Benin (formerly Dahomey), republic in West Africa, flanked by Togo in the west, Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) in the northwest, Niger in the north, Nigeria in the east, and the Gulf of Guinea in the south.
The population is concentrated in the south coastal region, where Cotonou, a major port city and commercial center, and Porto-Novo, the capital, are located. There are 4 major tribes: the Fon, Adja, and Yoruba in the south and the Bariba in the northeast and central regions. There is a small European community, mostly French.
Benin is one of the world's poorer countries. Its economy is principally agricultural with most people engaged in subsistence farming. The major cash crop is the oil palm. Other exports include hides and skins, cotton, peanuts, and coffee. Benin's position as a transit point for Nigeria and land-locked Niger has provided the impetus for an expanding transport sector. Manufacturing presently accounts for less than 13% of the country's economy.
The independent Fon Kingdom of Dahomey emerged in the 17th century and engaged in profitable trade with the Portuguese. Known as the Slave Coast, Dahomey became one of the main slave exporting regions of West Africa. King Gezo (1818–58) raided the Yoruba for slaves and extended Dahomey's northern boundaries with the aid of its famous women soldiers. By 1850 the slave trade was declining and in 1851 the French established a trading station at Cotonou. By 1894 the French conquered the kingdom and in 1904 merged Dahomey into French West Africa. In 1960, after more than 50 years as a French colony, Dahomey became an independent republic and joined the United Nations. Plagued by economic and political instability, Dahomey witnessed a series of takeovers after independence. The first president, Herbert Maga, was toppled from power in 1963. Rivalry between President Sourow-Migan Apithy and the prime minister resulted in a coup in 1965. Following a series of unstable regimes, a 3-man Presidential Council was established in 1970 only to be overthrown by Maj. Mathiew Kerekou in 1972. In 1975 Dahomey was renamed and became the People's Republic of Benin. As a result of the socio-economic crisis in the late 1980s Kerekou was forced to introduce economic and political liberalization measures and was replaced by Nicephore Soglo in 1991. In 1996 Kerekou returned to power.