and Togo on their common southern boundary.
Banking and Finance
The banking system in Benin is regulated by the regional central bank, Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO) and the Banking Commission of the West African Monetary Union (Commission Bancaire de l’Union Economique et Monetaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA)). All banks in Benin are private sector institutions and belong to either an international or regional banking group. These banks are often reluctant to lend for medium- and long-term loans.
Benin’s financial sector remains generally shallow and dominated by commercial banks. As of 2009, financial system deposits represented 24.2 percent of GDP. The supply of credit has continued to increase over the past few years, though credit growth appears to have decelerated in 2009, with total domestic credit and credit to the non-government sector expanding by 12.3 percent and 5.7 percent respectively in 2009, compared to 24.3 percent and 12.9 percent in 2008. Bank credit to the economy increased by 11 percent in 2009 to reach an estimated 19.7 percent of GDP, in part due to a reduction in regulatory reserve requirements from 15 percent to 9 percent.
As a member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), Benin’s banking sector, which included 12 banks as of 2013, is governed at the community level. Three large banks, holding approximately 20 percent of the assets are Nigerian, however, banking sector penetration remains low. Concentration is high, and the 4 largest banks account for about 70 percent of assets. The performance and asset quality of commercial banks has improved in recent years, although one bank has been placed under provisional administration due to severe capital deficiencies and was eventually forced to close in 2012 and liquidated. Bank loan portfolios have been adversely affected by government payment delays in early 2009; the ratio of non-performing loans to total loans has decreased to 8.1 percent in 2009, down from 9.2 percent in the preceding year, but deteriorated in the next years to reach 18.6 percent in 2012, while the capital adequacy ratio of the commercial banks was 10.5 percent (at the end of 2011) above the 8 percent regulatory threshold.
Benin is endowed with a fantastic natural environment. As a tropical region, the land is blessed with wildlife and rainforests, alongside with national reserves like Parc de la Pandjeri and Parc W. Its long coastline already attracts tourists, and various ongoing projects have been designed to draw more tourists in. Traveling to Benin can be interesting for visitors.
Apart from its bouquets of minimal beaches and lagoons, it boasts of waterfalls, hills and lush grassland spread across. You will also get to explore the Ouidah Slave Route, Royal Palaces of Abomey and its rich history, as you come across large palatial ruins and temples of Dahomey. The southern part of Benin experiences two seasons of rain in the year, starting from April to the middle of July, and from mid-September to October end. November to February is the best time to visit this amazing country when the temperature is moderate and the weather becomes dry with minimal humidity.
Place of Attractions
Royal Palaces of Abomey: Built between the 17th and 19th centuries by the Fon people, this UNESCO World Heritage site holds some of the last remains of West Africa’s turbulent past. The earthen structure makes up the ancient town in which the King of Dahomey (ancient Benin) resided.
Situated on an ancient palatial site, the Abomey Historical Museum provides insight into the fallen kingdom of Dahomey. With exhibitions covering the rise and fall of the elite and excavated artifacts like a throne made from human skulls, the Abomey Historical Museum is the perfect place to gain a better understanding of the Benin that once was.
The Route d’Esclaves or the Slave Route is a 2.5-mile (four-kilometer) stretch of heritage road that is the last piece of African soil slaves from Benin touched before they were shipped to the Caribbean and Americas.
the Temple of the Sacred Python is one of the most interesting temples in Ouidah. The serpent deity Dangbe is revered in many cultures in Benin and thus the serpent is believed to be a sacred and in need of reverence and protection.
One of the largest lake towns in the West African region, the village of Ganvie is an interesting place to visit. Home to nearly 30,000 people who all live in houses on stilts, the Ganvie Lake Village is quite a sight to behold. Only 11 miles (18 km) northwest of the center of Cotonou, Ganvie is a beautiful place to spend the day.
For tourists interested in shopping, there is only one place to go in Benin, the Grand Marche du Dantopka in Cotonou. Apart from the vast expanse of stalls and its seemingly endless supply of local jewelry, crafts, and knock-off CDs and clothing, the Grand Marche du Dantopka is simply an experience in itself.
The Yoruba kingdom
Children of Yoruba’, or simply as the Yoruba) are an ethnic group of southwestern and north-central Nigeria, as well as southern and central Benin. As of the 7th century BCE, the African peoples who lived in Yorubaland were not initially known as the Yoruba, although they shared a common ethnicity and language group. By the 8th century, a powerful Yoruba kingdom already existed in Ile-Ife, one of the earliest in Africa. The historical Yoruba develop in situ, out of earlier Mesolithic Volta-Niger populations, by the 1st millennium BCE. Oral history recorded under the Oyo Empire derives the Yoruba as an ethnic group from the population of the older kingdom of Ile-Ife. The Yoruba were the dominant cultural force in southern Nigeria as far back as the 11th century.
The Yoruba are among the most urbanized people in Africa. For centuries before the arrival of the British colonial administration, most Yoruba already lived in well structured urban centers organized around powerful city-states (Ìlú) centered around the residence of the Oba. In ancient times, most of these cities were fortresses, with high walls and gates. Yoruba cities have always been among the most populous in Africa. Archaeological findings indicate that Òyó-Ilé or Katunga, capital of the Yoruba empire of Oyo (fl. between the 11th and 19th centuries CE), had a population of over 100,000 people (the largest single population of any African settlement at that time in history). For a long time also, Ibadan, one of the major Yoruba cities, was the largest city in the whole of Sub Saharan Africa. Today, Lagos (Yoruba: Èkó), another major Yoruba city, with a population of over twenty million, remains the largest on the African continent.
Archaeologically, the settlement of Ile-Ife showed features of urbanism in the 12th– 14th-century era. In the period around 1300 CE the artists at Ile-Ife developed a refined and naturalistic sculptural tradition in terracotta, stone and copper alloy – copper, brass, and bronze many of which appear to have been created under the patronage of King Obalufon II, the man who today is identified as the Yoruba patron deity of brass casting, weaving, and regalia. The dynasty of kings at Ile-Ife, which is regarded by the Yoruba as the place of origin of human civilization, remains intact to this day. The urban phase of Ile-Ife before the rise of Oyo, c. 1100–1600, a significant peak of political centralization in the 12th century) is commonly described as a “golden age” of Ile-Ife. The oba or ruler of Ile-Ife is referred to as the Ooni of Ife.
The Oyo Empire
The origins of the Oyo Empire lie with Oranyan (also known as Oranmiyan), the last prince of the Yoruba Kingdom of Ile-Ife (Ife). Oranyan made an agreement with his brother to launch a punitive raid on their northern neighbors for insulting their father Oduduwa, the first Ooni of Ife. On the way to the battle, the brothers quarreled and the army split up. Oranyan’s force was too small to make a successful attack, so he wandered the southern shore until reaching Bussa. There the local chief entertained him and provided a large snake with a magic charm attached to its throat.
The chief instructed Oranyan to follow the snake until it stopped somewhere for seven days and disappeared into the ground. Oranyan followed the advice and founded Oyo where the serpent stopped. The site is remembered as Ajaka. Oranyan made Oyo his new kingdom and became the first “oba” (meaning ‘king’ or ‘ruler’ in the Yoruba language) with the title of “Alaafin of Oyo” (Alaafin) means ‘owner of the palace’ in Yoruba. He left all his treasures in Ife and allowed another king to rule there.
At a time, Oyo-ile was at war with the Bariba of Borgu who wanted to subjugate the new City still under construction. Orangun Ajagunla of Ila, Oranmiyan’s elder brother stormed in with his men to assist. Not long after the war was won, Oranmiyan welcomed a son Ajuwon Ajaka, much later Arabambi was born by the woman from Tapa (Nupe), It is believed that the name “Sango” was given by his maternal grandfather or He adopted it from the local name for the God of Thunder, Either way, the royal family was devoted to The Spirits of Thunder(Jakuta) and War(Ogun).
Oranyan, the first oba (king) of Oyo, was succeeded by Oba Ajaka, Alaafin of Oyo. Ajaka was deposed because he lacked Yoruba military virtue and allowed his sub-chiefs too much independence. Leadership was then conferred upon Ajaka’s brother, Shango, who was later defined as the deity of thunder and lightning. Ajaka was restored after Sango’s death. Ajaka returned to the throne thoroughly more warlike and oppressive. His successor, Kori, managed to conquer the rest of what later historians would refer to as metropolitan Oyo.
The Kingdom of Benin
The Kingdom of Benin, also known as the Benin Kingdom, was a pre-colonial kingdom in what is now southern Nigeria. Its capital was Edo, now known as Benin City in Edo state. It should not be confused with the modern-day Republic of Benin, formerly the Republic of Dahomey. The original name of the Benin Kingdom, at its creation some time in the first millennium CE, was Igodomigodo, as its inhabitants called it. Their ruler was called Ogiso. Nearly 36 known Ogiso are accounted for as rulers of this initial incarnation of the state.
The original people and founders of the Benin Kingdom, the Edo people, were initially ruled by the Ogiso (Kings of the Sky) who called their land Igodomigodo. The first Ogiso (Ogiso Igodo), wielded much influence and gained popularity as a good ruler. He died after a long reign and was succeeded by Ere, his eldest son. In the 12th century, a great palace intrigue erupted and crown prince Ekaladerhan, the only son of the last Ogiso was sentenced to death as a result of the first Queen (who was barren) deliberately changing an Oracle message to the Ogiso.
According to Edo oral tradition, during the reign of the last Ogiso, his son and heir apparent, Ekaladerhan, was sentenced to death because one of the Queens deliberately changed an oracle message to the Ogiso. In carrying out the order of the palace, the palace messengers set him free recognizing his innocence. On the death of the last Ogiso, a group of Benin Chiefs led by Chief Oliha mounted a search for their banished Prince Ekaladerhan who the Ife people will now call Oduduwa to Ile-Ife, pleaded for Oduduwa return(The Ooni) but were granted one of his sons as King in Igodomigodo (later known as Benin City).
At its height, Benin dominated trade along the entire coastline from the Western Niger Delta, through Lagos to modern-day Ghana. It was for this reason that this coastline was named the Bight of Benin. The present-day Republic of Benin, formerly Dahomey, decided to choose the name of this bight as the name of its country. Benin ruled over the tribes of the Niger Delta including the Western Igbo, Ijaw, Itshekiri, and Urhobo amongst others. It also held sway over the Eastern Yoruba tribes of Ondo, Ekiti, Mahin/Ugbo, and Ijebu. It also established the first colony of Lagos hundreds of years before the British took over in 1851.
The Kingdom of Dahomey
The Kingdom of Dahomey was established around 1600 by the Fon people who had recently settled in the area (or were possibly a result of intermarriage between the Aja people and the local Gedevi). The foundational king for Dahomey is often considered to be Houegbadja (c. 1645–1685), who built the Royal Palaces of Abomey and began raiding and taking over towns outside of the Abomey plateau.
King Agaja(1708–1740), Houegbadja’s grandson, came to the throne in 1708 and began significant expansion of the Kingdom of Dahomey. This expansion was made possible by the superior military force of King Agaja’s Dahomey. In contrast to surrounding regions, Dahomey employed a professional standing army numbering around ten thousand. What Dahomey lacked in numbers, they made up for in discipline and superior arms. In 1724, Agaja conquered Allada, the origin for the royal family according to oral tradition, and in 1727 he conquered Whydah. This increased size of the kingdom, particularly along the Atlantic coast, and increased power made Dahomey into a regional power.
Tegbesu, also spelled as Tegbessou, was King of Dahomey, in present-day Benin, from 1740 until 1774. Tegbesu was not the oldest son of King Agaja (1718–1740) but was selected following his father’s death after winning a succession struggle with a brother. King Agaja had significantly expanded the Kingdom of Dahomey during his reign, notably conquering Whydah in 1727, but it had become a tributary of the Oyo empire and did not directly attack the Oyo allied city-state of Porto-Novo. This increased the size of the kingdom and increased both domestic dissent and regional opposition. Tegbessou ruled over Dahomey at a point where it needed to increase its legitimacy over those who it had recently conquered. As a result, Tegbesu is often credited with a number of administrative changes in the kingdom in order to establish the legitimacy of the kingdom. The slave trade increased significantly during Tegbessou’s reign and began to provide the largest part of the income for the king.
The Dahomey Kingdom was known for its culture and traditions. Young boys were often apprenticed to older soldiers and taught the kingdom’s military customs until they were old enough to join the army. Dahomey was also famous for instituting an elite female soldier corps, called Ahosi, i.e. the king’s wives, or Mino, “our mothers” in the Fon language Fongbe, and known by many Europeans as the Dahomean Amazons.
The End of the Kingdoms
The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery. They also had a practice of killing war captives in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs. By about 1750, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling African captives to European slave-traders. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Dahomey had begun to weaken and lose its status as the regional power. This enabled the French to take over the area in 1892. In 1899, the French included the land called French Dahomey within the larger French West Africa colonial region.
similarly, the larger kingdom, the Oyo Empire under its oba, known as the Alaafin of Oyo, was active in the African slave trade during the 18th century. The Yoruba often demanded slaves as a form of the tribute of subject populations, who in turn sometimes made war on other peoples to capture the required slaves. Part of the slaves sold by the Oyo Empire entered the Atlantic slave trade.
Many believe the decline of the Oyo empire had started as early as 1754 with the dynastic intrigues and palace coups sponsored by the Oyo Prime Minister Bashorun Gaha. Gaha, in his quest for absolute power, conspired with the Oyo Mesi and probably to some extent the Ogboni to force four successive Alaafins to commit ritual suicide after they had been presented with the symbolic parrot’s egg.
By the time Captain Hugh Clapperton visited Oyo-Ile in 1825 during the reign of Alaafin Majotu, the empire was already in a state of decline. Clapperton’s party recorded passing numerous Oyo villages burned by the Fulani (Ilorin) while Majotu had also sought the help of the English king and the Oba of Benin in putting down the Ilorin rebellion. Clapperton also noticed a shortage of horses, even though the Oyo were renowned as a great cavalry force; this might have something to do with the fact that most of the empire’s soldiers and hence cavalry were stationed at Ilorin under the command of Afonja and later on Alimi’s successors.
Scramble for Africa
The Portuguese—the first Europeans to establish trading posts on the West African coast—founded the trading post of Porto-Novo on what is now the Benin coast. They were followed by English, Dutch, Spanish, and French traders as the slave trade developed. The French established posts at Ouidah and Savé in the middle of the 17th century, and the English and Portuguese also built forts nearby in the early 18th century.
In 1857, the French established themselves in Grand Popo. In 1868, the French made a treaty with the king of Abomey by which they were permitted to establish a trading post at Cotonou. The British meanwhile established themselves in Lagos, which they annexed in 1861 in order to eliminate the slave trade. Anglo-French rivalry in Porto-Novo, in which successive local kings took different sides, eventually ended with a French protectorate there (1882) and British posts at various points farther west, which were abandoned by the Anglo-French agreements of 1888–89. But Abomey remained outside French control, and its levies on European trade became increasingly irksome. The war between Abomey and Porto-Novo broke out in 1889 over France’s rights of sovereignty to Cotonou, and Béhanzin, who succeeded to the throne of Abomey in that year, attacked the French posts there. His forces included some 2,000 Amazons.
A protectorate was briefly established over the kingdom of Porto-Novo in 1863–65 and was definitively reestablished in 1882. Treaties purporting to secure session of the port of Cotonou, between Ouidah and Porto-Novo, were also negotiated with the Dahomean authorities in 1868 and 1878, though Cotonou was not actually occupied until 1890. King Behanzin, who had succeeded to the Dahomean throne in 1889, resisted the French claim to Cotonou, provoking the French invasion and conquest of Dahomey in 1892–94. Behanzin was then deposed and exiled, and the kingdom of Dahomey became a French protectorate.
The British established in what was to become their colony of Nigeria to the east, and in 1894 both the British and French negotiated treaties of protection with the kingdom of Dahomey. The Anglo-French convention of 1898, however, settled the boundary between the French and British spheres, conceding Dahomey to the former. The boundary with the German colony of Togo to the west was settled by the Franco-German conventions of 1885 and 1899. The present frontiers of Benin were established in 1909 when the boundaries with the neighboring French colonies of Upper Volta and Niger were delimited. The colony was at first called Benin (from the Bight of Benin, not the precolonial kingdom of Benin, which is in Nigeria), but in 1894 it was renamed Dahomey, after the recently incorporated kingdom.
In 1946, under the new French constitution, it was given a deputy and two senators in the French parliament and an elected Territorial Assembly with substantial control of the budget. Under the reforms of 1956–57, the powers of the Territorial Assembly were extended, and a Council of Government elected by the Assembly was given executive control of most territorial matters. Universal adult suffrage and a single electorate were established at the same time. In September 1958, the territory accepted the French constitution proposed by General de Gaulle’s government and opted for the status of an autonomous republic within the French Community, as provided by the new constitution.
On 4 December 1958, the Territorial Assembly became a national constituent assembly and the Republic of Dahomey was proclaimed a member of the French Community. On 14 February 1959, a constitution was adopted; the first Legislative Assembly was elected on 3 April. Hubert Maga, chairman of the Dahomeyan Democratic Rally, was named prime minister on 18 May 1959. On 1 August 1960, Dahomey proclaimed its complete independence, and on 25 November a new constitution, calling for a strong unitary state, was adopted. Other constitutions were adopted in 1963, 1965, 1968, and 1990.
The country’s name was officially changed to the Republic of Benin on 1 March 1990, after the newly formed government’s constitution was completed. In a 1991 election, Kérékou lost to Nicéphore Soglo. Kérékou returned to power after winning the 1996 vote. In 2001, a closely fought election resulted in Kérékou winning another term, after which his opponents claimed election irregularities. In 1999, Kérékou issued a national apology for the substantial role that Africans had played in the Atlantic slave trade.
In the March 2016 presidential elections, in which Boni Yayi was barred by the constitution from running for a third term, businessman Patrice Talon won the second round with 65.37% of the vote, defeating investment banker and former Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou. Talon was sworn in on 6 April 2016. Speaking on the same day that the Constitutional Court confirmed the results, Talon said that he would “first and foremost tackle constitutional reform”, discussing his plan to limit presidents to a single term of five years in order to combat “complacency”. He also said that he planned to slash the size of the government from 28 to 16 members.