Benin, independent nation of W Africa, formerly called Dahomey. Once a French protectorate, it is a country of 40 ethnic tribal groups and a low-level economy.
Land and Economy Located in the bulge on the S side of W Africa, Benin is bordered by Nigeria, Toga, Berkina Faso, and Niger, with 75 mi (121km) on the Gulf of Guinea. The coast is hot and humid, and there are two rainy and two dry seasons; average annual rainfall is 32in (813mm). Benin has three plateaus, one fertile, another of bare rocks, and a third with streams flowing to the Volta and Niger rivers and including the Atakora range. The E section is a plain. Subsistence agriculture is the economic base. Palm products and cotton account for half of export revenues.
People The leading class in Benin is composed of male-line descendants of the Aja (Fons, or Dahomey) who had established the early kingdom. Trained for civil service by the French, they are the best educated; literacy is 25% among school-age children. In the N are the nomadic Fulani and the Somba tribe, hunters with no political organization; E are Baribas. 90% of the population is rural, and 65% practices animist religion. French is the common language.
Government Benin has been under military rule since 1970. The constitution of 1977 instituted a national assembly, whose members belong to the sole legal political party, the Benin People's Revolutionary Party.
History Benin's history dates back to three principalities-Allada, Porto-Novo, and Dahomey-in the S area who were being pushed by the N Kingdom of Abomey in the 16th century. Dahomey was the most aggressive, pushing N and selling slaves. In 1863 the king of Porto-Novo sought French protection. By 1892 France had subjugated all groups and made them protectorates as part of French West Africa. In 1960 the country became independent as Dahomey. The official name was changed to Benin in 1976. Economic and regional rivalries have caused numerous military coup d'‚tats and changes of government since 1960. The Marxist-Leninist military government in power since 1972, led by Brig. Gen. Mathieu Kerekou, relaxed its authority somewhat during the late 1970s and improved relations with France. Benin became the center of an international environmental controversy in 1988 when it became known that European nations planned to dump toxic wastes there.