Formerly known as Dahomey, it is officially the Republic of Benin, a country in West Africa. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. Its small southern coastline on the Bight of Benin is where a majority of the population is located. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is located in the country’s largest city of Cotonou. Benin covers an area of approximately 110,000 square kilometers (42,000 sq mi), with a population of approximately 9.05 million. Benin is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture, with substantial employment and income arising from subsistence farming.
The official language of Benin is French, however, indigenous languages such as Fon and Yoruba are commonly spoken (Yoruba is also spoken in Nigeria). The largest religious group in Benin is Roman Catholicism, followed closely by Muslims, Vodun, and Protestants. Benin is a member of the United Nations, the African Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, La Francophonie, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, the African Petroleum Producers Association and the Niger Basin Authority.
From the 17th century to the 19th century, the land of current-day Benin was ruled by the Kingdom of Dahomey. The region became known as the Slave Coast during the early 17th century due to the prevalence of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In 1892, with the slave trade banned and regional power diminishing, France took over the area and renamed it French Dahomey. In 1960, Dahomey gained full independence from France, bringing in a democratic government for the next 12 years.
Between 1972 and 1990, a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist dictatorship called the People’s Republic of Benin existed, ushering in a period of repression which ultimately led to an economic collapse. Formation of the Republic of Benin occurred in 1991, bringing in multiparty elections.
The majority of Benin’s population lives in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 59 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendi in the north-central area (they came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fula (French: Peul; Fula: Fulɓe) in the northeast; the Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atacora Range; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.
Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin that include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European embassies and foreign aid missions and of nongovernmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large part of the 5500 European population. A small part of the European population consists of Beninese citizens of French ancestry, whose ancestors ruled Benin and left after independence.