Benin is located in West Africa and borders Burkina Faso to the northwest, Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east and Togo to the west. On the sea side it is located at the bend of Benin. The area of Benin is 112,622 square kilometers.
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Benin has a low and sandy coast in the south with a narrow coastal plain behind it. Behind this coastal plain there are lagoons and swamps. The largest lagoon is Lake Nokoué. This lagoon forms the northern boundary of the city of Cotonou and the southern boundary of the capital Porto Novo. The largest river in Benin is the Ouémé. This flows south towards Lake Nokoué. Some other rivers are Mekrou and Alibori.
Inland it remains flat. Only along the coast have the plains given way to forests. The north is occupied by the Chaîne de l'Atakora, which enclose the fertile basins of Borgou and Kandi. In Benin, a fertile plain stretches as far as the Niger River, which is bisected halfway by the low Atakora ridge with a height of 500 m.
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The climate in Benin is tropical, humid in the south and more savannah-like in the north. The average rainfall is 1245 mm per year. Areas around the Atakora Mountains receive the most rainfall. Temperatures can reach up to 47° C. The average temperature in the south is between 18° C and 35° C. The best time for a visit of Benin are the driest and less humid months of the dry season, between November and March.
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Most of the country is covered with moist savannas with scattered tree species. Most common are acacia, acajou, monkey bread, kapok, mango, palm and teak. The south of the country originally consisted of tropical rainforest. There is still tropical rainforest along the rivers and in the extreme southeast. One third of the country is covered with forest. Further north, the landscape becomes more barren.
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In Benin, elephants, lions, monkeys, snakes, crocodiles, buffalos, giraffes, cheetahs, hippos and panthers and many bird species are found. Pendjari National Park and the other National Parks protect wild animal species.
Kingdom of Dahomey
Before 1700, the area of present-day Benin had a few important coastal city-states (mainly of the Aja ethnic group, but also made up of Yoruba and Gbe peoples). Located mainly to the east of modern Benin, the Oyo Empire was the most important military force in the region. It carried out regular raids and demanded tribute from the coastal and tribal regions. The situation changed in the early 1700s when the kingdom of Dahomey, which was made up mostly of Fon people, was founded on the Abomey Plateau and began to take over areas along the coast. The Dahomey Kingdom was known for its culture and traditions. Young boys often apprenticed to older soldiers and learned the military customs of the kingdom until they were old enough to join the army. Dahomey was also famous for establishing an elite female soldier corps. They were known to Europeans as the Dahomean Amazons. This emphasis on military preparation and performance earned Dahomey the nickname "Black Sparta". The Kings of Dahomey sold their prisoners of war as transatlantic slaves. Because of this flourishing trade, the area was called the "Slave Coast". In 1885, the last slave ship set sail from the coast bound for Brazil in South America, which had yet to abolish slavery.
By the mid-1800s, Dahomey began to weaken and lost its status as a regional power. This allowed the French to take over the area in 1892. In 1899, the French incorporated the land called French Dahomey into the greater French colonial region of West Africa. In 1958 France granted autonomy to the Republic of Dahomey, and full independence on August 1, 1960, which is celebrated every year as Independence Day, a national holiday.
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After a period of fierce power struggles, in which Benin acquires a dubious reputation as the country with a record number of coups, General Mathieu Kérékou seizes power in 1972, also through a coup. Kérékou's first reign has the character of a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship that will last until the end of 1990.
In this period, which is partly at the root of the problems that still haunt Benin today, the country slips towards chaos, inertia and poverty, especially towards the end. Corruption is rampant. The economy is being destroyed by the collectivization of agriculture, land expropriation, nationalization of banks, insurance companies, the water and energy company, the brewery, the textile industry. The People's Revolutionary Party of Benin (PRPB) is the only party allowed. There is no question of freedom of speech. Dissidents are arrested and human rights are being violated.
Although the dogmatic nature of the regime has diminished since 1980, discontent is growing. The salaries of the enormously grown civil service (from 9,000 to 47,000) are no longer paid. Banks are out of business. The formal economy no longer exists. Corruption and banditry ravage the country.
When in 1988 and 1989 one strike after another brings the country to a standstill and, moreover, the Berlin wall has fallen, the regime realizes that it no longer has a choice. The change is heralded by the Catholic Church, which in early 1989 condemned the regime en bloc in a courageous pastoral letter. Kérékou bows his head. He renounces Marxism-Leninism at the end of 1989, dissolves the politburo and central committee, and approves the convening in February 1990 of the Conférence Nationale des Forces Vives de la Nation. At this historical conference, which in the following years was also followed elsewhere on the continent - with varying success - the foundations were laid for today's multiform Beninese society in a period of just 10 days.
The success of the conference is largely due to the Presidency, but above all the personality and moral superiority of Mgr Isedore de Souza, Archbishop of Cotonou, and his personal influence on Kérékou. With great tact and discretion he manages to ensure that Kérékou finally accepts the conclusions of the conference. In his closing speech, Kérékou expresses his shame for his original resistance. The audience responds with an ovation. For Kérékou this also means a personal turning point, he converts to a devout Christian. This episode is relevant because it explains in part how Kérékou was democratically re-elected six years later as president of Benin.
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A new period dawns for Benin. In accordance with the conclusions of the Conference, an interim government will take office, with Kérékou as President a.i. and World Bank official Nicéphore Soglo as Prime Minister. At the end of 1990, a new Constitution was adopted, laying the foundation for the new democratic system. There is complete freedom of speech, a multitude of political parties, newspapers, and radio stations are established, political prisoners are released, exiled dissidents return. Military personnel in government positions are replaced by civilians.
In the first democratic presidential elections in Benin in 1991, Soglo won with 67% of the votes the presidential election of Kérékou, who ran for election at the last minute.
Soglo faces a Herculean task. He does not lack goodwill. Western donors, World Bank and IMF come to his aid with considerable financial resources. Although he can boast of important feats of arms, he is seen by the population as an alienated technocrat from his country: his career at the World Bank has removed him from Beninese reality; the World Bank-driven and far from painless structural adjustment program is troubling him. The predominant role of his controversial wife and RB party leader Rosine Vieira Soglo is also not well received by everyone. The 1994 devaluation of the Franc CFA contributes to growing discontent with his rule, leading to his defeat in the second presidential election since the introduction of democracy in March 1996, where ex-President Kérékou was re-elected in transparent and free elections. is becoming.
And also in the presidential elections of March 2001, Soglo has to lose out against his dead opponent Kérékou. Since 1996, Kérékou is therefore again the head of state of Benin.
Kérékou continues the economic adjustment program initiated by Soglo, with support from the World Bank and IMF. Aid is also pouring in from other donors, notably the EU, France, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Liberalizations and privatizations are continuing. Benin is experiencing a decade of democracy, freedom of speech, and reasonable economic growth. The army no longer plays a role in political life. There are no political prisoners. There is complete freedom of the press. The macroeconomic policy is good, the government budget is almost balanced.
However, the legacy of Marxism is difficult to shake off. The country suffers from great corruption, a cumbersome and ineffective administrative system, an inefficient, corrupt and heavily centralized government, clientelism, nepotism, lack of initiative, corporate spirit and customer focus. The investment climate is poor and the country hardly attracts foreign investment. The liberalization of the cotton sector, which is so important to the country, is extremely complicated and faces major problems. Privatizations are accompanied by major fraud. There is a significant capital flight and a brain drain. About 95% of the economy remains informal. Economic growth (5%) is insufficient to rip the country out of the spiral of poverty. The high illiteracy rate is an additional obstacle. The Kérékou III government, which took office in April 2001, was faced with an enormous challenge, and was unable to make a positive difference. Kerekou was succeeded on April 6, 2006 by Dr. Thomas Boni Yayi, ex-president of the West African Development Bank, after an initially problematic but ultimately successful democratic election process. In April 2007 Yayi also obtains a majority in parliament. In April 2008 tensions arose after local elections. In April 2011 Yayi is re-elected and in November of that year the Pope visits Benin. In the years 2012 and 2013 there have been several plots against the president. Yayi accuses his opponents of attempted poisoning.
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In December 2013, a French court refused to extradite businessman Patrice Talon, who is suspected of this offense. In May 2015, Yayi's party wins the parliamentary elections but does not get an absolute majority. Yayi appoints Lionel Zinsou as prime minister and as intended successor. However, in March 2016, Patrice Talon wins the presidential election. In April 2017, Talon failed to bring the term of the presidency one-off to six years. In April 2019 parliamentary elections are chaotic, many opposition parties do not participate.
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In Benin live 11.138. 805 million people (2017). The population density is quite low and amounts to about 96 inhabitants per square kilometer.
- The natural population growth is 2.71%. (2017)
- Birth rate per 1000 inhabitants is 35 (2017)
- Mortality rate per 1000 inhabitants is 7.9 (2017)
- Life expectancy is 62.3 years. (men 60.9 and women 63.8 years (2017)
All of the above figures can change quickly and significantly in connection with the AIDS epidemic.
In total there are about 40 ethnic groups living in Benin. The largest population group is the Fon belonging to the Ewe in the south. About 40% of the population belongs to the Fon. Some other population groups are the Yoruba, who live in East and Central Benin, the Adja, the Bariba, Dendi, the Somba and the Fulani, who live in North Benin. The French make up the majority of the foreigners living in Benin.
Although French is the official language of Benin, more than 50 indigenous languages have national language status. Of these languages, Fon (a Gbe language) and Yoruba are the most important in the south of the country. In the north, there are half a dozen regionally important languages, including Bariba (reckoned as a Gur language) and Fulfulde. Native languages are generally transcribed with a separate letter for each speech sound (phoneme), rather than with diacritics as in French.
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Half of the inhabitants of Benin adhere to animism. Those who identify themselves as Christians or Muslims are also likely to observe some traditional indigenous customs. The most common indigenous religion is Vodoun. Vodoun spread to America through slavery and later became a source for African-inspired religions such as Santeria (in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean), Voodoo (in Haiti) and Candomble (in Brazil). The Vodoun religion is based on the belief in one supreme being who rules over a number of lesser gods, spirits and saints.
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About 30% of the population is Christian, mainly Roman Catholic. 20% of the population is Sunni Muslim.
The Benin Constitution states that there is freedom of religion.
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The 1990 constitution is based on the principle of multiparty democracy and provides for presidential elections every five years, with the president eligible for re-election only once. President Kérékou started his last five-year mandate in April 2001. Although there was some uncertainty about a possible third term in office, the President officially declared at the end of 2005 that he would not stand for re-election in 2006. In the first months of 2006, however, there were clear signs that the ruling circles around the president had an interest in it. to postpone the elections, so that Kérékou could stay on for longer. In January 2006, the president appointed a new Minister of State, Martin Azonhiho, also in charge of national defense, who is known to support the postponement of the elections. Despite all these omens, the election finally took place with a clear winner, Dr. Thomas Boni YAYI, inaugurated on April 6, 2006.
Benin has a presidential system, which is more similar to the United States and the parliamentary systems in Western Europe. The president has great executive power, including the right to suspend parliament. The parliament consists of 83 members. Parliamentary elections are held every four years. Members of Parliament can be re-elected an unlimited number of times. The constitution provides for several organs to limit presidential power. There is a Constitutional Court, a Cour Suprême, a Court of Audit (falls under the Cour Suprême). The Haute Cour de la Justice, established in 2000, is competent for litigation involving the President, the government and the Speaker of Parliament. There is an Economic and Social Council, the Haute Autorité de l'Audiovisuel et de la Communication, a 9-member body that supervises the media and an independent election commission, the CENA.
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President Kérékou's political base was based on a coalition of a large number of smaller political parties and mainly controlled the sparsely populated predominantly agricultural northern departments and the south-west of the country. This coalition had a parliamentary majority, the Mouvance présidentielle. The Mouvance was divided into 65 seats with 4 fractions (out of a total of 83). The UBF (Union pour le Benin du Futur) is the largest party in this. Bruno Amoussou (PSD), is one of the most important politicians and ex-Minister of Planning and Development. Houngbedji (ex-Speaker of Parliament), Bruno Amoussou (PSD), current Speaker of Parliament, Antoine Kolawolé Idji, Thomas Boni Yayi, former President of West African Development Bank and Lehady Soglo, son of former President Soglo were the most important presidential candidates.
Although ethnic and regional origin play an important role in politics, the Beninese is peaceful and tolerant. Various peoples are united in Benin, each of which has its own language and customs. There is also great tolerance in the religious field. Animists, Christians and Muslims live side by side and with each other, without any significant frictions. Freedom of expression is one of the great achievements of this country. Politicians are being targeted, corruption scandals are widely reported in the press. Even the head of state can be mocked and criticized in the press. There are no political prisoners. However, the independence of the media is limited by the fact that financiers have a decisive voice in editorial matters.
There is broad political agreement to continue the structural reforms initiated in the 1990s under the influence of the IMF and the World Bank. These include further liberalization of the economy, privatization of state-owned enterprises and the progress of fiscal reform. The World Bank has made funds available for this purpose. The reform of the public administration is currently stalling, in particular due to resistance from the trade unions. Benin is regarded by the International Financial Institutions as one of the best students in the macroeconomic field. Until 2006, the World Bank will make an important financial contribution to the implementation of the Poverty Reduction Plan (PRSP). Since March 2003, the country has also been eligible for significant debt relief.
The first deal under the Poverty Reduction Growth Facility (PRGF) in Benin, approved on July 17, 2000 for an amount of 27 million SDR (37.4 million dollars) was extended until 31 March 2004. A second PRGF (duration 2005 –2008) was approved on August 5, 2005 for a total amount of 6.19 SDR. / ± EUR 7.4 mln. The programs supported by PRGF are based on the national strategy for poverty reduction, in this case the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). The aim is to ensure that the programs supported by PRGF fit into the whole of macroeconomic, structural and social policies that stimulate growth and therefore use poverty reduction. In 2004, the World Bank provided support worth EUR 17.8 million under the first poverty reduction strategy loan (PRSC-1). For 2005, support worth US $ 30 million (= EUR 26.68 million) Has been approved. The intended support for 2006 is estimated at 31.25 euros.
The fact that decentralization is accompanied by a corresponding drastic redistribution of power means that those who are in control are not all equally enthusiastic about this process, although 12 years after the policy decision to implement it, at least among the Beninese people and their local elected representatives, has raised expectations and appears to be irreversible.
Corruption is a major problem and has permeated all sections of society. The fight against corruption has - verbally - an important place, effective measures and results have so far lagged behind rhetoric. The new president has indicated that he sees this file as an immediate priority for the country, as economic development and, as a result, poverty alleviation depend on it. It is still too early to say whether the new 'Observatoire de lutte contre la corruption' will bring about any real improvement. An important administrative innovation which was further introduced by the new president and which may have a positive effect on this theme is the fact that the formerly independent ministerial post for Public Works and Transport has now become a Minister without portfolio under the president. This will allow the necessary rationalization of the practice of public procurement, which is plagued by corruption
For the current political situation see chapter history.
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The devaluation of the Franc CFA in January 1994 has improved Beninese competitiveness against regional and international markets. However, the TEC, the common external tariff, has had a strong inhibiting effect on Beninese exports (mainly re-exports) to neighboring countries. The anticipated impetus to be given by the TEC to intra-Community trade has not yet been achieved.
Trade and services is the most important economic sector. According to official figures, the tertiary sector accounts for 51.3% of GDP (2017). However, this presents a distorted picture, as the Beninese economy is largely informal. In addition, agriculture (25.6% of GDP (2017) and especially cotton production (31% of exports) is an important pillar of the economy. Benin does not yet generate sufficient financial resources of its own and relies heavily on foreign donor capital.
From a macroeconomic perspective, the country is reasonably healthy, but the economy is currently in a dip, mainly due to problems in the cotton sector. Economic growth amounts to 5.6% (2017). Financial management is tight and the state's housekeeping book is in order. However, the level of public investment is insufficient to generate economic growth that is powerful enough to break the cycle of poverty. Major economic reforms remain necessary, transparency must be increased, corruption reduced, and trade and investment barriers removed. A budget reform has already brought about significant improvements and should be further developed in the coming years. The efficiency measures that will be implemented within the ministries must also be mentioned in this context. Inflation has been contained in recent years, despite the sharp increase in fuel prices and higher import tariffs. Benin thus remains within the framework of the West African Monetary Union.
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It is of the utmost importance to the economic development of Benin that the liberalization and privatization processes (in particular the cotton sector, textiles, telecommunications, energy and water, port, hotels), initiated since 1990 as part of the structural adjustment process now finally be completed. The cotton sector has been in a problematic phase since 2004 due to internal disorganization, low prices on the world market and a low dollar exchange rate. Implementation of the privatization program has been delayed.
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Benin is a relatively unknown holiday destination, so that you can enjoy the savannas, the rainforests in the mountains and the animal world that resides there, especially with a rich bird world, almost undisturbed. In a number of places you can also surf, swim and dive, it is even possible to enjoy a cycling holiday.
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Large animals such as elephants, lions, monkeys and hippos can be seen in the Pendjari National Park, part of the much larger Parc National du W (est), which is situated in three countries. Benin, and especially the coastal town of Ouidah, was the cradle of voodoo (in Benin voudun), here an animistic belief without curses through voodoo dolls. In January, visit Ouidah's spectacular voodoo festival. Ouidah is also worth a visit through the Temple of the Holy Python and one of the largest Portuguese fortresses in Africa, São João Baptista de Ajudá.
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Benin also has something to offer for beach lovers, Grand Popo has several beautiful beaches, as well as the largest city in Benin, Cotonou, where almost everything is for sale on a large market. Very special is the town of Ganvié, about 3000 bamboo houses built on stilts in Lake Nokoué, with a water market as well; a little less known but certainly worth a visit is the pole village of Aguégués. The important Somba tribe lives in fortified villages of round mud huts topped with conical roofs and terracotta vases. The 'land of the 41 hills' is located near the city of Dassa-Zoumé. The mountain village of Tanéka Koko has also developed a special architectural style.
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The Abomey Museum shows the history of the Abomey kingdoms and a throne of human skulls on display. The complex of royal palaces in Abomey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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