Focus Benin


Official name: Republic of Benin

Official language: French(official), Fon, Adja, Bariba, Mina, Yoruba, Ditamari

Political capital: Porto Novo

Economic capital: Cotonou

Independence : 01/08/1960

Area: 114763 km2

Population: 12,864,634 (2020)

Religion: Islam, (23%), Christianity (37%), tradition (40%)

Currency: CFA Franc

International/regional organizations: UN, ILO, FAO, UNESCO, WHO, IMF, AU, ECOWAS, UEMOA, OIF.



The current territory of Benin is

The territory currently known as Benin is the result of the encounter between various West African civilisations which has founded very prominent kingdoms at their arrival on this territory. The most known of these kingdoms founded from the 16th century are Allada, Dahomey, Kétou, de Nikki, Xogbonou (Porto-Novo) and Savalou.

In the precolonial period, the territory was a mix of several cultures and languages. The Ewe-speaking peoples in the South were mainly located in the town of Tado (in modern Togo). During the 16th and 17th centuries, the most powerful state in this area was the kingdom of Allada, but in the 18th and 19th centuries its place was taken by Dahomey. The Bariba inhabitants in the north, a very large group of people, which formed the Kingdom of Nikki, one of the most important states that formed part of a confederacy including other Bariba states located in what is today Nigeria. Even though they were not built as kingdom, the Somba, were also part of the independent states which form the territory.

Slavery period

The territory was invaded by foreigners starting in the year 1400. The Portuguese were first to explore the coast of Benin in 1472 without trading there until 1553.

Later in the 17th century the Dutch, English, French, and other Europeans expressed interest to human being’s trade. Known as slave trade, it gained scope during the second half of the 17th century when the coast of Benin, especially the coastal kingdom of Ouidah became known to Europeans as the “Slave Coast,” and remained high until the 1840s. The slaves exported were predominantly war captives and were drawn from the entire area of modern Benin. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, Dahomey was a major supplier of slaves for the transatlantic trade. After the abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century, the Dahomey kingdom has gradually reoriented its economy towards export agriculture.

The French conquest

During the 17th century several of the European nations engaged in the Atlantic slave trade maintained trading factories in the Dahomey area to establish their colonial interest.  The French was first to build a factory in Allada in 1670 but moved from there to Ouidah in 1671 and later built a fort (known as Fort Saint Louis) in Ouidah in 1704.

In 1842 the French fort at Ouidah extended its activities as a base for the new trade in palm oil, and in 1851 the French government negotiated a commercial treaty with King Ghezo of Dahomey. Subsequently fears of preemption by British colonial expansion led to the extension of formal French rule in the area. A protectorate was briefly established over the kingdom of Porto-Novo in 1863-1865 and was definitively restablished in 1882.

King Gbehanzin, who had succeeded to the Dahomean throne in 1889, resisted the French claim to Cotonou, provoking the French invasion and conquest of Dahomey in 1892–1894. Gbehanzin was then deported and exiled, and the kingdom of Dahomey became a French protectorate.

From 1904 Dahomey formed part of the federation of French West Africa, under the governor-general in Senegal.

Independence period

In 1946 Dahomey became an overseas territory of France. It was created an autonomous republic within the French Community in 1959 and achieved complete independence on August 1, 1960. During the period of decolonization, the nationalist movement in Dahomey became fragmented, with the emergence of three regionally based political parties led by Sourou-Migan Apithy (president in 1964–65), Justin Ahomadégbé (1972), and Hubert Maga (1960–63 and 1970–72), drawing their principal support respectively from Porto-Novo, Abomey, and the north.

The ensuing instability resulted in six successful military coups d’état between 1963 and 1972 and periods of army rule in 1965–68 and 1969–70. In a last military coup, on October 26, 1972, power was seized by Major (later General) Mathieu Kérékou. From 1974 Kérékou pursued a Marxist-Leninist policy, based on nationalizations and state planning of the economy. The country was renamed the People’s Republic of Benin in 1975.

The late 1980s and early 1990s were a turbulent period for Benin. In 1989 Kérékou proclaimed the end of marxism-leninism, and the National conference of the living forces, a meeting held in february 1990, establishing democracy as the States new ideology including the promulgation of a new constitution in 1990 and the liberalization of the economy. From 1990 till date Benin was led by Mathieu Kerekou, Nicephore Soglo, Boni Yayi and Patrice Talon (the current president).