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Benin (/bɛˈnn/ (About this soundlisten) beh-NEEN, /bɪˈnn/ bih-NEEN; French: Bénin [benɛ̃]), officially the Republic of Benin (French: République du Bénin) and formerly Dahomey, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. The majority of its population lives on the small southern coastline of the Bight of Benin, part of the Gulf of Guinea in the northernmost tropical portion of the Atlantic Ocean. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is in Cotonou, the country's largest city and economic capital. Benin covers an area of 114,763 square kilometres (44,310 sq mi) and its population in 2016 was estimated to be approximately 10.87 million. Benin is a tropical nation, highly dependent on agriculture, and is a large exporter of cotton and palm oil. Substantial employment and income arise from subsistence farming.

The official language of Benin is French. However, indigenous languages such as Fon and Yoruba are commonly spoken. The largest religious group in Benin is Roman Catholicism, followed closely by Islam, Vodun and Protestantism. Benin is a member of the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, La Francophonie, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, the African Petroleum Producers Association and the Niger Basin Authority.

From the 17th to the 19th century, the main political entities in the area were the Kingdom of Dahomey, along with the city-state of Porto-Novo, and a large area with many different nations to the north. This region was referred to as the Slave Coast from as early as the 17th century due to the large number of enslaved people who were shipped to the New World during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. After enslavement was abolished, France took over the country and renamed it French Dahomey. In 1960, Dahomey gained full independence from France. The sovereign state has had a tumultuous history since then, with many different democratic governments, military coups, and military governments.

A Marxist–Leninist state called the People's Republic of Benin existed between 1975 and 1990. In 1991, it was replaced by the current multi-party Republic of Benin.

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Gbe languages.png

The Gbe languages (Ewe pronunciation: [ɡbè]) form a cluster of about twenty related languages stretching across the area between eastern Ghana and western Nigeria. The total number of speakers of Gbe languages is between four and eight million. The most widely spoken Gbe language is Ewe (3 million speakers in Ghana and Togo), followed by Fon (1.7 million, mainly in Benin). The Gbe languages were traditionally placed in the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo languages, but more recently have been classified as Volta-Niger. They include five major dialect clusters: Ewe, Fon, Aja, Gen, and Phla-Pherá.

Most of the Gbe peoples have come from the east to their present dwelling-places in several migrations between the tenth and the fifteenth century. Some of the Phla-Pherá peoples however are thought to be the original inhabitants of the area who have intermingled with the Gbe immigrants, and the Gen people probably are immigrants from the north of Ga or Fante origin. In the late eighteenth century, many speakers of Gbe were enslaved and transported to the New World, causing Gbe languages to play a role in the genesis of several Caribbean creole languages.

Around 1840, German missionaries started linguistic research into the Gbe languages. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Africanist Diedrich Hermann Westermann was one of the most prolific contributors to the study of Gbe. The first internal classification of the Gbe languages was published in 1988 by H.B. Capo, followed by a comparative phonology in 1991. The Gbe languages are tonal, isolating languages and the basic word order is Subject Verb Object. (Read more...)

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Benin baptism3.jpg
Credit: Ferdinand Reus

Woman at a Celestial Church of Christ baptism ceremony in Cotonou, Benin

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Mathieu Kérékou

Mathieu Kérékou, also known as Ahmed Kérékou, (born 2 September 1933) was President of Benin from 1972 to 1991 and again from 1996 to 2006. After seizing power in a military coup, he ruled the country for 17 years, for most of that time under an officially Marxist ideology, before he was stripped of his powers by the National Conference of 1990. He was defeated in the 1991 presidential election, but was returned to the presidency in the 1996 election and controversially re-elected in 2001.

Kérékou was born in 1933 in Kouarfa, in the north-west of the country. After having studied at military schools in Mali and Senegal, Kérékou served in the military. Following independence, from 1961 to 1963 he was an aide-de-camp to President Hubert Maga; following Maurice Kouandété's seizure of power in December 1967, Kérékou, who was his cousin, was made chairman of the Military Revolutionary Council. Maga made him a major, deputy chief of staff, and commander of the Ouidah paratroop unit.

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