The Republic of Benin is located in West Africa, between the nations of Nigeria and Togo. The capital city is Porto-Novo; however the largest city in Benin is Cotonou. Benin has an estimated population of 9.5 million, with a growth rate of 2.87%. The nation is home to numerous ethnic groups such as the Fon (39.2%),Adja(15.2%),Yoruba(12.3%), Bariba (9.2%), Peulh (7%),Ottamari (6.1%) and Yoa-Lokpa(4%). The nation is divided rather equally in terms of religious affiliation: Vodun (35%), Christianity (35%), and Islam(20%). The official language of Benin is French; however Fon, Mina,Goun, Yoruba, Nagot, Bariba and Dendi are commonly spoken by the locals. Economically, Benin remains underdeveloped and heavily dependent on its agriculture and cotton production. Benin has a GDP of $7.5 billion and a GDP per capita of $1,500. In efforts to improve the business cycle, the commercial justice system and the financial sector, Benin signed the Millennium Challenge grant in 2006. In addition the Paris Club and other bilateral creditors have eased Benin’s external debt. Benin’s infrastructural projects however, still rely on the support of foreign aid accounts.
The territory of modern Benin was once home to the prominent West African Kingdom known as Dahomey. Throughout the 15th century the area economically and politically prevailed, until the colonization of the French in 1872. On December 4, 1958, the Republic of Dahomey officially became a part of the French Community. However, it wasn’t until 1960 that France finally granted the Republic of Benin its full independence. From the period of 1960-1972 a series of military coup d’états ensued. With pressures from its former colonial master in the 1990’s, Benin began to make radical changes towards a liberal and democratic system of government. Benin is currently governed by a multiparty democratic system. The head of state is also the head of government, and is elected for a five-year term by the people. As of 2006, Yayi Boni is the head of state.
Currently, Benin is addressing several obstacles which are stunting its developmental growth. Due to Benin’s widespread poverty, disease and poor roads, children (especially girls) are often hindered from being able to attend school. Only half of those who attend will be able to complete their primary education. In addition, there are major shortages of trained teachers and well-constructed schools, which has led to teacher’s strikes and low retention rates. Fortunately, the Beninese government has begun to take several initiatives to improve this matter. As of 2006, the government announced the abolition of school fees for both pre-school and primary education. In addition, the government has taken over the financial responsibility for assuring the payment of the community teachers. As a result, the national primary school enrolment rates have risen dramatically.