The one minute summary on Benin

This is it: one minute to the best info on Benin. This info alone will put you ahead of 99% of foreigners visiting Benin, garner the admiration of the locals who will instantly want to be your friends, and the envy of your fellow travelers. Read on. You’ll make friends faster that way, become a traveler instead of simply being a tourist, and also enjoy your travels a lot more.

Present day Benin was the site of Dahomey, a West African kingdom that rose to prominence in about 1600 and over the next two and half centuries became a regional power, largely based on its slave trade. Coastal areas of Dahomey began to be controlled by the French in the second half of the 19th century; the entire kingdom was conquered by 1894. French Dahomey achieved independence in 1960; it changed its name to the Republic of Benin in 1975. A succession of military governments ended in 1972 with the rise to power of Mathieu KEREKOU and the establishment of a government based on Marxist-Leninist principles. A move to representative government began in 1989. Two years later, free elections ushered in former Prime Minister Nicephore SOGLO as president, marking the first successful transfer of power in Africa from a dictatorship to a democracy. KEREKOU was returned to power by elections held in 1996 and 2001, though some irregularities were alleged.

KEREKOU stepped down at the end of his second term in 2006 and was succeeded by Thomas YAYI Boni, a political outsider and independent. YAYI, who won a second five-year term in March 2011, has attempted to stem corruption and has strongly promoted accelerating Benin’s economic growth.

benin photo

Photo by ~MVI~ (warped)

That was it. I promised one minute.

For other condensed info check also my other posts on local culture (don’t make the mistakes I made), local food or local drinks. And when you call your friends to tell them you were by far the most knowledgeable at the party, do that with confidence that you’ll not get hit with a 6.99 per minute bill. You’ll also pick the local food from the tray, and order a local drink with confidence.

  1. Cultural Mistakes To Avoid in  Benin
  2. Does my current phone work in  Benin ? Tips to cell phone usage in  Benin
  3. Local food you should try in  Benin and No miss drinks in  Benin

Now, cheers to the most Benin aware person at the cocktail party.

What are the key history moments for Benin?

The Portuguese arrived in Benin’s territory in the fifteenth century, and established significant trading posts in Benin’s coastal areas. Soon following the Portuguese came French, Dutch, and British traders. Over time, Benin’s coast developed into the largest center of the slave trade in Africa, run by the Fon people, who dominated the Dahomey government and actively sold their neighboring peoples to the Europeans. As the slave trade increased in volume (10,000–20,000 slaves shipped off per day), the coast of Benin became known as the Slave Coast.

benin photo

Photo by ~MVI~ (warped)

Around this time, the port cities of Porto-Novo and Ouida were founded and quickly became the largest and most commercially active cities in the country, while Abomey became the Dahomey capital. The fall of the Dahomey Kingom was precipitated by the banning of slavery throughout Europe in the mid-19th century, followed by the French annexation of the territory under colonial rule. Much of the Dahomey leadership broke even in the annexation, being appointed to top government posts throughout all the French colonies in West Africa. In 1960, Dahomey gained its independence, under the name République du Dahomey, which set off a long and destabilizing series of coups. In the course of just one decade, 1960—1972, the government changed hands nine times, and experienced four violent coups. In 1972, Major Mathieu Kérékou, a staunch Marxist, organized the fourth of the military coups, and renamed the country the People’s Republic of Benin.

Kérékou’s regime proved more successful at maintaining power, and reorganized the country on his interpretation of the Maoist model. In 1989, the French government, in exchange for financial support of Benin’s flailing economy, persuaded the Benin government to abandon its one-party Socialist rule, and to move to a multiparty republic. In 1990, the country was renamed the Republic of Benin, and in 1991, Benin held its first free elections with significant success, and Kereku lost to Nicephore Soglo—Benin was thus the first African nation to successfully coordinate a peaceful transfer of power from a dictatorship to a functioning democracy. Soglo remained president through 1996, but his administration was marred by poor economic performance, leading to his electoral defeat to Mathieu Kérékou in 1996, who ruled the country and maintained popularity despite corruption scandals until 2006.

benin photo

Photo by rgrilo

The current president of Benin is today Yayi Boni, a technocrat who served under the tutelage of former President Soglo. Today, Benin remains as an extremely poor country, suffering from poverty and corruption. Infrastructure remains very poor in condition, and the struggling economy is recovering after decades of political unrest.

The one minute summary for Benin geography

Benin, compared to its neighbors, is geographically smaller, being 112,620 square kilometers—the size of Honduras or the U.S. state of Ohio. The country is basically divided into five geographic zones, from south to north: the Coastal plain, the plateau, the elevated plateau and savannah, hills in the northwest, and fertile plains in the north.

Best places to see in Benin

Benin is perhaps best known to the world as the birthplace of the Vodun religion—voodoo. Voodoo temples, roadside fetishes, and fetish markets are found throughout the country, but the best known is the skull and skin-filled fetish market in the Grande Marche du Dantopka—Cotonou’s overwhelmingly busy, enormous, and hectic grand market. The most important fetish in the country is the monstruous Dankoli fetish, on the northerly road near Savalou, which is a pretty good spot for beseeching gods. Benin under the rule of the Dahomey kings was a major center of the slave trade, and the Route des Esclaves in Ouidah, terminating at the beachside Point of No Return monument is a memorial to those who were kidnapped, sold, and sent off to the other side of the world.

benin photo

Photo by rgrilo

Ouidah’s local museum, housed in a Portuguese fort, unsurprisingly focuses on the slave trade, in addition to other facets of local culture, religion, and history, and is a real must see for anyone passing through the country. Abomey was the capital of the Dahomey Empire, and its ruined temples and royal palaces, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, are one of the country’s top attractions. The ruins, their bas-reliefs, and the Abomey Historical Museum in the royal palace (which contains all sorts of macabre tapestries and even a throne of human skulls) are a testament to the wealth brought to the Dahomey kings from the slave trade, and brutality with which they oppressed their enemies, fodder for human sacrifice and bondage. Ganvie, home to 30,000 whose ancestors fled the brutal Dahomey kings by building their town on stilts right in the center of Lake Nokoué, is without question a fascinating and naturally beautiful locale, and a popular stop as one of the largest of West Africa’s lake towns. But it has been to an extent ruined by the unpleasant relationship between locals and tourism.

(Ghana may have much more rewarding experiences for travelers interested in West African lake towns.) While manic Cotonou is the country’s largest city and economic center, Porto Novo, the capital, is small and one of West Africa’s more pleasant capitals. Most of the country’s major museums are located here amidst the crumbling architectural legacy of French colonial rule. Grand Popo is the other popular city for tourists to relax, but not for the city itself as much as the beaches. In the north, you’ll find a very different sort of Benin from the mostly crowded, polluted cities of the south, of which Cotonou is such a prominent example. Pendjari National Park and W National Park (which Benin shares with Burkina Faso and Niger), is considered West Africa’s best for wildlife viewing, and are set in beautiful, hilly highlands. The unique and eccentric mud and clay tower-houses, known as tata, of the Somba people in the north, west of Djougou near the Togolese border, are a little-known extension into Benin of the types of dwellings used by the Batammariba people of Togo just west. Virtually all tourists to this area flock to the UNESCO-designated Koutammakou Valley across the border; the Benin side has the advantage of being even off the beaten path.