Background Notes: West Africa, April, 2006 [Secure eReader]
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eBook by U.S. Department of State
eBook Category: Travel
Bureau of African Affairs country background notes for international travelers to Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea--Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Each country’s brief, factual background note summarizes its geography, people (population, ethnic groups, languages, health, and religion), history, culture, government and political conditions (type, political parties and principal government officials), economy (GDP; land, climate, and demographics; agriculture and natural resources; trade, industry, and investment; and transportation), defense, human rights, and foreign relations. Each country’s background note also provides travel and business information, including principal U.S. officials (ambassador, public affairs officer, counselor for economic affairs, etc.); embassy location, telephone, and fax numbers; and passport information.
eBook Publisher: InfoStrategist.com
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2006
Background Note: Benin
Republic of Benin
Area: 116,622 sq. km. (43,483 sq. mi.). Cities: Capital – Porto-Novo (pop. 295,000). Political and economic capital – Cotonou (pop. 2 million). Terrain: Mostly flat plains of 200 meters average elevation, but the Atacora Mountains extend along the northwest border, with the highest point being Mont Sokbaro 658 meters. Climate: Tropical, average temperatures between 24o and 31oC. Humid in south; semiarid in north.
Nationality: Noun and adjective – Beninese (singular and plural). Population (2005 est.): 7.46 million. Annual growth rate (2005 est.): 2.82%. Ethnic groups: African 99% (42 ethnic groups, most important being Fon, Adja, Yoruba, and Bariba), Europeans 5,500. Religions: Indigenous beliefs (animist) 50%, Christian 30%, Muslim 20%. Languages: French (official), Fon and Yoruba in the south; Nagot, Bariba and Dendi in the north. Education (2001 est.): Literacy – Total population 33.6%; men 46.4%, women 22.6%. Health (2005 est.): Infant mortality rate – 85.00/1,000. Life expectancy – 52.66 yrs. Work force: The labor market is characterized by an increased reliance on informal employment, family helpers, and the use of apprentices. Training and job opportunities are not well matched.
Type: Republic under multiparty democratic rule. Independence: August 1, 1960. Constitution: December 10, 1990. Branches: Executive – President, elected by popular vote for 5-year term, appoints the Cabinet. Legislative – Unicameral, 83-seat National Assembly directly elected by popular vote for 4-year terms. Judicial – Constitutional Court: seven members nominated by National Assembly and then appointed by the President; Supreme Court: 13 members, six elected by National Assembly, the Constitutional Court (except for its President) ex officio, and the President of the Supreme Court ex officio. Constitutional Court: seven members nominated by President of the Republic (three) and by National Assembly (four). Supreme Court: president nominated by the President of the Republic after advice of the President of the National Assembly. High Court of Justice: All members of Constitutional Court (except its president), six deputies, and President of the National Assembly. Subdivisions: Twelve departments: Alibori, Atakora, Atlantique, Borgou, Collines, Couffo, Donga, Littoral, Mono, Oueme, Plateau, and Zou. Political parties (partial listing of major parties): La Renaissance du Bénin (RB), Party of Democratic Renewal (PRD), Social-Democrat Party (PSD), African Movement for Development and Progress (MADEP), Party of Democratic Renewal-Rainbow (PRD-Arc-en-ciel), Alliance Etoile, Action Front for Democratic Renewal (FARD-ALAFIA), African Congress for Renewal (CAR-DUNYA), Impulse for Progress and Democracy (IPD), Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP), National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), New Generation for the Republic (NGR), Our Common Cause (NCC), Ensemble, National Rally for Democracy (RND), Rally for Progress and Renewal (RPR), Movement for the People Alternative (MAP), National Rally for Unity and Democracy (RUND), Congress of African Democrat (CAD), Movement for Citizens' Commitment and Awakening (MERCI), Democratic Union for Economic and Social Development (UDES), Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), Communist Party of Benin (PCB).
GDP (2004 est.): $8.3 billion. Real GDP growth rate (2004): 5%. Per capita GDP: $1,200. Inflation rate (2004): 2.8%. Natural resources: Small offshore oil deposits, unexploited deposits of high quality marble limestone, and timber. Agricultural: Products – corn, sorghum, cassava, tapioca, yams, beans, rice, cotton, palm oil, cocoa, peanuts, poultry, and livestock. Arable land – 13%. Permanent crops 4%, permanent pastures 4%, forests and woodland 31%. Business and industry: Textiles, cigarettes, food and beverages, construction materials, petroleum. Trade: Exports – $485 million: cotton, crude oil, palm products, cocoa. Imports – $726 million: foodstuffs, tobacco, petroleum products, energy, and capital goods. Major trade partners – Nigeria, France, China, Italy, Brazil, Libya, Indonesia, U.K., Ivory Coast.
Benin, a narrow, north-south strip of land in West Africa, lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. Benin's latitude ranges from 6o30N to 12o30N and its longitude from 10E to 3o40E. Benin is bounded by Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east, and the Bight of Benin to the south. With an area of 112,622 square kilometers, roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Benin extends from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, a distance of 700 kilometers (about 500 mi.). Although the coastline measures 121 kilometers (about 80 mi.), the country measures about 325 kilometers (about 215 mi.) at its widest point. It is one of the smaller countries in West Africa: eight times smaller than Nigeria, its neighbor to the east. It is, however, twice as large as Togo, its neighbor to the west. A relief map of Benin shows that it has little variation in elevation (average elevation 200 meters).
The country can be divided into four main areas from the south to the north. The low-lying, sandy, coastal plain (highest elevation 10 meters) is, at most, 10 kilometers wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons communicating with the ocean. The plateaus of southern Benin (altitude between 20 meters and 200 meters) are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Oueme Rivers. An area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 meters extends around Nikki and Save. Finally, a range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo; this is the Atacora, with the highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 658 meters. Two types of landscape predominate in the south. Benin has fields of lying fallow, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrubs and dotted with huge baobab trees. Some forests line the banks of rivers. In the north and the northwest of Benin the Reserve du W du Niger and Pendjari National Park attract tourists eager to see elephants, lions, antelopes, hippos, and monkeys.
Benin's climate is hot and humid. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 36 cm. (14 in.), not particularly high for coastal West Africa. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons. The principal rainy season is from April to late July, with a shorter less intense rainy period from late September to November. The main dry season is from December to April, with a short cooler dry season from late July to early September. Temperatures and humidity are high along the tropical coast. In Cotonou, the average maximum temperature is 31oC (89oF); the minimum is 24oC (75oF).
Variations in temperature increase when moving north through a savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the Harmattan blows from December to March. Grass dries up, the vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be overcast. It also is the season when farmers burn brush in the fields.
Copyright © 2006 U.S. Department of State.