Country Profiles:
Benin

Benin is located in West Africa bordered to the northwest by Burkina Faso, to the east by Nigeria, and to the west by Togo. Formerly known as Dahomey, (Dan-ho-me, “on the belly of Dan;” Dan was a rival king on whose grave Dahomey’s royal compound was built) until 1975 to 1990 it became Peoples Republic of Benin and currently the Republic of Benin. The Portuguese, French, and Dutch established their trading posts along the coast and traded in slaves and weapons. Benin’s shore includes what used to be known as the Slave Coast, the departure point for slaves to be shipped across the Atlantic. Around the time when slave traded ended in 1848, the French had gained dominance over most of the kingdom through the treaties signed with King of Abomey.

UNESCO Heritage sites in Benin include:

Royal Palaces of Abomey
The city held the seat of twelve kings who ruled the Kingdom of Dahomey between 1625 and 1900. All but one king built their palace within the area. UNESCO had inscribed the palaces on the List of World Heritage Sites in Africa. Following this, the site had to be included under the List of World Heritage in Danger since Abomey was hit by a tornado on 15 March 1984, when the royal enclosure and museums, particularly the King Guezo Portico, the Assins Room, King’s tomb and Jewel Room were damaged. However, with assistance from several international agencies the restoration and renovation work was completed.

2. Pendjari National Park
lies in north western Benin, adjoining the Arli National Park in Burkina Faso. Named for the Pendjari River, the national park is known for its wildlife and is home to some of the last populations of big game like elephants, West African lions, hippopotamuses, buffalo and various antelopes in West Africa. The park is also famous for its richness in birds.

Interestingly, Benin's religious practices include Christianity, Islam and Voodoo which is said to have originated from the Aja ethnic group.

The official capital is Porto-Novo, (which means New Port in Portuguese) but Cotonou is Benin’s largest city, its chief port, and its de facto administrative capital. Benin gained independence from France on August 1st. 1960. The country has one of most stable democracies since gaining independence. Mathieu Kérékou was President from 1972 to 1991 and again from 1996 to 2006. After seizing power in a military coup, he ruled the country for 19 years, for most of that time under an officially Marxist–Leninist ideology, before he was stripped of his powers by the National Conference in 1990. He was defeated in the 1991 presidential election, but returned to the presidency in the 1996 election and controversially re-elected in 2001.

Benin’s economy is agriculture driven with cotton such as cotton, palm oil, cocoa, and coffee, making it the largest cotton producers on the continent. However, Gold contributes to more than 20% of the country’s export.

There are over forty ethnic groups in the country, the largest one being the Fon, then the Aja Yoruba, Bariba and Fulani. French is the official language.

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