The African continent is 54 nations, each with their own independent governments and soverinty, GNP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched, and the continent's largely uptapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.
Benin. Agriculture: cotton, corn, cocoa beans, palm oil
The Republic of Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, is a country in West Africa, bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, Burkina Faso to the north-west, and Niger to the north-east. The majority of its population lives on the small southern coastline of the Bight of Benin, part of the Gulf of Guinea in the northernmost tropical portion of the Atlantic Ocean.
The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is in Cotonou, the country's largest city and economic capital. Benin covers an area of 44,310 square miles, and its population is estimated at approximately 11.5 million. Benin is a tropical nation, highly dependent on agriculture, and is a large exporter of cotton and palm oil. Substantial employment and income arise from subsistence farming.
The official language of Benin is French, with several indigenous languages such as Fon, Bariba, Yoruba, and Dendi also being commonly spoken. The largest religious group in Benin is Roman Catholicism, followed closely by Islam, Vodun, and Protestantism. Benin is a member of the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, La Francophonie, the Community of Sahel–Saharan States, the African Petroleum Producers Association, and the Niger Basin Authority.
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.
Politics in Benin
Benin's politics take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, in which the President of Benin is both head of state and head of government, within a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the legislature. The judiciary is officially independent of the executive and the legislature. The political system is derived from the 1990 Constitution of Benin and the subsequent transition to democracy in 1991.
Benin scored highly in the 2013 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which comprehensively measures the state of governance across the continent. Benin was ranked 18th out of 52 African countries and scored best in the categories of Safety and Rule of Law and Participation and Human Rights.
In its 2007 Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Benin 53rd out of 169 countries. That place had fallen to 78th by 2016, and has fallen further to 113th since then. Benin has been rated equal-88th out of 159 countries in a 2005 analysis of police, business, and political corruption. Benin is divided into 12 departments, which, in turn, are subdivided into 77 communes. In 1999, the previous six departments were each split into two halves, forming the current 12. The six new departments were assigned official capitals in 2008.
Demographics and Religion
The majority of Benin's 11,485,000 inhabitants live in the south of the country. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 62 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country, including the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from what is now Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendi in the north-central area (who came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fula in the northeast; the Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atakora Mountains; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.
Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin that include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European embassies and foreign aid missions and of nongovernmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large part of the 5,500 European population. A small part of the European population is comprised of Benin citizens of French ancestry.
In the 2013 census, 48.5 percent of the population of Benin were Christian, 27.7 percent Muslim, 11.6 percent practiced Vodun, 2.6 percent other local traditional religions, and 5.8 percent claimed no religious affiliation. Traditional religions include local animistic religions in the Atakora (Atakora and Donga provinces), and Vodun and Orisha veneration among the Yoruba and Tado peoples in the center and south of the nation. The town of Ouidah on the central coast is the spiritual center of Beninese Vodun.
The largest and most populous city in Benin is Cotonou, with a population of 780,000 people. It is a large port city on the south coast of Benin in West Africa. In addition to its teeming business community and busy port on the Atlantic, Cotonou is also a showcase for Benin's pristine cool beaches. In addition, Benin's metropolis gives way to tropical rain forest yielding oil, limestone, marble, and timber
Benin is not yet a huge technological presence in Africa, but is slowly making strides in that direction as many of her fellow nations are. But the small West African enclave enjoys a quiet agrarian pursuit (below) that has sustained her welfare. Benin is a chief cotton grower and exporter, supplying thousands of tons of corn, rice, cocoa beans, and palm oil to neighboring countries annually.
Beauty is a Benin hallmark. Whether in its sultry and gorgeous showcase of females of all hues, idyllic natural environment of tropical forests, cool rivers, lakes and streams or its beautiful array of wild creatures, beauty in Benin is unmistakable.
That the Earth is a jewel to behold is undeniable. But it is not nor ever was relega- ted to one single region of the planet as some First World nations have claimed for centuries.
But now that Africa has come of age and shed her dark veil, which hid her secrets for thousands of years, the entire globe can now only marvel at her fine essence and exquisiteness.
Benin takes her rightful place among Africa's 54 nation states. She is truly a jewel to behold.
Benin, like most of sub-Sahara Africa is blessed with abundant wild species protected in game reserves available for tourism. Lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, wild dog, and jackal, thrive in the savannah and tropics joined by elephant, buffalo, giraffe, antelope, rhino, hippo, crocodile, great apes, monkeys, African ground squirrels and other small underground mammals, poisonous and non-poisonous snakes, and insects of all kinds.
Today the two largest religions are Christianity, followed throughout the south and center of Benin and in Otammari country in the Atakora, and Islam, introduced by the Songhai Empire and Hausa merchants, and now followed throughout Alibori, Borgou and Donga provinces, as well as among the Yoruba (who also follow Christianity). Many, however, continue to hold Vodun and Orisha beliefs and have incorporated the pantheon of Vodun and Orisha into Christianity. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect originating in the 19th century, is also present in a significant minority.
Geography and climate
Benin, a narrow, north–south strip of land in West Africa, The coastline extends 75 miles, and the country measures 202 miles at its widest point. Four terrestrial eco-regions lie within Benin's borders: Eastern Guinean forests, Nigerian lowland forests, Guinean forest-savanna mosaic, and West Sudanian savanna. The Pendjari National Park in Benin is one of the most important reserves for the West African lion and other large animals of West Africa.
Benin shows little variation in elevation and can be divided into four areas from the south to the north, starting with the low-lying, sandy, coastal plain (highest elevation 32.8 ft.), which is, at most, 6.2 miles wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons communicating with the ocean. Behind the coast lies the Guinean forest-savanna mosaic-covered plateaus of southern Benin (altitude between 66 and 656 ft., which are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Ouémé Rivers.
This geography makes it vulnerable to climate change. With the majority of the country living near the coast in low-lying areas sea level rise could have large effects on the economy and population. Northern areas will see additional regions become deserts, making agriculture difficult in a region with many subsistence farmers. An area of flat land dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 1,312 ft. extends around Nikki and Save.
A range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo; these are the Atacora. The highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 2,159 ft. Benin has fallow fields, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrub and dotted with huge baobab trees. Some forests line the banks of rivers. In the north and the northwest of Benin, the Reserve du W du Niger and Pendjari National Park attract tourists eager to see elephants, lions, antelopes, hippos, and monkeys.
Benin's climate is hot and humid. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages about 51 inches. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons per year. The principal rainy season is from April to late July, with a shorter less intense rainy period from late September to November. The main dry season is from December to April, with a short cooler dry season from late July to early September. Temperatures and humidity are high along the tropical coast. In Cotonou, the average maximum temperature is 87.8 °F; the minimum is 75.2 °F. Variations in temperature increase when moving north through savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the Harmattan blows from December to March, when grass dries up, other vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be overcast. It is also the season when farmers burn brush in the fields.
The economy of Benin is dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Cotton accounts for 40 percent of the GDP and roughly 80 percent of official export receipts. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. Benin uses the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro. Benin's economy has continued to strengthen over the past years, with real GDP growth estimated at 5.1 and 5.7 percent in 2008 and 2009, respectively. The main driver of growth is the agricultural sector, with cotton being the country's main export, while services continue to contribute the largest part of GDP largely because of Benin's geographical location, enabling trade, transportation, transit and tourism activities with its neighboring states. Benin's overall macroeconomic conditions were positive in 2017, with a growth rate of around 5.6 percent.
Economic growth was also largely driven by Benin's other cash crops, the Port of Cotonou, and telecommunications. Cashew and pineapple production and processing have substantial commercial potential. The country's primary source of revenue is the Port of Cotonou, although the government is seeking to expand its revenue base. In 2017, Benin imported about $2.8 billion in goods such as rice, meat and poultry, alcoholic beverages, fuel plastic materials, specialized mining and excavating machinery, telecommunications equipment, passenger vehicles, and toiletries and cosmetics. Principal exports are ginned cotton, cotton cake and cotton seeds, cashew, shea butter, cooking oil, and lumber.
Access to biocapacity in Benin is lower than world average. In 2016, Benin had 0.9 global hectares of biocapacity per person within its territory, much less than the world average of 1.6 global hectares per person. 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. Projects to improve the business climate by reforms to the land tenure system, the commercial justice system, and the financial sector were included in Benin's $307 million Millennium Challenge Account grant signed in February 2006.
Cotonou has the country's only seaport and international airport. A new port is currently under construction between Cotonou and Porto Novo. Benin is connected by two-lane asphalted roads to its neighboring countries Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria. Mobile telephone service is available across the country through various operators. ADSL connections are available in some areas. Benin is connected to the Internet by way of satellite connections (since 1998) and a single submarine cable SAT-3/WASC (since 2001), keeping the price of data extremely high. Relief is expected with the initiation of the Africa Coast to Europe cable in 2011.
The literacy rate in Benin is among the lowest in the world: in 2015 it was estimated to be 38.4 percent. Benin has achieved universal primary education and half of the children (54 percent) were enrolled in secondary education in 2013, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
The government has devoted more than 4 percent of GDP to education since 2009. In 2015, public expenditure on education (all levels) amounted to 4.4 percent of GDP, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Within this expenditure, Benin devoted quite a large share to tertiary education: 0.97 percent of GDP.
Science and technology
The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research is responsible for implementing science policy. The National Directorate of Scientific and Technological Research handles planning and coordination, whereas the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research and National Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters each play an advisory role. Financial support comes from Benin's National Fund for Scientific Research and Technological Innovation.
The Benin Agency for the Promotion of Research Results and Technological Innovation carries out technology transfer through the development and dissemination of research results. Benin was ranked 126th in the Global Innovation Index in 2020, down from 123rd in 2019. The regulatory framework has evolved since 2006 till date when the country's first science policy was prepared. This has since been updated and complemented by new texts on science and innovation (the year of adoption is between brackets):In 2015, Benin's priority areas for scientific research were: health, education, construction and building materials, transportation and trade, culture, tourism and handicrafts, cotton/textiles, food, energy and climate change.
Transport in Benin includes road, rail, water and air transportation. Of the paved highways in the country, there are 10 expressways. This leaves 5,430 km of unpaved road. The Trans-West African Coastal Highway crosses Benin, connecting it to Nigeria to the east, and Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast to the west. When construction in Liberia and Sierra Leone is finished, the highway will continue west to seven other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) nations. A paved highway also connects Benin northwards to Niger, and through that country to Burkina Faso and Mali to the north-west.
Rail transport in Benin consists of 359 miles of single track. Benin does not, at this time, share railway links with adjacent countries, but construction work has commenced on international lines connecting Benin with Niger and Nigeria, with outline plans announced for further connections to Togo and Burkina Faso. Benin will be a participant in the Africa Rail project.
Culture and language
Beninese literature had a strong oral tradition long before French became the dominant language. Post-independence, the country was home to a vibrant and innovative music scene, where native folk music combined with Ghanaian highlife, French cabaret, American rock, funk and soul, and Congolese rumba.
Biennale Benin, continuing the projects of several organizations and artists, started in the country in 2010 as a collaborative event called "Regard Benin". In 2012, the project became a Biennial coordinated by the Consortium, a federation of local associations. The international exhibition and artistic program of the 2012 Biennale Benin are curated by Abdellah Karroum and the Curatorial Delegation. A number of Beninese artists have received major international recognition, such as Georges Adéagbo, Meschac Gaba, Romuald Hazoumè, Dominique Zinkpè, and Emo de Medeiros.
Local languages are used as the languages of instruction in elementary schools, with French only introduced after several years. In wealthier cities, however, French is usually taught at an earlier age. At the secondary school level, local language is generally forbidden and French is the sole language of instruction. Beninese languages are generally transcribed with a separate letter for each speech sound (phoneme), rather than using diacritics as in French or digraphs as in English. This includes Beninese Yoruba, which in Nigeria is written with both diacritics and digraphs.
For instance, the mid vowels written é, è, ô, o in French are written e, ɛ, o, ɔ in Beninese languages, whereas the consonants are written ng and sh or ch in English are written ŋ and c. However, digraphs are used for nasal vowels and the labial-velar consonants kp and gb, as in the name of the Fon language Fon gbe /fõ ɡ͡be/, and diacritics are used as tone marks. In French-language publications, a mixture of French and Beninese orthographies may be seen.
Beninese cuisine is known in Africa for its exotic ingredients and flavorful dishes. Beninese cuisine involves fresh meals served with a variety of key sauces. In southern Benin cuisine, the most common ingredient is corn, often used to prepare dough which is mainly served with peanut- or tomato-based sauces.
Meat is usually quite expensive, and meals are generally light on meat and generous on vegetable fat. Frying in palm or peanut oil is the most common meat preparation, and smoked fish is commonly prepared in Benin. Fish and chicken are the most common meats used in southern Beninese cuisine, but beef and goat are also consumed. "Chicken on the spit" is a traditional recipe in which chicken is roasted over a fire on wooden sticks.
The main staple in northern Benin is yams, often served with sauces mentioned above. The population in the northern provinces use beef and pork meat which is fried in palm or peanut oil or cooked in sauces. Cheese is used in some dishes. Couscous, rice, and beans are commonly eaten, along with fruits such as mangoes, oranges, avocados, bananas, kiwi fruit, and pineapples.
Grinders are used to prepare corn flour, which is made into a dough and served with sauces. Palm roots are sometimes soaked in a jar with salt water and sliced garlic to tenderize them, then used in dishes. Many people have outdoor mud stoves for cooking.
Benin's large degree of ethnic groups are united in their love of football or soccer. Benin’s traditional sports has a lot to do with athletics but football is currently the Beninese’ national obsession with tennis a close second. Soccer is officiated by the Fédération Béninoise de Football and their national soccer team called Les Ecureuils has been a member of FIFA and CAF since 1969. The Les Ecureuils has never qualified for the World Cup but did make an appearance at the African Cup of Nations in 2004.
The nation first competed in the Olympic Games in 1972 as Dahomey, then at 1980 in the Moscow Olympic Games as Benin. As of the 2012 London Olympic Games, Benin has yet to win an Olympic medal.