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Benin, republic in western Africa, formerly known as Dahomey. It has a coastline of 121-km (75-mi) on the Gulf of Guinea, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean. This wedge-shaped land extends inland, to the north, about 670 km (about 415 mi), making it one of the smaller African countries.
Benin has a tropical climate. Its economy is based primarily on agriculture, and many of the country’s farmers work at a subsistence level. Although Benin experienced considerable economic growth during the 1990s, it remains one of the poorest countries in Africa.
Many different ethnic groups live in Benin. The Fon, along with the closely related Adja, are by far the largest. French is the official language of the country, but Fon and other African languages are widely spoken.
Benin was a colony within French West Africa from 1899 until it gained independence in 1960 as Dahomey. Dahomey was the name of one of the great African kingdoms of the 1700s and 1800s. It was based in Benin.
A series of military leaders brought many changes of government between 1960 and 1972, when a Marxist regime took charge. The country was renamed The People’s Republic of Benin in 1975. Economic difficulties in the late 1980s led Benin to seek closer ties with the West, and in 1989 the government renounced Marxist ideology. A new constitution and democratic reforms were introduced in 1990. Today, the Republic of Benin is a democracy with a president elected by the people.
From 1977 through 1989, Benin was governed by an elected legislature, the National Revolutionary Assembly. This unicameral (single-chamber) body elected a president, who ruled as head of the National Executive Council. The People’s Revolutionary Party of Benin, a Marxist-Leninist group, was the sole political party. The government abandoned Marxism-Leninism as the official ideology in 1989.
A new constitution approved by popular referendum in 1990 provided for a democratic, multiparty system with an elected National Assembly and a popularly elected president. The 83 members of the unicameral National Assembly serve four-year terms, and the president, who is both head of state and government, serves a five-year term. Since the introduction of multiparty politics in 1990, dozens of political parties have formed. Benin is divided into six provinces (Atacora, Atlantique, Borgou, Mono, Oueme, Zou) for administrative purposes.
Allen, Chris, and Michael Radu. Benin and the Congo. St. Martin's, 1992. Analysis of Marxist regimes in the two countries.
Ben-Amos, Paula Girshick. Art, Innovation and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Benin. Indiana University Press, 1999. Study of how art and imagery served a strategic political function in Benin.
Crowder, Michael. West Africa: An Introduction to Its History. Longman, 1990. Concise history of the region.
Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Benin. Scarecrow, 1997. Guide to people, places, and events in Benin history.
Herskovits, Frances S., and Herskovits, Melville J. Dahomean Narrative: A Cross-Cultural Analysis. Reprint, Northwestern University Press, 1998. Oral narratives collected in the country now known as Benin, first published in 1958.
Hudgens, Jim, and Trillo, Richard. West Africa (The Rough Guide). 3rd ed.. Viking Penguin, 2000. Description and background for travelers to the region.
Koslow, Philip. Dahomey: The Warrior Kings. Chelsea House, 1996. An account of the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin), for younger readers.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.
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