Benin History

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The Republic of Benin is the former Republic of Dahomey. Dahomey was called after the historic kingdom of Dahomey or Abomey, conquered by the French in 1892-1894. Benin became a self governing republic within the French Community in December 1958 and an independent state on 1 August 1960. Political life in the republic has been extremely unstable following independence, as regionally based interests contended for power.

The major ethnic groups in the country are the Fon, Yoruba, Adja, Bariba, Aizo, Somba, and Fulani. Roughly forty percent of the population are Fon. Some sixty-five percent of the population follow traditional animist beliefs. In 1997 there were 1,240,000 Roman Catholics in Benin and 700,000 Muslims, and 6% other.

In 1975 the country was renamed the People’s Republic of Benin. Marxism-Leninism was the national ideology, and banking, insurance and the principal industrial sectors were nationalized. By the early 1980's, however, a more pragmatic approach to Benin’s economic needs began to supplant the government’s socialist philosophy. Western private investment was encouraged. Closer ties with France developed replacing dependence upon the USSR.

However, even with the attempts at economic and political reform the country has had a rocky history. At his inauguration on 4 April 1996, President Kérékou undertook to strive for national reconciliation. The government’s stated priorities were to strengthen the rule of law, and to promote economic revival and social development.

In early 1997 measures permitting the private ownership of radio and television stations received parliamentary approval.

Benin’s international standing was enhanced following the introduction of democratic reforms in 1997 and the governments’ economic liberalization measures promoting strong growth.

The population was 4,915,555 in the census of February 1992, rising to 6,101,000 at mid-1998 (according to official estimates). The population of Cotonou, the political capital and major port, was listed at 536,827 in the 1992 census, and that of Porto-Novo, the official capital, was 179,138.[1]



  1. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Benin,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 2001.