Geography History Map

Benin is situated in West Africa and is bounded to the east by Nigeria, to the north by Niger and Burkina Faso, and to the west by Togo. Benin stretches 700km (435 miles) from the Bight of Benin to the Niger River. The coastal strip is sandy with coconut palms. Beyond the lagoons of Porto Novo, Nokoue, Ouidah and Grand Popo, is a plateau rising gradually to the heights of the Atakora Mountains. From the highlands, run two tributaries of the Niger, while southwards the Ouémé flows down to Nokoue lagoon. Mono River flows into the sea at Grand Popo and forms a frontier with Togo. The official language is French. However, many indigenous ethnic groups have their own languages: Bariba and Fulani are spoken in the north, Fon and Yoruba in the south. Some English is also spoken. In the south, you will discover the famous Vaudou's country, and all his traditional ceremonies...

Traditionally a sophisticated culture, Benin was used as a trading point during the 18th and 19th centuries. The male population was severely depleted as a result of the slave trade by the 19th century (see Werner Herzog's film, Cobra Verde). France first occupied the country in 1872, and in 1904 the territory was incorporated into French West Africa as Dahomey. On December 4, 1958, it became the 'République du Dahomey', self-governing within the French community, and on August 1, 1960, 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 Kérékou who, at the head of a regime professing strict Marxist-Leninist principles, remained in power until the beginning of the 1990s.

The stability of the regime was first threatened during late 1990 with a series of student-led demonstrations whose intensity steadily increased over the following months. These seemed likely to provoke a drastic reaction from the Government. However, with French encouragement, the Kérékou government agreed to hold a presidential election. His principal opponent at the March 1991 poll, and the ultimate victor, was Prime Minister Nicéphore Soglo.

Benin was thus the first country in the '90s to effect successfully the transition from dictatorship to a pluralistic political system ­ an example that many other African governments are trying to emulate. Minor internal challenges have arisen occasionally in the form of student unrest, industrial action and disaffection among sections of the army, but none of these has seriously threatened the Government.

Abroad, the Soglo administration has sought to strengthen ties with France, the former colonial power, and has adopted a mediating role in the political crises in Liberia and Togo. Benin has also offered a contribution to the UN force in Haiti, an indication of the countryšs growing confidence in the international community. Soglo was favourite to win the next scheduled presidential election in March 1996, but surprisingly was defeated by the former military leader Mathieu Kérékou, by the narrow margin of 52% to 48%.

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