In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Benin (Dahomey)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Anthropology/Ethnology
  • Benin in Global Affairs
  • Economy
  • Agriculture
  • Gender
  • Popular Culture/Arts (Film and Music)

African Studies Benin (Dahomey)
Mathurin C. Houngnikpo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0173


Benin is the site of the former West African kingdom of Dahomey that gained prominence around 1600. The kingdom became a regional power for the following two-and-a-half centuries, thanks to its central role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Having conquered Allada in 1724, and the port city of Whydah (Ouidah) in 1727, the kingdom of Dahomey gained direct access to the European market. To maintain its status as a major power to reckon with in the region, Dahomey engaged in slave trade to get more guns. Very soon, growing military power and the refusal to curtail the slave trade would put Dahomey and European powers at loggerheads. Both the British, from their protectorate in Lagos (Nigeria), and the French vowed to defeat Dahomey, and the repudiation of the treaty ceding Cotonou to the French became the bone of contention that flared up a serious conflict between France and Dahomey. From the early days of the kingdom of Dahomey (1600–1894) to a Colony of France (1894–1960) to the Republic of Dahomey (1960–1975) to contemporary Benin, the country went through various fortunes and misfortunes. After several years of wars and confrontation with French colonialism, Dahomey gained its independence in 1960, only to plunge into a period of instability and military coups. Faced with dire economic, political, and social conditions, Benin had to convene in 1990 a national conference tasked with drafting a new chapter in Benin’s history. Ever since, the country has been on a democratic path struggling with problems inherent in a nascent democracy. After an early dearth of scholarly work in the English language mainly because of the country’s “Francophoness,” the quantity and quality of the literature on Dahomey/Benin has greatly increased in recent decades, not only in English but also in other languages. There are nowadays several materials in different languages authored by scholars who chronicle daily life and depict political, economic, and social situations of the small country in West Africa. Because of its active role in the world economy throughout the era of mercantile and industrial capitalism, beginning as an exporter of slaves and becoming an exporter of plain oil and palm kernels, Dahomey became the rallying point of many explorers and missionaries, either in search of fame, glory, and God or out of sheer curiosity. The bulk of research and books on Dahomey/Benin emerged first out of such foreign visitors’ journals and memories. For the academic community, Benin has a great deal to offer. Researchers can access several books and volumes that have elucidated topics and areas previously unexplored. There are probably more works on Benin in French, but there are a variety of works in English as well.

General Overviews

These sources, updated regularly, provide information on Benin’s political and economic affairs. Lansford 2013 offers insight into contemporary political affairs. Both Central Intelligence Agency 2013 and Youngblood-Coleman 2011 are good sources on population, government, and economy, along with other basic data. Economist Intelligence Unit: Country Report Benin provides information on economic issues, as does World Bank 2014. United Nations Development Program 2014 uses a broad range of social and economic indicators to assess the condition of the population.

  • Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook: Benin. The World Factbook 2013–14. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2013.

    A reliable source for basic information on the economy, geography, and the current government in Benin.

  • Economist Intelligence Unit: Country Report Benin.

    A regularly updated and useful resource for general information on Benin and detailed information on the economy.

  • Lansford, Tom, ed. “Benin.” In Political Handbook of the World. Edited by Tom Lansford, 141–147. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press, 2013.

    Provides basic facts about the country, detailed background information on Benin’s history, government and politics, and political parties.

  • United Nations Development Program. Human Development Index: Benin 2014. 2014.

    Reviews human development trends by factoring in such social indicators as life expectancy at birth, education, health, literacy, and gender participation as well as national income and economic growth.

  • World Bank. The World Bank Development Report 2014. 2014.

    Provides an overview of the economy and current development challenges with current available data.

  • Youngblood-Coleman, Denise. Country Review: Benin. CountryWatch Profiles: Benin 2011.

    This piece provides concise, up-to-date political, economic, social, and environmental information on Benin.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.