Currently viewing country profile for Benin
Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, is one of Africa's most stable democracies.
It boasts a proliferation of political parties and a strong civil society.
On the economic side, however, the picture is less bright - Benin is severely underdeveloped, and corruption is rife. Benin's shore includes what used to be known as the Slave Coast, from where captives were shipped across the Atlantic. Elements of the culture and religion brought by slaves from the area are still present in the Americas, including voodoo.
Once banned in Benin, the religion is celebrated at the country's annual Voodoo Day, which draws thousands of celebrants.
Before being colonised by France towards the end of the 1800s, the area comprised several independent states, including the Kingdom of Dahomey, which had a well-trained standing army and was geared towards the export of slaves and later palm oil.
Instability marked the first years after full independence from France in 1960 and the early part of Mr Kerekou's rule featured Marxism-Leninism as the official ideology.
However, during the 1980s Mr Kerekou resigned from the army to become a civilian head of state and liberalised the economy.
While Benin has seen economic growth over the past few years and is one of Africa's largest cotton producers, it ranks among the world's poorest countries. The economy relies heavily on trade with its eastern neighbour, Nigeria.
To the north, there have been sporadic clashes along Benin's border with Burkina Faso. The trouble has been blamed on land disputes between rival communities on either side of the border.
Thousands of Togolese refugees fled to Benin in 2005 following political unrest in their homeland. Benin called for international aid to help it shelter and feed the exiles.
- Full name: The Republic of Benin
- Population: 9.2 million (UN, 2010)
- Capital: Porto-Novo
- Area: 112,622 sq km (43,484 sq miles)
- Major languages: French (official) Fon, Ge, Bariba, Yoruba, Dendi
- Major religions: Indigenous beliefs, Christianity, Islam
- Life expectancy: 62 years (men), 65 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) franc = 100 centimes
- Main exports: Cotton, palm oil
- GNI per capita: US $750 (World Bank, 2009)
- Internet domain: .bj
- International dialling code: +229
President: Thomas Boni Yayi
Political newcomer Thomas Boni Yayi won the second round of presidential elections in March 2006, gaining more than 74% of the vote.
Mr Yayi is a former head of the Togo-based West African Development Bank. He said he would concentrate on reviving the economy and stamping out corruption.
In the April 2007 elections, Mr Yayi's coalition won control of parliament and said this would enable him to push through anti-corruption reforms.
The constitutional court president said there had been irregularities in the polls, but not serious enough to damage their credibility.
Born in 1952 into a Muslim family in the north, Mr Yayi later became an evangelical Christian.
His predecessor, one-time army major Mathieu Kerekou, led Benin for all but five years after seizing power in 1972. He earned for the country the label "Africa's Cuba" before dropping Marxist-Leninist ideology. He was barred by a constitutional age limit from running in the 2006 poll.
Benin's president heads the government, the state and the military and appoints members of the cabinet.
- Presidential elections have been set for 27 February 2011.
The International Press Institute (IPI) says Benin has one of the region's "most vibrant media landscapes". Press freedom is said to be in "very good shape" by the media rights body Reporters Without Borders.
Harsh libel laws have been used against journalists, but the constitution guarantees media freedom. The authorities have suspended newspapers over material deemed to be offensive.
Benin has dozens of newspapers and periodicals, a state TV channel, a handful of commercial TV channels and scores of state, commercial and local radio stations.
Radio is the main source of information, particularly in rural areas. The medium is popular because of its use of local languages. Phone-in programmes are particularly popular.
Poverty, poor infrastructure and a small advertising market translate to patchy newsgathering and inadequate newspaper distribution, especially in the countryside.
The BBC World Service, Radio France Internationale and Gabon's Africa No1 are available on FM in Cotonou.
Benin was one of the first west African countries to gain an internet connection. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimated that were some 425,000 internet users by September 2006.
- Le Matinal - private, daily
- Fraternite - private, daily
- La Nation - government daily
- Le Republicain - private, daily
- L'Aurore - private, daily
- L'Evenement du Jour - private, daily
- Television Nationale - operated by state-run Office de Radiodiffusion et de Television du Benin (ORTB)
- Golfe TV - commercial
- La Chaine 2 (LC2) - commercial
- Canal 3 - commercial
- Radio Nationale - operated by state-run Office de Radiodiffusion et de Television du Benin (ORTB)
- Radio Regionale de Parakou - ORTB regional station
- Atlantic FM - ORTB station in Cotonou
- CAPP FM - private, Cotonou
- Golfe FM - commercial
- Radio Immaculee Conception - Catholic station
- Agence Benin-Presse (ABP) - state-run
A chronology of key events:
1946 - Dahomey becomes an overseas territory of France.
1958 - Dahomey becomes self-governing, within the French Community
1960 - Dahomey gains independence and is admitted to the UN.
1960 - Elections won by the Parti Dahomeen de L'Unite. Party leader Hubert Maga becomes country's first president.
1963 - President Maga is deposed in a coup led by the army's Chief of Staff, Colonel Christophe Soglo.
1963 - Dahomey joins the IMF.
1964 - Sourou-Migan Apithy is elected president.
1965 - General Soglo forces the president to step down and a provisional government is formed. In December he assumes power.
1967 - Major Maurice Kouandete leads a coup. Lt Col Alphonse Alley replaces Gen Soglo as head of state.
1968 - The military regime nominates Dr Emile-Derlin Zinsou as president.
1969 - Lt Col Kouandete deposes President Zinsou.
1970 - Presidential elections are held but abandoned. Power is ceded to a presidential council consisting of Ahomadegbe, Apithy and Maga, who received almost equal support in the abandoned poll. Maga is the first of the three to serve as president with a two-year term.
1972 - Ahomadegbe assumes the presidency from Maga for the next two-year term.
1972 - Major Mathieu Kerekou seizes power; the presidential council members are detained.
1973 - The Conseil National Revolutionnaire (CNR) is created. Representatives are taken from across the country.
Dahomey becomes Benin
1975 - November - Dahomey is renamed the People's Republic of Benin.
1975 - The Parti de la Revolution Populaire du Benin (PRPB) is established as the country's only political party.
1977 - The CNR adopts a "Loi Fondamentale", setting out new government structures.
1979 - Elections are held to the new Assemblee Nationale Revolutionnaire (ANR). The list of people's commissioners is resoundingly approved. The Comite Executif National (CEN) replaces the CNR.
1980 - ANR unanimously elects Kerekou as president. Kerekou is the sole contender.
1981 - Members of the former presidential council are released from house arrest.
1984 - ANR increases the terms of the president and people's commissioners from three to five years. The number of people's commissioners is reduced from 336 to 196.
1984 - ANR re-elects Kerekou; no other candidates contest the election.
1987 - Kerekou resigns from the military.
1988 - Two unsuccessful coup attempts.
1989 - Elections are held; a list of 206 people's commissioners is approved. Benin agrees to IMF and World Bank economic adjustment measures.
1989 - President Kerekou re-elected for a third term. Marxism-Leninism is abandoned as Benin's official ideology. Anti-government strikes and demonstrations take place.
1990 - Unrest continues. President Kerekou meets dissident leaders. Agreement on constitutional reform and multi-candidate presidential elections is reached.
1990 March - Implementation of agreed reforms begins. Benin drops "people's" from its official title and becomes the Republic of Benin.
1990 December - In a referendum, the constitutional changes are approved by a majority of voters.
1991 February - Legislative elections: No party secures an overall majority. The largest grouping is an alliance of pro-Soglo parties.
1991 March - President Kerekou is beaten by Nicephore Soglo in the first multi-candidate presidential elections. Kerekou is granted immunity from prosecution over actions taken since October 1972.
1992 - The Parti de la Renaissance du Benin is formed by Soglo's wife.
1995 - Legislative elections: Parti de la Renaissance du Benin forms the new government.
1996 - Following accusations of irregularities in presidential elections, the constitutional court announces that Kerekou has received the majority of valid votes cast.
1999 - Legislative elections: New government is formed of representatives of 10 parties.
2001 March - Presidential elections: none of 17 candidates receives an overall majority. Kerekou is declared re-elected in second round.
2002 - Benin joins the Community of Sahel-Saharan States.
2002 December - First local elections since the end of the single-party regime more than 10 years ago.
2003 March - Legislative elections: Parties supporting President Kerekou win 52 of the 83 elective seats.
2003 December - Lebanese charter plane crashes after taking off from Cotonou, killing some 140 people. French investigators subsequently find that the plane was overloaded.
2004 July - Benin, Nigeria agree to redraw their mutual border.
2005 March - US telecommunications company is fined after it admits to bribery in Benin. The company was accused of funnelling millions of dollars into President Kerekou's 2001 election campaign.
2005 July - International Court of Justice awards most of the river islands along the disputed Benin-Niger border to Niger.
2006 March - Political newcomer Yayi Boni, running as an independent, wins the run-off vote in presidential elections. The incumbent, Mathieu Kerekou, is barred from the poll under a constitutional age limit.
2006 March, April - World Bank and the African Development Bank approve debt relief for several countries including Benin, as part of measures agreed at a G8 nations summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005.
2006 May - Students protest against visit by French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who introduced a bill making it more difficult for unskilled workers to migrate to France.
2007 April - President Yayi's coalition wins control of parliament in elections.
2007 July - President Yayi leads thousands of supporters on a march against corruption.
2008 April - Local elections held. Nation-wide, parties allied with President Yayi win a majority of local council seats, but the major cities in the south are all won by opposition parties.
2009 February - Benin announces discovery of "significant quantities" of oil offshore near Seme, a town on the Nigeria-Benin border.
2009 April - European Union bans all of Benin's air carriers from flying to the EU in a regular update of its air safety blacklist.
2010 August - Benin marks 50 years of independence.
Fifty of parliament's 83 MPs demand that President Yayi be charged over an alleged swindle in which thousands lost their life savings.
2010 October - Flooding affects much of the country. Thousands are made homeless.
2011 March - President Yayi is re-elected. His main challenger, Adrien Houngbedji, alleges widespread fraud
2011 May - President Yayi's party and its allies regain control of parliament in elections.
2011 August - London's marine insurance market adds Benin to list of areas deemed high risk due to an escalation of pirate attacks in the area.
Parliament abolishes death penalty.
2011 November - Pope Benedict visits.
2012 January - President Boni Yayi elected chairman of African Union for a year, beating Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan.
2012 October - Three people are arrested over an alleged plot to poison President Thomas Boni Yayi. The suspects are one of his nieces, his personal doctor and an ex-minister, the authorities say.
- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Congo Dem Republic
- Cote d'Ivoire
- Equatorial Guinea
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
- The Gambia
- Western Sahara