|Background: Dahomey gained its independence from France
in 1960; the name was changed to Benin in 1975. From 1974 to 1989 the
country was a socialist state; free elections were reestablished in 1991.
Government type: republic under multiparty democratic rule; dropped Marxism-Leninism December 1989; democratic reforms adopted February 1990; transition to multiparty system completed 4 April 1991.
Capital: Porto-Novo is the official capital; Cotonou is the seat of government
Currency: 1 Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (CFAF) = 100 centimes
Geography of Benin
Location: Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Nigeria
People of Benin
The majority of Benin’s 6.59 million people live in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 50 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendi in the north-central area (they came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fulbe (Peul) in the northeast; the Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atacora Range; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.
French is the official language but is spoken more in urban than in rural areas. The literacy rate is 52.2% adult males and 23.6% adult females, and slowly growing. Recent migrations have brought other African Nationals to Benin: Nigerians, Togolese, Malians, etc. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European Embassies and Foreign Aid Missions and of nongovernmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large number of the 5,500 European population.
Several religions are practiced in Benin. Animism is widespread (50%), and its practices vary from one ethnic group to the other. Arab merchants introduced Islam in the north and among the Yoruba. European missionaries brought Christianity to the south and central areas of Benin. Moslems account for 20% of the population and Christians for 30%. Many nominal Moslems and Christians continue to practice animistic traditions. It is believed that voodoo originated in Benin and was introduced to Brazil and the Caribbean Islands by slaves taken from this particular area of the Slave Coast.
Population: 7,460,025 (July 2005 est.)
SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State
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