Benin i/bɨˈniːn/ (French: Bénin, formerly Dahomey), officially the Republic of Benin (French: République du Bénin), is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Togo to the west, by Nigeria to the east and by Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. A majority of the population live on its small southern coastline on the Bight of Benin. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is in Cotonou, the country's largest city. Benin covers an area of approximately 110,000 square kilometers (42,000 sq mi), with a population of approximately 9.05 million. Benin is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture, with substantial employment and income arising 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 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, 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, modern day Benin was ruled by the Kingdom of Dahomey. This region was referred to as the Slave Coast from as early as the 17th century due to the large number of slaves shipped to the New World during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. After slavery was abolished, France took over the country and renamed it French Dahomey. In 1960, Dahomey gained full independence from France, bringing in a democratic government for the next 12 years.
A Marxist-Leninist state called the People's Republic of Benin existed between 1972 and 1990. Many sources state this regime led to repression and the collapse of the economy. The Republic of Benin was formed in 1991 which brought in multiparty elections.
During the colonial period and at independence, the country was known as Dahomey. It was renamed on November 30, 1975, to Benin  after the body of water on which the country lies – the Bight of Benin – which, in turn, had been named after the Benin Empire. The country of Benin has no direct connection to Benin City in modern Nigeria, nor to the Benin bronzes.
The new name, Benin, was chosen for its neutrality. Dahomey was the name of the former Kingdom of Dahomey, which covered only the southern third of the present country and therefore did not represent the northwestern sector Atakora nor the kingdom of Borgu, which covered the northeastern third.
The Kingdom of Dahomey formed from a mixture of ethnic groups on the Abomey plain. Historians theorize that the insecurity caused by slave trading may have contributed to mass migrations of groups to modern day Abomey, including some Aja, a Gbe people who are believed to have founded the city. Those Aja living in Abomey mingled with the local Fon people, also a Gbe people, creating a new ethnic group known as "Dahomey".
The Gbe peoples are said to be descendents of a number of migrants from Wyo. Gangnihessou (a member of an Aja dynasty that in the 16th century along with the Aja populace had come from Tado before settling and ruling separately in what is now Abomey, Allada, and Porto Novo) became the first ruler of the Dahomey Kingdom. Dahomey had a military culture aimed at securing and eventually expanding the borders of the small kingdom with its capital at modern-day Abomey.
The Dahomey Kingdom was known for its culture and traditions. Young boys were often apprenticed to older soldiers, and taught the kingdom's military customs until they were old enough to join the army. Dahomey was also famous for instituting an elite female soldier corps, called Ahosi or "our mothers" in the Fongbe language, and known by many Europeans as the Dahomean Amazons. This emphasis on military preparation and achievement earned Dahomey the nickname of "black Sparta" from European observers and 19th century explorers like Sir Richard Burton.
The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery; otherwise the captives would have been killed in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs. By about 1750, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling Africans to the European slave-traders. Though the leaders of Dahomey appeared initially to resist the slave trade, it flourished in the region of Dahomey for almost three hundred years (beginning in 1472 with a trade agreement with Portuguese merchants), leading to the area being named "the Slave Coast". Court protocols, which demanded that a portion of war captives from the kingdom's many battles be decapitated, decreased the number of enslaved people exported from the area. The number went from 20,000 per year at the beginning of the seventeenth century to 12,000 at the beginning of the 19th century. The decline was partly due to the banning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade by Britain and other countries. This decline continued until 1885, when the last Portuguese slave ship departed from the coast of the present-day Benin Republic.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, Dahomey started to lose its status as the regional power. This enabled the French to take over the area in 1892. In 1899, the French included the land called French Dahomey within the French West Africa colony. In 1958, France granted autonomy to the Republic of Dahomey, and full independence as of August 1, 1960. The president who led them to independence was Hubert Maga.
For the next twelve years, ethnic strife contributed to a period of turbulence. There were several coups and regime changes, with four figures dominating — Hubert Maga, Sourou Apithy, Justin Ahomadegbé and Emile Derlin Zinsou — the first three representing a different area and ethnicity of the country. These three agreed to form a presidential council after violence marred the 1970 elections.
On May 7, 1972, Maga turned over power to Ahomadegbe. On October 26, 1972, Lt. Col. Mathieu Kérékou overthrew the ruling triumvirate, becoming president and stating that the country will not "burden itself by copying foreign ideology, and wants neither Capitalism, Communism, nor Socialism". On November 30, however, he announced that the country was officially Marxist, under the control of the Military Council of the Revolution (CNR), which nationalized the petroleum industry and banks. On November 30, 1975, he renamed the country to People's Republic of Benin.
In 1979, the CNR was dissolved, and Kérékou arranged show elections where he was the only allowed candidate. Establishing relations with the People's Republic of China, North Korea, and Libya, he put nearly all businesses and economic activities under state control, causing foreign investment in Benin to dry up. Kérékou attempted to reorganize education, pushing his own aphorisms such as "Poverty is not a fatality", resulting in a mass exodus of teachers, along with a large number of other professionals. The regime financed itself by contracting to take nuclear waste first from the Soviet Union and later from France.
In 1980, Kérékou converted to Islam and changed his first name to Ahmed, then changed his name back after claiming to be a born-again Christian.
In 1989, riots broke out after the regime did not have money to pay its army. The banking system collapsed. Eventually Kérékou renounced Marxism and a convention forced Kérékou to release political prisoners and arrange elections.
The name of the country was changed to the Republic of Benin on March 1, 1990, once the newly formed country's constitution was complete, after the abolition of Marxism–Leninism in the nation in 1989.
In 1991, Kérékou was defeated by Nicéphore Soglo, and became the first black African president to step down after an election. Kérékou returned to power after winning the 1996 vote. In 2001, a closely fought election resulted in Kérékou winning another term, after which his opponents claimed election irregularities.
Kérékou and former president Soglo did not run in the 2006 elections, as both were barred by the constitution's restrictions on age and total terms of candidates. Kérékou is widely praised for making no effort to change the constitution so that he could remain in office or run again, unlike many African leaders.
On March 5, 2006, an election was held that was considered free and fair. It resulted in a runoff between Yayi Boni and Adrien Houngbédji. The runoff election was held on March 19, and was won by Boni, who assumed office on April 6. The success of the fair multi-party elections in Benin won praise internationally. Boni was reelected in 2011, taking 53.18% of the vote in the first round—enough to avoid a runoff election, becoming the first president to win an election without a runoff since the restoration of democracy in 1991.
Benin's politics take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, where the President of Benin is both head of state and head of government, within a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the legislature. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The political system is derived from the 1990 Constitution of Benin and the subsequent transition to democracy in 1991.
Benin scored highly in the 2009 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which comprehensively measures the state of governance across the continent. Benin was ranked 15th out of 53 African countries, and scored particularly well in the categories of Safety & Security and Participation & Human Rights.
In its 2007 Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Benin 53rd out of 169 countries.
Benin has been rated equal-88th out of 159 countries in a 2005 analysis of police, business and political corruption.
Departments and communes
Benin is divided into 12 departments (French: départements), and subdivided into 77 communes. In 1999, the previous six departments were each split into two halves, forming the current 12. The six new departments have not been assigned an official capital yet.[verification needed]
Benin, a narrow, north-south strip of land in west Africa, lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. Benin lies between latitudes 6° and 13°N, and longitudes 0° and 4°E. Benin is bounded by Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east, and the Bight of Benin to the south.
With an area of 112,622 km2 (43,484 sq mi), Benin extends from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, a distance of 650 km (404 mi). Although the coastline measures 121 km (75 mi) the country measures about 325 km (202 mi) at its widest point.
Benin shows little variation in elevation and can be divided into four areas from the south to the north, starting with the low-lying, sandy, coastal plain (highest elevation 10 m (32.8 ft)) which is, at most, 10 km (6.2 mi) wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons communicating with the ocean. Behind the coast lies the Guinean forest-savanna mosaic-covered plateaus of southern Benin (altitude between 20 and 200 m (66 and 656 ft)), which are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Oueme Rivers.
Then an area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 m (1,312 ft) extends around Nikki and Save. Finally, a range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo; this is the Atacora, with the highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 658 m (2,159 ft).
Benin has fields of lying fallow, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrubs and dotted with huge baobab trees. Some forests line the banks of rivers. In the north and the northwest of Benin the Reserve du W du Niger and Pendjari National Park attract tourists eager to see elephants, lions, antelopes, hippos, and monkeys. Historically Benin has served as habitat for the endangered Painted Hunting Dog, Lycaon pictus; however, this canid is thought to have been locally extirpated.
Benin's climate is hot and humid. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 1300 mm or about 51 inches. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons per year. The principal rainy season is from April to late July, with a shorter less intense rainy period from late September to November. The main dry season is from December to April, with a short cooler dry season from late July to early September. Temperatures and humidity are high along the tropical coast. In Cotonou, the average maximum temperature is 31 °C (87.8 °F); the minimum is 24 °C (75.2 °F).
Variations in temperature increase when moving north through a savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the Harmattan blows from December to March, during which grass dries up, the vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be overcast. It also is the season when farmers burn brush in the fields.
The economy of Benin is dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Cotton accounts for 40 percent of GDP and roughly 80 percent of official export receipts. Growth in real output has averaged around 5 percent in the past seven years, but rapid population growth has offset much of this increase. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. Benin uses the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro.
Benin’s economy has continued to strengthen over the past years, with real GDP growth estimated at 5.1 and 5.7 percent in 2008 and 2009, respectively. The main driver of growth is the agricultural sector, with cotton being the country’s main export, while services continue to contribute the largest part of GDP largely because of Benin’s geographical location, enabling trade, transportation, transit and tourism activities with its neighbouring states.
In order to raise growth still further, Benin plans to attract more foreign investment, place more emphasis on tourism, facilitate the development of new food processing systems and agricultural products, and encourage new information and communication technology. Projects to improve the business climate by reforms to the land tenure system, the commercial justice system, and the financial sector were included in Benin's US$307 million Millennium Challenge Account grant signed in February 2006.
The Paris Club and bilateral creditors have eased the external debt situation, with Benin benefiting from a G8 debt reduction announced in July 2005, while pressing for more rapid structural reforms. An insufficient electrical supply continues to adversely affect Benin's economic growth though the government recently has taken steps to increase domestic power production.
Although trade unions in Benin represent up to 75% of the formal workforce, the large informal economy has been noted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITCU) to contain ongoing problems, including a lack of women's wage equality, the use of child labour, and the continuing issue of forced labour.
Benin is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).
Cotonou harbors the country's only seaport and international airport. A new port is currently under construction between Cotonou and Porto Novo. Benin is connected by 2 lane asphalted roads to its neighboring countries (Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria). Mobile telephone service is available across the country through various operators. ADSL connections are available in some areas. Benin is connected to the Internet by way of satellite connections (since 1998) and a single submarine cable SAT-3/WASC (since 2001), keeping the price of data extremely high. Relief is expected with initiation of the Africa Coast to Europe cable in 2011.
Currently, about a third of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day.
The majority of Benin's population lives in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 59 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendi in the north-central area (they came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fula (French: Peul or Peulh; Fula: Fulɓe) in the northeast; the Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atacora Range; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.
Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin that include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European embassies and foreign aid missions and of nongovernmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large part of the 5500 European population. A small part of the European population consists of Beninese citizens of French ancestry, whose ancestors ruled Benin and left after independence.
During the 1980s, less than 30% of the population had access to primary health care services. Benin had one of the highest death rates for children under the age of five in the world. Its infant mortality rate stood at 203 deaths for every 1000 live births. Only one in three mothers had access to child health care services. The Bamako Initiative changed that dramatically by introducing community-based health care reform, resulting in more efficient and equitable provision of services. A comprehensive approach strategy was extended to all areas of health care, with subsequent improvement in the health care indicators and improvement in health care efficiency and cost. Demographic and Health Surveys has completed three surveys in Benin since 1996.
Beninese literature had a strong oral tradition long before French became the dominant language. Felix Couchoro wrote the first Beninese novel, L'Esclave in 1929.
Post-independence, the country was home to a vibrant and innovative music scene, where native folk music combined with Ghanaian highlife, French cabaret, American rock, funk and soul, and Congolese rumba.
Singer Angélique Kidjo and actor Djimon Hounsou were both born in Cotonou, Benin. Composer Wally Badarou and singer Gnonnas Pedro are also of Beninese descent.
Biennale Benin, continuing the projects of several organizations and artists started in the country in 2010 as a collaborative event called "Regard Benin". In 2012, the project become a Biennial coordinated by the Consortium, a federation of local associations. The international exhibition and artistic program of the 2012 Biennale Benin is curated by Abdellah Karroum and the Curatorial Delegation.
Many Beninois in the south of the country have Akan-based names indicating the day of the week on which they were born. This is due to influence of the Akan people likely the Akwamu and others.
Local languages are used as the languages of instruction in elementary schools, with French only introduced after several years. In wealthier cities, however, French is usually taught at an earlier age. Beninese languages are generally transcribed with a separate letter for each speech sound (phoneme), rather than using diacritics as in French or digraphs as in English. This includes Beninese Yoruba, which in Nigeria is written with both diacritics and digraphs. For instance, the mid vowels written é è, ô, o in French are written e, ɛ, o, ɔ in Beninese languages, whereas the consonants written ng and sh or ch in English are written ŋ and c. However, digraphs are used for nasal vowels and the labial-velar consonants kp and gb, as in the name of the Fon language Fon gbe /fõ ɡ͡be/, and diacritics are used as tone marks. In French-language publications, a mixture of French and Beninese orthographies may be seen.
Celestial Church of Christ baptism in Cotonou. Five percent of Benin's population belongs to the Celestial Church of Christ, an African Initiated Church.
In the 2010 census, 27.2% of the population of Benin were Christian (7.1% Roman Catholic, 5% Celestial Church of Christ, 3.2% Methodist, 7.5% other Christian denominations), 24.4% were Muslim, 17.3% practiced Vodun, 6% other traditional local religious groups, 1.9% other religious groups, and 6.5% claim no religious affiliation.
Indigenous religions include local animistic religions in the Atakora (Atakora and Donga provinces) and Vodun and Orisha or Orisa veneration among the Yoruba and Tado peoples in the center and south of the country. The town of Ouidah on the central coast is the spiritual center of Beninese Vodun.
The major introduced religions are Christianity, followed throughout the south and center of Benin and in Otammari country in the Atakora, and Islam, introduced by the Songhai Empire and Hausa merchants, and now followed throughout Alibori, Borgou, and Donga provinces, as well as among the Yoruba (who also follow Christianity). Many, however, continue to hold Vodun and Orisha beliefs and have incorporated the pantheon of Vodun and Orisha into Christianity. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect originating in the 19th century is also present, in a significant minority.
The literacy rate in Benin is among the lowest in the world: in 2002 it was estimated to be 34.7% (47.9% for males and 23.3% for females). Although at one time the education system was not free, Benin has abolished school fees and is carrying out the recommendations of its 2007 Educational Forum.
Beninese cuisine is known in Africa for its exotic ingredients and flavorful dishes. Beninese cuisine involves lots of fresh meals served with a variety of sauces. In southern Benin cuisine, the most common ingredient is corn, often used to prepare dough which is mainly served with peanut- or tomato-based sauces. Fish and chicken are the most common meats used in southern Beninese cuisine, but beef, goat, and bush rat are also consumed. The main staple in northern Benin is yams, often served with sauces mentioned above. The population in the northern provinces use beef and pork meat which is fried in palm or peanut oil or cooked in sauces. Cheese is used in some dishes. Couscous, rice, and beans are commonly eaten, along with fruits such as mangoes, oranges, avocados, bananas, kiwi fruit, and pineapples.
Meat is usually quite expensive, and meals are generally light on meat and generous on vegetable fat. Frying in palm or peanut oil is the most common meat preparation, and smoked fish is commonly prepared in Benin. Grinders are used to prepare corn flour, which is made into a dough and served with sauces. "Chicken on the spit" is a traditional recipe in which chicken is roasted over fire on wooden sticks. Palm roots are sometimes soaked in a jar with saltwater and sliced garlic to tenderize them, then used in dishes. Many people have outdoor mud stoves for cooking.
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