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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 116,622 sq km
Population: 9.6 million (2010IMF estimate)
Capital City: Porto-Novo (population 295,000), is the official capital, nearby Cotonou is the country’s largest city.
People: Fon and Adja Yoruba and 40 other ethnic groups
Languages: French (official), Fon, Yoruba, and other African languages are spoken
Religion: Indigenous beliefs, Christian and Muslim
Currency: Franc CFA
Major political parties: Parti Sociale Democrate (PSD), Renaissance du Benin (RB), Parti du Renouveau democratique (PRD), Mouvement africain pour la democratie et le progres (MADEP), Force Cowrie for an Emerging Benin (FCBE)
Head of State: Dr Boni Yayi
Foreign Minister: Moussa Okania
Membership of international organisations: United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Union Economique et Monetaire ouest - africaine (UEMOA), Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC)

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$7.43bn (2010 forecast)
Annual growth: 3.2% (2010 est)
Inflation: 2.5% (2010 est)
Major industries: textiles, cotton, palm oil other agricultural and services
Natural resources: Unexploited deposits of marble, limestone and timber, small offshore oil deposits.
Major trading partners: for exports - India, China, South East Asian countries, Ghana and Niger; for imports, France, China
Exchange rate: Euro 1 = 655.957 FCFA (pegged)
Benin's economy is based on agriculture and services. Cotton is the main commercial crop. Its value fluctuates with world prices which are volatile, and it faces competition from subsidised cotton growers in the USA and elsewhere. The other mainstay of the economy is re-export trade with neighbouring countries, particularly Nigeria. Much of this is unrecorded and some estimate that this trade represents over 30% of GDP. It is estimated that 75% of imports into Cotonou port are destined for Nigeria. Benin has suffered at various times when Nigeria has tightened its import rules partly to stop the thriving smuggling of goods from Benin. The government relies on customs receipts for about half of its income. Nigerian trade policy is critical to the health of the economy. A plan for the privatisation programme for the cotton parastatal, the telecoms and public utility sectors and the port of Cotonou was presented by the government in July 2007. The privatisation of the cotton parastatal became mired in problems leading the government to halt the process in late 2007.

Offshore oil exploration has started in a field near the border with Nigeria but it is not yet known if it contains exploitable reserves... Benin reached completion point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative in March 2003, benefiting from around US$460 million in debt relief. A new Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) was approved in August 2005.

The IMF approved a new three-year arrangement under the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) for about US$109 million in June 2010. The new arrangement is designed to support the authorities’ program to increase economic growth by boosting investment in infrastructure and implementing structural reforms aimed at increasing Benin’s economic competitiveness.

IMF Country Reports - Benin (http://www.imf.org/external/country/BEN/index.htm)

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HISTORY

In 1472 the Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit the country. The hinterland was developed as a source of slaves. By 1700, some 20,000 slaves were being exported annually. After long resisting attempts at colonisation, the south became a French protectorate in 1893 while the north was added incrementally between 1895 and 1898. In 1904, present day Benin, then known as Dahomey, became part of the French West African Federation. Dahomey played a key role in the administration of the region, providing educated staff to other parts of the French African empire. It became independent on 1 August 1960.

After independence, civilian government did not survive for long. A power struggle developed between the 3 traditional centres of authority – Abomey in the south-west, Porto Novo in the south-east and Bariba in the north-east. The early years of independence were marked by a series of military coups between 1963 and 1970. A short-lived experiment from 1970 to 1972 with a rotating civilian Presidency, each President representing the 3 traditional power centres, was cut short in October 1972 when the military, led by Major Mathieu Kerekou, took over again. The triumvirate were jailed and later exiled.

Major Kerekou immediately declared Dahomey a Marxist-Leninist state. The country was renamed the Peoples Republic of Benin. Banks and other institutions were nationalised, and a single ruling party, the Parti de la Revolution Populaire du Benin, (PRPB) was established. Thus began 17 years of one-party rule and military dictatorship.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Benin's proximity to Nigeria and its vital re-export trade to that country dominates its international relations. A Joint Nigeria-Benin Committee on Commerce was inaugurated in May 2005 to try to regulate the trade. Five Beninese companies were authorised to export their products to Nigeria following Nigeria's decision to lift an earlier import ban on textiles, cottonseed, palm and vegetable oils. These restrictions had caused friction between the 2 countries since both are members of ECOWAS, which is founded on principles of free trade. The other important relationship which Benin has is with its francophone neighbours through their common history and through membership of the Franc Zone and of UEMOA. A long-term border dispute with Niger over ownership of islands in the Niger River was referred to the ICJ in 2002. The Court's ruling was given in July 2005. It awarded 16 of the 25 disputed islands to Niger, including the largest one, Lete, which was at the heart of the dispute, and the remaining 9 to Benin. Both countries accepted the ruling, and are implementing the decision.

Outside Africa, France remains its key ally, principal aid partner and significant trade partner. China has become a major source of imports displacing France in recent years into second place. French businesses are still strong players in Benin.

Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA) (http://www.uemoa.int/index.htm)

Benin's relations with the UK

The UK's relations with Benin are cordial. There is no resident Embassy in that country – relations are covered by the British High Commission in Abuja. Benin does not have an Embassy in the UK, covering relations from Paris. The UK does not have a bilateral assistance programme but contributes to European Development Funds. Commercial and trade relations are minimal. In 2009 UK imports of goods from Benin were small at £1million, while exports were larger at £77million largely goods were exported within the region including Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.

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GEOGRAPHY

Benin is a long, narrow country in West Africa, with a coastline of some 100km on the Gulf of Guinea and extending inland about 650km northwards to the Niger River. The north is dry and arid while the south has tropical vegetation. It is bordered by Nigeria to the east, by Togo to the west and by Burkina Faso and Niger to the north.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Development

Benin's development has been held back by frequent military intervention in government. Benin was ranked 161 out of 182 countries on the 2007 UNDP's Human development Index, although there has been a lack of investment in both education and healthcare over the years. The spread of AIDS, still low compared to other African countries, is expected to lower the health indicators further. Life expectancy has dropped as a result. However, social spending should rise under the new PRGF. Benin relies heavily on external assistance, including on IMF funds. France has always been and remains the principal bilateral donor.

United Nations Development Programme (http://www.undp.org/)

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POLITICS

Against the background of growing popular discontent and 2 coup attempts in 1988, Kerekou finally conceded to allow a Sovereign National Conference in 1989. This drew up a new constitution, adopted in December 1990. It provided for a return to multi-partyism and a qualified Executive Presidency, with a tenure limit of 2 terms of 5 years each, and for an upper age limit of 70 years for the President. It also provided for a 64-member (later increased to 83) National Assembly whose members must be civilians, and who are elected for 4-year terms renewable. The legislature was given the power to call Cabinet Ministers and the President himself to account if necessary. The President does not have the power to dissolve parliament. Constitutional amendments require the support of three-quarters of all deputies and a referendum or the support of four-fifths of all deputies.

The first Presidential and legislative elections held under the new constitution took place in 1991. 24 political parties took part, and 13 contested the Presidential election. Nicophore Soglo, beat his nearest rival, Mathieu Kerekou, with 67.7% of the vote. In March 1996, Kerekou re-emerged and won the Presidential election. He was re-elected 5 years later, in 2001, amid claims of fraud by the opposition. In the subsequent legislative elections of 2003, the pro-Kerekou coalition of parties won 63 of the 83 seats, of which the President's own party, the UBF won 31. This left the opposition with a mere 20 seats.

In 2005 Kerekou announced that he would not attempt to change the constitution in order to stand for a further presidential term of office. In the Presidential elections which took place on 5 March 2006 the independent candidate and former long serving head of the West African Investment Bank, Yayi Boni, unexpectedly won the highest vote (35.8%). The favourite, Adrien Houngbedji, won 24.2%. In the second round run off between Boni and Houngbedji, Boni, enjoying support of nearly all the other candidates, won easily with 74.6% of the vote. Parliamentary elections, held in March 2007, gave a majority for the Coaliation Force Cowrie for an Emerging Benin (FCBE), which supports President Boni. Boni has made some very public moves against corruption, including lifting the parliamentary immunity from prosecution for 2 parliamentarians of the ruling FCBE in July 2007. The next general elections are due in March 2011.

BBC News Country Profile: Benin (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/country_profiles/1064527.stm)

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Since the return to multi-party democracy in 1991, the human rights record of Benin has improved. There is a proliferation of political parties, there is a vibrant independent press, the trades unions are a powerful force and civil society is flourishing. There are some 5,000 local NGOs, including human rights groups, in operation, all operating freely without government interference. In spite of the existence of anti-corruption bodies and mechanisms, corruption remains a key problem.

Annual Human Rights Reports (#)

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Last Updated: January 2011

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