Benin is located in West Africa and constitutes a long stretch of hand perpendicular to the Coast of the Gulf of Guinea. It is bordered on the North by Burkina Faso and the Republic of Niger, on the East by the Federal Republic of Nigeria and on the West by the Republic of Togo. With a 124 kilometers long coastline, it stretches North to South some 672 kilometers while its breath extends 324 kilometers at the evident point. It is above two third the Size of Portugal.
Benin can be divided into five natural regions: A coastal area, low, sandy and about 2 to 5 kilometers wide, bounded by lagoons; A plateau zone called "La terre de barre" made of iron clay cut with marshy dips; A silica clayey plateau with wooded savannah extending North of Abomey to the foothills of the Atakora hills; - A hilly region in the Northwest, the Atakora, with elevation ranging from 500 to 800 metres and constituting the water reservoir for Benin and Niger Republics.
The history of Benin is indigenous. It was thought that before 1600 the Adja people migrated from the town of Tado to the Mono River (in Togo), settling at Alada, where they mixed the Fon and founded a kingdom. Early in the 17th century a dynastic dispute resulted in the establishment of two rival states in Abomy.
For over six hundred years the city of Benin was the capital of a prosperous, well-organized empire of the same name. Benin was the seat of one of the great medieval African kingdoms called Dahomey. Europeans began arriving in the area in the 18th century, as the kingdom of Dahomey was expanding its territory. The Portuguese, the French, and the Dutch established trading posts along the coast (Porto-Novo, Ouidah, Cotonou), and traded weapons for slaves. Slave trade ended in 1848. Then, the French signed treaties with Kings of Abomey to establish French protectorates in the main cities and ports. However, King Behanzin fought the French influence which cost him deportation to Martinique. As of 1900, the territory became a French colony ruled by a French Governor. Expansion continued to the North (kingdoms of Parakou, Nikki, Kandi), up to the border with former Upper Volta. On December 4, 1958, it became the Rˇpublique du Dahomey, self-governing within the French community, and on August 1, 1960, the Republic of Benin gained full independence from France.
Between 1960 and 1972, a succession of military coups brought about many changes of government. The last of these brought to power Major Mathieu Kˇrˇkou as the head of a regime professing strict Marxist-Leninist principles. The Revolutionary Party of the People of Benin (PRPB) remained in complete power until the beginning of the 1990s. Kˇrˇkou, encouraged by France and other democratic powers, convened a national conference that introduced a new democratic constitution and held presidential and legislative elections. Kˇrˇkou's principal opponent at the presidential poll, and the ultimate victor, was Prime Minister Nicˇphore Soglo. Supporters of Soglo also secured a majority in the National Assembly.
Benin was thus the first African country to effect successfully the transition from dictatorship to a pluralistic political system. In the second round of National Assembly elections held in March 1995, Soglo's political vehicle, the Parti de la Renaissance du Benin, was the largest single party but lacked an overall majority. The success of a party formed by supporters of ex-president Kˇrˇkou, who had officially retired from active politics, encouraged him to stand successfully at both the 1996 and 2001 presidential elections.
During the 2001 elections, however, alleged irregularities and dubious practices led to a boycott of the run-off poll by the main opposition candidates leading to a second round balloting, originally scheduled for March 18, 2001 but was postponed for days because both Soglo and Houngbedji withdrew, alleging electoral fraud.
In December 2002, Benin held its first municipal elections since before the institution of Marxism-Leninism. The process was smooth with the significant exception of the 12th district council for Cotonou, the contest that would ultimately determine who would be selected for the mayoralty of the capital city. That vote was marred by irregularities, and the electoral commission was forced to repeat that single election. Nicephore Soglo's Renaisance du Benin (RB) party won the new vote, paving way for the former president to be elected Mayor of Cotonou by the new city council in February 2002.
National Assembly elections took place in March 2003 and were generally considered to be free and fair. Although there were some irregularities, these were not significant and did not greatly disrupt the proceedings or the results. These elections resulted in a loss of seats by RB--the primary opposition party. The other opposition parties, the Party for Democratic Renewal (PRD) led by the former Prime Minister Adrien Houngbedji and the Alliance Etoile (AE) have joined the government coalition. RB currently holds 15 of the National Assembly's 83 seats.
National name: Republique du Benin
Capital (2003 est.): Porto-Novo (official), 231,600
Largest cities: Cotonou (de facto capital) 734,600; Parakou 205,300; Djougou, 184,200
Monetary unit: CFA Franc
Languages: French (official), Fon, Yoruba, tribal languages
Ethnicity/race: African 99% (42 ethnic groups, most important being Fon, Adja, Yoruba, Bariba), Europeans 5,500
Religions: indigenous 50%, Christian 30%, Islam 20%
Literacy rate: 41% (2000)
Below is an analysis of Benin according to The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal:
Category: Mostly Unfree
Total area: 112,620 sq. km
GDP: $2.6 billion
GDP growth rate: 4.8%
GDP per capita: $392
Major exports: textiles, cotton, cocoa, petroleum
Exports of goods and services: $384.1
Major export trading partners: China 22.3%, India 16.1%, Thailand 7.2%, Ghana 6.1%
Major imports: foodstuffs, tobacco, petroleum products
Imports of goods and services: $709 million
Major import trading partners: China 28.8%, France 14.5%, UK 4.6%, Ivory Coast 4.5%
Foreign direct investment (net): $45.3 million
The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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