Benin, independent nation of W Africa, formerly called Dahomey. Once a
French protectorate, it is a country of 40 ethnic tribal groups and a
low-level economy.

Land and Economy. Located in the bulge on the S side of W Africa, Benin
is bordered by Nigeria, Toga, Berkina Faso, and Niger, with 75 mi (121km)
on the Gulf of Guinea. The coast is hot and humid, and there are two rainy
and two dry seasons; average annual rainfall is 32in (813mm). Benin has
three plateaus, one fertile, another of bare rocks, and a third with
streams flowing to the Volta and Niger rivers and including the Atakora
range. The E section is a plain. Subsistence agriculture is the economic
base. Palm products and cotton account for half of export revenues.

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People. The leading class in Benin is composed of male-line descendants
of the Aja (Fons, or Dahomey) who had established the early kingdom.

Trained for civil service by the French, they are the best educated;
literacy is 25% among school-age children. In the N are the nomadic Fulani
and the Somba tribe, hunters with no political organization; E are Baribas.

90% of the population is rural, and 65% practices animist religion. French
is the common language.

Government. Benin has been under military rule since 1970. The
constitution of 1977 instituted a national assembly, whose members belong
to the sole legal political party, the Benin People’s Revolutionary Party.

History. Benin’s history dates back to three principalities–Allada,
Porto-Novo, and Dahomey–in the S area who were being pushed by the N
Kingdom of Abomey in the 16th century. Dahomey was the most aggressive,
pushing N and selling slaves. In 1863 the king of Porto-Novo sought French
protection. By 1892 France had subjugated all groups and made them
protectorates as part of French West Africa. In 1960 the country became
independent as Dahomey. The official name was changed to Benin in 1976.

Economic and regional rivalries have caused numerous military coup d’tats
and changes of government since 1960. The Marxist-Leninist military
government in power since 1972, led by Brig. Gen. Mathieu Kerekou, relaxed
its authority somewhat during the late 1970s and improved relations with
France. Benin became the center of an international environmental
controversy in 1988 when it became known that European nations planned to
dump toxic wastes there.

Official name: People’s Republic of Benin
Area: 43,483sq mi (112,621sq km)
Population: 4,663,832
Density: 107.3per sq mi (41.4per sq km)
Chief cities: Porto-Novo (capital);
Cotonou Government: Military
Religion: Animist, Christian, and Moslem (Muslim)
Language: French(official)
Monetary unit: CFA franc Gross
domestic product: $1,400,000,000
Per capita income: $340
Industries: food processing, including beer, palm oil
Agriculture: peanuts, cotton, coffee, tobacco
Minerals: petroleum
Trading partners: France (major), other members of European Common Market,
franc zone countries


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