Benin - Introduction
Benin, perhaps best known as the heartland of voodoo and formerly known as Dahomey, has an economy that relies on its port, cotton cultivation and commerce with its giant, oil-rich neighbour Nigeria. Poverty is widespread. Although its economy is under-developed, Benin is one of Africa's most stable democracies.
Benin is one of Africa’s most stable democracies. The democratic anchoring of Benin is solid: democratic, free and transparent elections; Institutions functioning satisfactorily; Multiplication of parties (nearly a hundred); Individual and collective freedoms globally respected; And freedom of expression of the press. Poor health care, low quality of public education, and insufficiently transparent governance persist as obstacles to national development.
Police, under the Ministry of Interior, have primary responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order in urban areas; the gendarmerie, under the Ministry of Defense, performs the same functions in rural areas. Police were inadequately equipped and poorly trained. The government responded to these problems by building more stations and modernizing equipment; however, problems remained.
Police generally ignored vigilante attacks, and incidents of mob violence occurred, in part due to the perceived failure of local courts to punish criminals adequately. Such cases generally involved mobs killing or severely injuring suspected criminals, particularly thieves caught stealing.
Ouidah is held to be the birthplace of voodoo, a religion more often called "vodun" in west Africa, with a hierarchy of deities and tribal nature spirits, embracing magical practises and healing remedies considered divine. Voodoo readily absorbed the Roman Catholic roster of saints, notably among descendants of slaves in Haiti, but the use of fetishes and rituals has often been poorly served by Hollywood, which tends to turn a world where revered ancestors live alongside the living into a source of black magic.
Voodoo was banned by Mathieu Kerekou, a revolutionary and key figure in politics who came to power in 1972, when he staged a military coup. His elected successor, Nicephore Soglo, lifted the ban on the age-old partly animist faith and Kerekou made no move to reinstate it when voted back into office in 1996, by then a onetime Marxist-Leninist turned born-again Christian.
Benin is making a name for itself as it embraces democracy with characteristic fervor and is catapulted onto the African stage as a model of reform. Benin's opening to democracy and freemarket economics in the early 1990s was a dramatic shift from an almost unbroken string of autocratic regimes and highly centralized economic systems that stretch back to the Dahomey kingdom in the 1600s.
Many of the country's current governance challenges can be traced to the disconnect between Benin's new, liberal democratic constitution and the lingering socio-political effects of autocratic government on the country's political class and other elements of Beninese society.
Benin is the birthplace of voodoo (voodoo museums of Ouidah). Voodoo ceremonies can be colorful events, involving feverish drumming and highly charged dancing by costumed fetish priests. The pirogue is the name of a traditional boat.
An advantage of traveling Benin is its size: it has to offer a lot within relatively short distances. For this reason this country offers great possibilities for short tours or for combined tours, covering various countries.
Benin’s culture is as rich and diverse as its landscape. With strong religious roots to inform most of the traditions, Benin’s culture is certainly one of the most unique and interesting in Africa.
Music is of utmost importance in the country. The rhythmic sounds of drumming can be heard at most festivals and religious events. Not just a way to celebrate, music in Benin provides a way to express religious fervor. The country is also home to notable musicians, including the internationally acclaimed singer Angelique Kidjo.
The strong influence of the Voodoo religion is an important part of Benin, which tells of healing and rejuvenating talismans (‘fetishes’). The tradition of oral storytelling is still alive and well, which accounts for the absence of Beninese written literature, even though the culture prides itself in its ancient stories and folklore.
Benin is one of the less important countries in Africa and one of the poorest in the world. Whatever happens there may seem to be of little consequence. One observer claimed there are two reasons for state failure: location and government. Dahomey is location. There isn't any. The one thing they grew and produced in abundance was palm oil, which everybody grew and produced in abundance. So, Dahomey is one of those places that is a nice little country that probably should be a province of somewhere else. It really doesn't have an economic raison d'etre.
The World Bank estimates that households in Benin spend approximately one-quarter of their annual income on the prevention and treatment of malaria. Malaria is the leading cause of mortality among children under five and the leading cause of morbidity among adults in Benin. It is reported to account for 40 percent of outpatient consultations and 25 percent of all hospital admissions. Malaria places an enormous economic strain on Benin’s development.
Malaria is endemic to Benin, and while transmission is stable, it is influenced by several factors, including: vector species, geography, climate, and hydrography. The primary malaria vector in Benin is Anopheles gambiae s.s., but secondary vectors are also important to transmission. Entomological monitoring has confirmed insecticide resistance to carbamates among mosquito vector populations in parts of the country.
The standard of medical facilities in Benin is poor. Facilities are limited in major towns and basic to non-existent in rural areas. Pharmaceuticals are in short supply and poor quality substitutes are often used. Up-front payment for services is generally required and the inability to pay will often delay treatment.
Benin is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which is preventable by vaccination.
Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, cholera, typhoid, meningitis, hepatitis, bilharzia, tuberculosis, schistosomiasis Lassa fever and chikungunya) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. In 2016, there have been several hundred cases of cholera in Benin, with most cases reported in Cotonou.
There is no reliable public transportation in Benin. Cotonou has a limited public transportation system. Many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, and motorbikes for hire (known as “zemidjans”). Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted, or robbed.
With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Pedestrians and animals often stray onto roads. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
With the exception of the most popular restaurant areas (Haie Vive, Cocotier, Littoral neighborhoods), driving at night even in Cotonou is discouraged. Overall vehicle maintenance and upkeep of large trucks and buses are poor at best. Large trucks break down or overturn frequently due to poor maintenance and road conditions. Many road accidents result in death. Carjacking is a major problem in rural areas with armed bandits placing barricades in the roadway hoping to slow or halt vehicles.
Fuel shortages are common in rural areas of northern Benin. Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable vehicles. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, especially in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
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