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Benin Country Information

Travel Advice with Country Information from the CIA.

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Benin Map

Introduction

Background

Present day Benin was the site of Dahomey, a West African kingdom that rose to prominence in about 1600 and over the next two and a half centuries became a regional power, largely based on its slave trade. France began to control the coastal areas of Dahomey in the second half of the 19th century; the entire kingdom was conquered by 1894. French Dahomey achieved independence in 1960; it changed its name to the Republic of Benin in 1975.

A succession of military governments ended in 1972 with the rise to power of Mathieu KEREKOU and the establishment of a government based on Marxist-Leninist principles. A move to representative government began in 1989. Two years later, free elections ushered in former Prime Minister Nicephore SOGLO as president, marking the first successful transfer of power in Africa from a dictatorship to a democracy. KEREKOU was returned to power by elections held in 1996 and 2001, though some irregularities were alleged. KEREKOU stepped down at the end of his second term in 2006 and was succeeded by Thomas YAYI Boni, a political outsider and independent, who won a second five-year term in March 2011. Patrice TALON, a wealthy businessman, took office in 2016 after campaigning to restore public confidence in the government.

Geography

Location

Western Africa, bordering the Bight of Benin, between Nigeria and Togo

Geographic coordinates

9 30 N, 2 15 E

Map references

Africa

Area

total: 112,622 sq km

land: 110,622 sq km

water: 2,000 sq km

country comparison to the world: 102

Area - comparative

slightly smaller than Pennsylvania

Land boundaries

total: 2,123 km

border countries (4): Burkina Faso 386 km, Niger 277 km, Nigeria 809 km, Togo 651 km

Coastline

121 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 200 nm; note: the US does not recognize this claim

continental shelf: 200 nm

exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm

Climate

tropical; hot, humid in south; semiarid in north

Terrain

mostly flat to undulating plain; some hills and low mountains

Elevation

mean elevation: 273 m

lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m

highest point: Mont Sokbaro 658 m

Natural resources

small offshore oil deposits, limestone, marble, timber

Land use

agricultural land: 31.3% (2018 est.)

arable land: 22.9% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 3.5% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 4.9% (2018 est.)

forest: 40% (2018 est.)

other: 28.7% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

230 sq km (2012)

Total renewable water resources

26.39 billion cubic meters (2017 est.)

Population distribution

the population is primarily located in the south, with the highest concentration of people residing in and around the cities on the Atlantic coast; most of the north remains sparsely populated with higher concentrations of residents in the west at shown in this population distribution map

Natural hazards

hot, dry, dusty harmattan wind may affect north from December to March

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping-London Convention, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 2006, Wetlands, Whaling

signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Geography - note

sandbanks create difficult access to a coast with no natural harbors, river mouths, or islands

People and Society

Population

13,301,694 (July 2021 est.)

note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected

country comparison to the world: 74

Nationality

noun: Beninese (singular and plural)

adjective: Beninese

Ethnic groups

Fon and related 38.4%, Adja and related 15.1%, Yoruba and related 12%, Bariba and related 9.6%, Fulani and related 8.6%, Ottamari and related 6.1%, Yoa-Lokpa and related 4.3%, Dendi and related 2.9%, other 0.9%, foreigner 1.9% (2013 est.)

Languages

French (official), Fon and Yoruba (most common vernaculars in south), tribal languages (at least six major ones in north)

Religions

Muslim 27.7%, Roman Catholic 25.5%, Protestant 13.5% (Celestial 6.7%, Methodist 3.4%, other Protestant 3.4%), Vodoun 11.6%, other Christian 9.5%, other traditional religions 2.6%, other 2.6%, none 5.8% (2013 est.)

Demographic profile

Benin has a youthful age structure – almost 65% of the population is under the age of 25 – which is bolstered by high fertility and population growth rates. Benin’s total fertility has been falling over time but remains high, declining from almost 7 children per women in 1990 to 4.8 in 2016. Benin’s low contraceptive use and high unmet need for contraception contribute to the sustained high fertility rate. Although the majority of Beninese women use skilled health care personnel for antenatal care and delivery, the high rate of maternal mortality indicates the need for more access to high quality obstetric care.

Poverty, unemployment, increased living costs, and dwindling resources increasingly drive the Beninese to migrate. An estimated 4.4 million, more than 40%, of Beninese live abroad. Virtually all Beninese emigrants move to West African countries, particularly Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire. Of the less than 1% of Beninese emigrants who settle in Europe, the vast majority live in France, Benin’s former colonial ruler.

With about 40% of the population living below the poverty line, many desperate parents resort to sending their children to work in wealthy households as domestic servants (a common practice known as vidomegon), mines, quarries, or agriculture domestically or in Nigeria and other neighboring countries, often under brutal conditions. Unlike in other West African countries, where rural people move to the coast, farmers from Benin’s densely populated southern and northwestern regions move to the historically sparsely populated central region to pursue agriculture. Immigrants from West African countries came to Benin in increasing numbers between 1992 and 2002 because of its political stability and porous borders.

Environment

Environment - current issues

inadequate supplies of potable water; water pollution; poaching threatens wildlife populations; deforestation; desertification (the spread of the desert into agricultural lands in the north is accelerated by regular droughts)

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping-London Convention, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 2006, Wetlands, Whaling

signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Air pollutants

particulate matter emissions: 33.11 micrograms per cubic meter (2016 est.)

carbon dioxide emissions: 6.48 megatons (2016 est.)

methane emissions: 5.8 megatons (2020 est.)

Total water withdrawal

municipal: 145 million cubic meters (2017 est.)

industrial: 30 million cubic meters (2017 est.)

agricultural: 59 million cubic meters (2017 est.)

Total renewable water resources

26.39 billion cubic meters (2017 est.)

Climate

tropical; hot, humid in south; semiarid in north

Land use

agricultural land: 31.3% (2018 est.)

arable land: 22.9% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 3.5% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 4.9% (2018 est.)

forest: 40% (2018 est.)

other: 28.7% (2018 est.)

Revenue from forest resources

2.24% of GDP (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 31

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Republic of Benin

conventional short form: Benin

local long form: Republique du Benin

local short form: Benin

former: Dahomey, People's Republic of Benin

etymology: named for the Bight of Benin, the body of water on which the country lies

Government type

presidential republic

Capital

name: Porto-Novo (constitutional capital); Cotonou (seat of government)

geographic coordinates: 6 29 N, 2 37 E

time difference: UTC+1 (6 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: the name Porto-Novo is Portuguese for "new port"; Cotonou means "by the river of death" in the native Fon language

Administrative divisions

12 departments; Alibori, Atacora, Atlantique, Borgou, Collines, Couffo, Donga, Littoral, Mono, Oueme, Plateau, Zou

Independence

1 August 1960 (from France)

National holiday

Independence Day, 1 August (1960)

Constitution

history: previous 1946, 1958 (preindependence); latest adopted by referendum 2 December 1990, promulgated 11 December 1990

amendments: proposed concurrently by the president of the republic (after a decision in the Council of Ministers) and the National Assembly; consideration of drafts or proposals requires at least three-fourths majority vote of the Assembly membership; passage requires approval in a referendum unless approved by at least four-fifths majority vote of the Assembly membership; constitutional articles affecting territorial sovereignty, the republican form of government, and secularity of Benin cannot be amended; amended 2019

Legal system

civil law system modeled largely on the French system and some customary law

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; accepts ICCt jurisdiction

Citizenship

citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must be a citizen of Benin

dual citizenship recognized: yes

residency requirement for naturalization: 10 years

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: President Patrice TALON (since 11 April 2021); note - the president is both chief of state and head of government

head of government: President Patrice TALON (since 11 April 2021); prime minister position abolished

cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president

elections/appointments: president directly elected by absolute majority popular vote in 2 rounds if needed for a 5-year term (eligible for a second term); last held on 6 March and 20 March 2016 (next to be held on 30 April 2021)

election results: Patrice TALON elected president in second round; percent of vote in first round - Lionel ZINSOU (FCBE) 28.4%, Patrice TALON (independent) 24.8%, Sebastien AJAVON (independent) 23.%, Abdoulaye Bio TCHANE (ABT) 8.8%, Pascal KOUPAKI (NC) 5.9%, other 9.1%; percent of vote in second round - Patrice TALON 65.4%, Lionel ZINSOU 34.6%

Legislative branch

description: unicameral National Assembly or Assemblee Nationale (83 seats; members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote; members serve 4-year terms)

elections: last held on 28 April 2019 (next to be held in April 2023)

election results: percent of vote by party - Union Progressiste 56.2%, Bloc Republicain 43.8%; seats by party - Union Progressiste 47, Bloc Republicain 36; composition - men 77, women 6, percent of women 7.2%

Judicial branch

highest courts: Supreme Court or Cour Supreme (consists of the chief justice and 16 justices organized into an administrative division, judicial chamber, and chamber of accounts); Constitutional Court or Cour Constitutionnelle (consists of 7 members, including the court president); High Court of Justice (consists of the Constitutional Court members, 6 members appointed by the National Assembly, and the Supreme Court president); note - jurisdiction of the High Court of Justice is limited to cases of high treason by the national president or members of the government while in office

judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court president and judges appointed by the president of the republic upon the advice of the National Assembly; judges appointed for single renewable 5-year terms; Constitutional Court members - 4 appointed by the National Assembly and 3 by the president of the republic; members appointed for single renewable 5-year terms; other members of the High Court of Justice elected by the National Assembly; member tenure NA

subordinate courts: Court of Appeal or Cour d'Appel; district courts; village courts; Assize courts

Political parties and leaders

Alliance for a Triumphant Benin or ABT [Abdoulaye BIO TCHANE]
African Movement for Development and Progress or MADEP [Sefou FAGBOHOUN]
Benin Renaissance or RB [Lehady SOGLO]
Cowrie Force for an Emerging Benin or FCBE [Yayi BONI]
Democratic Renewal Party or PRD [Adrien HOUNGBEDJI]
National Alliance for Development and Democracy or AND [Valentin Aditi HOUDE]
New Consciousness Rally or NC [Pascal KOUPAKI]
Patriotic Awakening or RP [Janvier YAHOUEDEOU]
Social Democrat Party or PSD [Emmanuel GOLOU]
Sun Alliance or AS [Sacca LAFIA]
Union Makes the Nation or UN [Adrien HOUNGBEDJI] (includes PRD, MADEP)
United Democratic Forces or FDU [Mathurin NAGO]

note: approximately 20 additional minor parties

International organization participation

ACP, AfDB, AU, CD, ECOWAS, Entente, FAO, FZ, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC (NGOs), MIGA, MINUSMA, MONUSCO, NAM, OAS (observer), OIC, OIF, OPCW, PCA, UN, UNAMID, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNMIL, UNMISS, UNOCI, UNWTO, UPU, WADB (regional), WAEMU, WCO, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Jean Claude Felix DO REGO (since 17 July 2020)

chancery: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008

telephone: [1] (202) 232-6656

FAX: [1] (202) 265-1996

Diplomatic representation from the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Patricia MAHONEY (since 18 January 2019)

telephone: [229] 21-30-06-50

embassy: Marina Avenue, 01 BP 2012, Cotonou

mailing address: 01 B. P. 2012, Cotonou

FAX: [229] 21-30-03-84

Flag description

two equal horizontal bands of yellow (top) and red (bottom) with a vertical green band on the hoist side; green symbolizes hope and revival, yellow wealth, and red courage

note: uses the popular Pan-African colors of Ethiopia

National symbol(s)

leopard; national colors: green, yellow, red

National anthem

name: "L'Aube Nouvelle" (The Dawn of a New Day)

lyrics/music: Gilbert Jean DAGNON

note: adopted 1960

Economy

Economic overview

The free market economy of Benin has grown consecutively for four years, though growth slowed in 2017, as its close trade links to Nigeria expose Benin to risks from volatile commodity prices. Cotton is a key export commodity, with export earnings significantly impacted by the price of cotton in the broader market. The economy began deflating in 2017, with the consumer price index falling 0.8%.

During the first two years of President TALON’s administration, which began in April 2016, the government has followed an ambitious action plan to kickstart development through investments in infrastructure, education, agriculture, and governance. Electricity generation, which has constrained Benin’s economic growth, has increased and blackouts have been considerably reduced. Private foreign direct investment is small, and foreign aid accounts for a large proportion of investment in infrastructure projects.

Benin has appealed for international assistance to mitigate piracy against commercial shipping in its territory, and has used equipment from donors effectively against such piracy. Pilferage has significantly dropped at the Port of Cotonou, though the port is still struggling with effective implementation of the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code. Projects included in Benin's $307 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) first compact (2006-11) were designed to increase investment and private sector activity by improving key institutional and physical infrastructure. The four projects focused on access to land, access to financial services, access to justice, and access to markets (including modernization of the port). The Port of Cotonou is a major contributor to Benin’s economy, with revenues projected to account for more than 40% of Benin’s national budget.

Benin will need further efforts to upgrade infrastructure, stem corruption, and expand access to foreign markets to achieve its potential. In September 2015, Benin signed a second MCC Compact for $375 million that entered into force in June 2017 and is designed to strengthen the national utility service provider, attract private sector investment, fund infrastructure investments in electricity generation and distribution, and develop off-grid electrification for poor and unserved households. As part of the Government of Benin’s action plan to spur growth, Benin passed public private partnership legislation in 2017 to attract more foreign investment, place more emphasis on tourism, facilitate the development of new food processing systems and agricultural products, encourage new information and communication technology, and establish Independent Power Producers. In April 2017, the IMF approved a three year $150.4 million Extended Credit Facility agreement to maintain debt sustainability and boost donor confidence.

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 37,305

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: less than 1 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 164

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 10,905,559

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 87.7 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 80

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: fixed-line network characterized by aging, deteriorating equipment; mobile networks account for almost all Internet connections; govt. to provide telecom services to 80% of the country, mostly via mobile infrastructure by restructuring state-owned telecom companies; (mobile number portability) MNP is available; Benin joins free roaming scheme (2019)

domestic: fixed-line teledensity only about 1 per 100 persons; spurred by the presence of multiple mobile-cellular providers, cellular telephone subscribership has increased rapidly, exceeding 88 per 100 persons (2019)

international: country code - 229; landing points for the SAT-3/WASC and ACE fiber-optic submarine cable that provides connectivity to Europe, and most West African countries; satellite earth stations - 7 (Intelsat-Atlantic Ocean) (2019)

note: the COVID-19 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

Broadcast media

state-run Office de Radiodiffusion et de Television du Benin (ORTB) operates a TV station providing a wide broadcast reach; several privately owned TV stations broadcast from Cotonou; satellite TV subscription service is available; state-owned radio, under ORTB control, includes a national station supplemented by a number of regional stations; substantial number of privately owned radio broadcast stations; transmissions of a few international broadcasters are available on FM in Cotonou (2019)

Internet country code

.bj

Internet users

total: 2,403,596

percent of population: 20% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 110

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 27,034

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: less than 1 (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 145

Transportation

National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 1 (2015)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 1 (2015)

annual passenger traffic on registered air carriers: 112,392 (2015)

annual freight traffic on registered air carriers: 805,347 mt-km (2015)

Civil aircraft registration country code prefix

TY

Airports

total: 6 (2013)

country comparison to the world: 172

Airports - with paved runways

total: 1 (2017)

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2017)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 5 (2013)

2,438 to 3,047 m: 2 (2013)

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2013)

914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2013)

Pipelines

134 km gas

Railways

total: 438 km (2014)

narrow gauge: 438 km 1.000-m gauge (2014)

country comparison to the world: 116

Roadways

total: 16,000 km (2006)

paved: 1,400 km (2006)

unpaved: 14,600 km (2006)

country comparison to the world: 121

Waterways

150 km (seasonal navigation on River Niger along northern border) (2011)

country comparison to the world: 101

Merchant marine

total: 6

by type: other 6 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 163

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Cotonou

LNG terminal(s) (import): Cotonou

Military and Security

Military and security forces

Benin Armed Forces (Forces Armees Beninoises, FAB): Army, Navy, Air Force; Ministry of Interior and Public Security: Republican Police (Police Republicaine, DGPR) (2021)

Military expenditures

0.7% of GDP (2019)

0.9% of GDP (2018)

1.3% of GDP (2017)

1.1% of GDP (2016)

1.1% of GDP (2015)

country comparison to the world: 140

Military and security service personnel strengths

the Benin Armed Forces (FAB) are comprised of approximately 7,200 active duty troops (6,500 Army; 500 Navy; 200 Air Force); est. 5,000 Republican Police (2020)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the FAB is equipped with a small mix of mostly older French and Soviet-era equipment (2021)

Military deployments

250 Mali (MINUSMA) (Jan 2021)

Military service age and obligation

18-35 years of age for selective compulsory and voluntary military service; a higher education diploma is required; both sexes are eligible for military service; conscript tour of duty - 18 months (2019)

Maritime threats

the International Maritime Bureau reports the territorial and offshore waters in the Niger Delta and Gulf of Guinea remain a very high risk for piracy and armed robbery of ships; in 2020, there were 98 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea region; although a 24% decrease from the total number of incidents in 2019, it included all three hijackings and 9 of 11 ships fired upon worldwide; while boarding and attempted boarding to steal valuables from ships and crews are the most common types of incidents, almost a third of all incidents involve a hijacking and/or kidnapping; in 2020, a record 130 crew members were kidnapped in 22 separate incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, representing 95% of kidnappings worldwide; approximately 51% of all incidents of piracy and armed robbery are taking place off Nigeria, which is a decrease from the 71% in 2019 and an indication pirates are traveling further to target vessels; Nigerian pirates are well armed and very aggressive, operating as far as 200 nm offshore; the Maritime Administration of the US Department of Transportation has issued a Maritime Advisory (2021-002 - Gulf of Guinea-Piracy/Armed Robbery/Kidnapping for Ransom) effective 9 January 2021, which states in part, "Piracy, armed robbery, and kidnapping for ransom continue to serve as significant threats to US-flagged vessels transiting or operating in the Gulf of Guinea.”

Military - note

Benin participates in the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram along with Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria; the Benin military contingent is in charge of MNJTF garrison duties (2020)

Terrorism

Terrorist group(s)

al-Qa’ida (Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimeen); Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (2020)

note: details about the history, aims, leadership, organization, areas of operation, tactics, targets, weapons, size, and sources of support of the group(s) appear(s) in Appendix-T

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

talks continue between Benin and Togo on funding the Adjrala hydroelectric dam on the Mona River; Benin retains a border dispute with Burkina Faso near the town of Koualou; location of Benin-Niger-Nigeria tripoint is unresolved

Illicit drugs

transshipment point used by traffickers for cocaine destined for Western Europe; vulnerable to money laundering due to poorly enforced financial regulations

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