ECONOMY: GENERAL INFORMATION
In the first twenty years following independence (1960), Benin developed a transit economy by benefiting from the traffic of goods in the direction of the Sahel states without access to the sea; in particular, it saw its re-export activities grow enormously following the oil boom in neighboring Nigeria in the 1970s. Smuggling spread inside the country and the population began to have access to a plurality of goods; the government was also able to pay the salaries of civil servants. This equilibrium was broken by the heavy economic crisis that the country went through in the 1980s: the fall in international prices of raw materials and the recession of Nigeria led the regime to complete bankruptcy (1989). Only in the early nineties, after the International Monetary Fund, managed to restore, at least in part, public finances and pay off internal debts. In 1999, Benin pegged its currency to the euro and, thanks to international aid, managed to restructure the banking sector. However, in the early 2000s, the country remained deeply tied to the fluctuations of the Nigerian economy; unemployment is very high; bureaucracy and corruption substantially preclude decisive economic development. GDP in 2009 was US $ 6,672 million while GDP per capita was US $ 711.
ECONOMY: AGRICULTURE, FORESTRY, LIVESTOCK AND FISHING
The agricultural sector contributes over a third to the formation of the GDP and employs over 50% of the active population. Subsistence agriculture produces cassava, grown in the coastal strip, sorghum, yams and corn widespread in the central section of the country as well as throughout the North. Commercial agriculture is almost entirely based on two crops: cotton and oil palm; Among the products sent for export, in addition to cotton and palm derivatives, cocoa, coffee and peanuts have a certain importance. § One third of the territory is covered by forests, which supply wood for work and cabinet-making (mahogany, ebony, etc.). § As for the livestock sector, breeding is practiced extensively in the northern regions where cattle and goats prevail, in addition to the numerous pigs reared in the coastal villages. § Fishing is widely practiced in the lagoons and on the coast; the fish is partly dried.
ECONOMY: INDUSTRY AND MINERAL RESOURCES
According to allcountrylist, the mining industry is essentially represented by that of building materials, which feed the cement factories of Onigbolo. Alongside these industrial activities, processing activities for agricultural products have developed, carried out in small companies, and the textile and footwear sectors. There are also cotton ginning complexes and automobile assembly plants. The secondary sector employs just 10% of the active population. § Subsoil resources are scarce: there are some marble quarries and oil fields whose production, due to other extraction costs, has decreased from 234,000 t in 1988 to only 50,000 t in 2002. Modest deposits have been identified of lignite, phosphates, iron and chromium.
ECONOMY: TRADE AND COMMUNICATIONS
The dependence of the Benin economy on the Nigerian one is evident from the fact that trade with this country, largely unregistered, is worth between a quarter and a third of GDP. The country exports cotton mainly to Brazil, Morocco and Portugal. In addition to these countries, another important trading partner is France. Given its small production structure, the country is forced to heavy imports of machinery and means of transport, fuels, textiles, foodstuffs, etc. and the trade balance is heavily in deficit. § The communication routes, both road (16,000 km of which 1400 are asphalted) and railways, are relatively good and continue in neighboring countries. The hub of communications is Cotonou, terminus of the railway and of the great northern road to Niger, as well as a hub for road and rail links along the coastal strip; the port of the city plays a central economic role in terms of logistical structures and is also at the service of Niger, a landlocked country, and of Nigeria for which it alleviates the excessive movement of Lagos; Finally, Cotonou has a well-equipped international airport.
CULTURE: GENERAL INFORMATION
Called the ‘Latin Quarter of West Africa’ by the French, Benin boasts a strong intellectual tradition and a great passion for discussion and political debate. Women have a vital role in society and actively participate, while accepting the limits and inequalities maintained by the Islamic religion. It is no coincidence that one of the most famous artists on an international level is Angélique Kidjo (b. 1960), who writes and sings her own songs, closely linked to the rhythms and sounds of her own country. In many areas there are traditional houses, such as the so-called Tata Somba near Lake Nokoué, built in clay and with a characteristic cylindrical shape. Festivals are also deeply linked to the past and traditions: in Porto Novo, for example, an Afro-Brazilian carnival is held, brought here by former slaves who have returned to their homeland. In Ouidah, on the other hand, the port from which the ships loaded with slaves left for America, an evocative Voodoo festival is held in January, with songs and dances by the participants who celebrate their faith. In 1985, UNESCO declared the area of the palaces of Abomey a World Heritage Site. Here, in fact, from 1625 to 1900, twelve kings succeeded each other in this kingdom. Except King Akaba, all the kings built their palaces in the same area, keeping the previous palaces in terms of the use of space and materials.