Benin is an excellent addition to any West African itinerary. There are many palace remains and temples from the once-powerful Kingdom of Dahomey (1800s–1894). Furthermore, Benin is the origin of Vodun (Voodoo) and everything that it entails; to this day, Vodun is the country’s official religion and a significant component of everyday Beninese life. Benin’s national parks are well worth a visit for their biodiversity. Benin is also, thankfully, one of the most stable and secure nations in the area to visit.
Benin’s tropical south has two rainy seasons each year, from April to mid-July and from mid-September to the end of October. The rainy season lasts from March to October in the subequatorial north. The ideal season to visit the nation is from November to February, when temperatures moderate and the weather is dry and low in humidity.
Benin is geographically smaller than its neighbors, with a land area of 112,620 km2, comparable to Honduras or the US state of Ohio. From south to north, the nation is split into five geographic zones: the coastal plain, the plateau, the high plateau and savannah, hills in the northwest, and rich plains in the north.
The country is made up of more than 60 ethnic groupings. The main tribes in the nation are the Fon (40%), Aja (15%), and Yoruba (12%) in the south, and the Bariba (9%), Somba (8%), and Fulbe (6% ) in the north.
The most common religion (43 percent) is Christianity, which is most prevalent in the south, while Islam is most prevalent in the north (24 percent ). Many tourists are drawn to Benin because of the significant impact of Vodun, which is followed as a primary religion by about 18% of the population and was disseminated throughout the world mainly via the enormous number of slaves sold by the Dahomey Kingdom.
The south of Benin is home to the bulk of the country’s inhabitants. With a life expectancy of 59 years, the population is youthful. This nation is home to 42 African ethnic groups; these diverse tribes arrived in Benin at various periods and also moved inside the country. The Yoruba (who migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendi (who migrated from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and Fula (French: Peul or Peulh; Fula: Fule) in the northeast; the Betammaribe and Somba in the Atacora Range; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central; and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who migrated from
Other African nationalities who have recently arrived in Benin include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. Many Lebanese and Indians are also engaged in trade and business in the international community. A significant proportion of the 5500 European population is made up of employees from the numerous European embassies and international assistance missions, as well as nonprofit organizations and different missionary groups. A tiny proportion of the European population is made up of Beninese residents of French heritage, whose ancestors governed Benin until leaving after independence.
According to the 2002 census, 42.8 percent of Benin’s population was Christian (27.1 percent Roman Catholic, 5 percent Celestial Church of Christ, 3.2 percent Methodist, 7.5 percent other Christian denominations), 24.4 percent were Muslim, 17.3 percent practiced Vodun, 6 percent practiced other local traditional religions, 1.9 percent practiced other religions, and 6.5 percent claimed no religious affiliation.
Local animistic religions in the Atakora (Atakora and Donga provinces) and Vodunand Orisha worship among the Yoruba and Tado peoples in the country’s center and south are examples of traditional religions. The spiritual heart of Beninese Vodun is the town of Ouidah on the central coast.
The major introduced religions are Christianity, which is practiced throughout the south and center of Benin, as well as in Otammari country in the Atakora, and Islam, which was introduced by the Songhai Empire and Hausa merchants and is now practiced throughout Alibori, Borgou, and Donga provinces, as well as among the Yoruba (who also follow Christianity). Many people, however, continue to believe in Vodun and Orisha and have integrated the Vodun and Orisha pantheon into Christianity. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a 19th-century group, is also present in large numbers.
Algeria, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Taiwan, and Togo do not need visas.
Visas are valid for 30 days and may be single entrance (USD40) or multiple entry (USD45). For US citizens, visas cost USD140. A single entry visa to Paris costs €70 for all EU nationals.
Benin’s economy is based on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional commerce. Cotton accounts for 40% of GDP and about 80% of official export revenues. Over the last seven years, real production growth has averaged about 5%, but fast population expansion has negated most of this gain. Over the last several years, inflation has slowed. Benin’s currency is the CFA franc, which is linked to the euro.
Benin’s economy has grown steadily in recent years, with real GDP growth projected to be 5.1 and 5.7 percent in 2008 and 2009, respectively. The agricultural sector is the primary engine of development, with cotton being the country’s principal export, but services continue to contribute the majority of GDP, owing to Benin’s geographical position, which allows for commerce, transportation, transit, and tourist activities with neighboring states.
Benin intends to increase growth even further by attracting more international investment, emphasizing tourism, facilitating the development of new food processing systems and agricultural goods, and encouraging the development of new information and communication technologies. Benin’s US$307 million Millennium Challenge Account grant, signed in February 2006, comprised projects to enhance the business environment via changes to the land tenure system, commercial judicial system, and banking sector.
The Paris Club and bilateral creditors have helped to alleviate the country’s external debt position, with Benin benefitting from a G8 debt reduction announced in July 2005, but also pushing for more fast structural changes. Even though the government has lately made efforts to boost domestic power generation, Benin’s economic development is still being hampered by a lack of electricity.
Although trade unions in Benin represent up to 75% of the formal workforce, the large informal economy has been noted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITCU) to have ongoing problems, such as a lack of wage equality for women, the use of child labor, and the ongoing issue of forced labor.
Benin is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of African Business Law (OHADA).
Cotonou is home to the country’s sole international airport and seaport. Between Cotonou and Porto Novo, a new port is presently being built. Benin is linked to its neighboring nations via two-lane asphalted highways (Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria). Various providers provide mobile phone service across the nation. In certain places, ADSL connections are accessible. Benin is linked to the Internet through satellite links (since 1998) and a single undersea cable SAT-3/WASC (since 2001), resulting in very expensive data costs. The start of the Africa Coast to Europe cable in 2011 is anticipated to provide relief.
Approximately one-third of the population now lives below the international poverty level of US$1.25 per day.