Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, was one of the first countries in the 1990s to successfully effect the transition from dictatorship to a pluralistic political system. Today, it is one of the most stable countries in Africa.
In the 15th century, the Obas single rulers brought great prosperity and a highly organised state to Benin. They also established good relations and an extensive trade, which included slaves with the Portuguese and Dutch, who arrived from the 15th century onwards.
The decline of the Obas began in the 18th century, when a series of internal power struggles began, which lasted into the 19th century, paving the way for the French takeover and colonisation of the country in 1872. In 1904, the territory was incorporated into French West Africa as Dahomey. On 4 December 1958, it became the Republique du Dahomey, self governing within the French community, and gained full independence from France on 1 August 1960.
Between 1960 and 1972, a succession of military coups brought about many changes of Government; the last of these brought to power Major Mathieu Kerekou. The new ruler, who was at the head of a regime professing strict Marxist Leninist principles, remained in power until the beginning of the 1990s, when, with French encouragement, the Kerekou Government introduced a new democratic constitution and held presidential and legislative elections. Although defeated in the 1991 elections, he made a comeback in 1996.
Although Benin has seen economic growth over the past few years and has a high standing with the international community, it remains among the worlds poorest countries. Within West Africa, Benin enjoys stable relations with Nigeria, the main regional power. The only significant problem has been a long running border dispute with Benins northern neighbour, Niger, over ownership of islands in the Niger River. This was finally resolved by the International Court of Justice in July 2005, which awarded 16 islands to Niger and nine to Benin. Both countries accepted the ruling.
Although no security issues exist in Benin, there are occasional incidents of mugging and personal assault in Cotonou and some armed robberies have been reported in other areas, notably the border area with Nigeria. Travellers are advised to be vigilant. Medical facilities are also poor in Benin, particularly in rural areas and travellers are advised to have comprehensive travel and medical insurance, which covers a provision for medical evacuation.
Visit the museum in Abomey, situated about 100km northeast of the capital Porto Novo. The museum covers the history of the Abomey kingdoms and contains a throne made of human skulls. You can also pay a visit to the Fetish Temple and the nearby Centre Artisanal where local craft products are sold at reasonable prices.