Coat of Arms
President Thomas Yayi Boni
»114,763 km2 (101st)
» Per capita -$1,666
» Per capita -$7.429 billion
»West African CFA franc (XOF)
A majority of the population live on its small southern coastline on 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 approximately 115,000 square kilometers (42,000 sq mi), with a population of approximately 9.98 million. Benin is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture, with substantial employment and income arising from subsistence farming.
The official language of Benin is French. However, indigenous languages such as Fon and Yoruba are 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 Organisation 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.
From the 17th to the 19th century, the main political entities in the area were the Kingdom of Dahomey along with the city-state of Porto-Novo and a large area with many different tribes to the north.
The economy of Benin is dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Cotton accounts for 40 percent of GDP and roughly 80 percent of official export receipts. Growth in real output has averaged around 5 percent in the past seven years, but rapid population growth has offset much of this increase. 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 neighbouring states.
In order to raise growth still further, 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 US$307 million Millennium Challenge Account grant signed in February 2006.
The Paris Club and bilateral creditors have eased the external debt situation, with Benin benefiting from a G8 debt reduction announced in July 2005, while pressing for more rapid structural reforms. An insufficient electrical supply continues to adversely affect Benin’s economic growth though the government recently has taken steps to increase domestic power production.
Benin is ranked 122 with an Economic Complexity Index (ECI) of -0.965063
Top 5 Products exported by Benin
- Gold (19%),
- Coconuts, Brazil Nuts, and Cashews (17%),
- Raw Cotton (17%),
- Refined Petroleum (16%),
- Rough Wood (9.8%)
Top 5 Export destinations of Benin
Tourism in Benin is a small industry. In 1996, Benin had approximately 150,000 tourists. A small country with a high concentration of tourist attractions, Benin’s national parks and culture are among its main tourist attractions. Abomey is one of Benin’s main tourist attractions, with palaces that became a World Heritage Site in 1982. The capital city Porto Novo’s attractions include its museums and architecture.
Some of the best wildlife areas in West Africa are found in north Benin, where Pendjari National Park and W National Park are located. The best time to see the Pendjari National Park’s wildlife is towards the end of the dry season. The park is accessible to travellers and accommodation is available. W National Park is located in Benin’s far north and stretches across Burkina Faso and Niger. The park has a wealth of wildlife but is difficult to access from Benin.
Cotonou is the only international airport in Benin. There are direct flights to Benin from Belgium, France, and a number of African countries. There are 578 kilometres of rail road in the country, which were developed under a joint effort with the Republic of Niger.
Benin’s government regards tourism as a method of diversifying its economy, attracting more foreign investment, and decreasing Benin’s dependence on its agricultural industry.
- Benin is perhaps best known to the world as the birthplace of the Vodun religion—voodoo. Voodoo temples, roadside fetishes, and fetish markets are found throughout the country, but the best known is the skull and skin-filled fetish market in the Grande Marche du Dantopka—Cotonou’s overwhelmingly busy, enormous, and hectic grand market.
- Abomey was the capital of the Dahomey Empire, and its ruined temples and royal palaces, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, are one of the country’s top attractions.
- Ganvie, home to 30,000 whose ancestors fled the brutal Dahomey kings by building their town on stilts right in the center of Lake Nokoué, is without question a fascinating and naturally beautiful locale, and a popular stop as one of the largest of West Africa’s lake towns. But it has been to an extent ruined by the unpleasant relationship between locals and tourism. (Ghanamay have much more rewarding experiences for travelers interested in West African lake towns.)
- While manic Cotonou is the country’s largest city and economic center, Porto Novo, the capital, is small and one of West Africa’s more pleasant capitals. Most of the country’s major museums are located here amidst the crumbling architectural legacy of French colonial rule. Grand Popo is the other popular city for tourists to relax, but not for the city itself as much as the beaches.
- In the north, you’ll find a very different sort of Benin from the mostly crowded, polluted cities of the south, of which Cotonou is such a prominent example. Pendjari National Park and W National Park (which Benin shares with Burkina Faso and Niger), is considered West Africa’s best for wildlife viewing, and are set in beautiful, hilly highlands.
- The unique and eccentric mud and clay tower-houses, known as tata, of the Somba people in the north, west of Djougounear the Togolese border, are a little-known extension into Benin of the types of dwellings used by the Batammariba people of Togo just west. Virtually all tourists to this area flock to the UNESCO-designated Koutammakou Valley across the border; the Benin side has the advantage of being even off the beaten path.