Official name: Republic of Benin
Area: 112,620 square kilometers (43,483 square miles)
Highest point on mainland : Mount Sokbaro (658 meters/2,159 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres : Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 1 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 333 kilometers (207 miles) from east to west; 665 kilometers (413 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries : 1,236 kilometers (1,989 miles) total boundary length; Burkina Faso, 306 kilometers (190 miles); Niger, 266 kilometers (165 miles); Nigeria, 773 kilometers (480 miles); Togo, 644 kilometers (400 miles)
Coastline: 121 kilometers (75 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Formerly a French colony known as Dahomey, Benin is a small country on the coast of West Africa, between Togo and Nigeria. It is bounded on the north by the Niger River and on the south by the Bight of Benin, which forms part of the Gulf of Guinea. Benin has an area of 112,620 square kilometers (43,483 square miles), or slightly less land than the state of Pennsylvania.
Benin has no outside territories or dependencies.
Southern Benin, which lies near the equator, has a hot, humid, tropical climate, with average temperatures around 27°C (80°F). The north has a semiarid climate with greater variability, ranging from 13°C (56°F) in June to 40°C (104°F) in January. Southern Benin has two rainy seasons: one from March to July, and another between September and November. The hot, dry harmattan wind blows during the dry season. Average annual rainfall is highest (135 centimeters/53 inches) in the central part of the country and lower in the north (97 centimeters/38 inches). The driest part of Benin is the southwest, which averages just 82 centimeters (32 inches) of rain per year.
From south to north, Benin's major regions consist of a coastal belt that includes sand-banks and lagoons; a savannah-covered clay plateau; and, in the northern two-thirds of the country, a higher plateau region that includes the Atakora Mountains and the Niger Plains. A large swampy depression called the Lama Marsh extends across the plateau region.
The North Atlantic Ocean lies to the south of Benin.
Benin's coastal belt includes four lagoons (Grand Popo, Ouidah, Cotonou, and Porto Novo).
The sandbanks that form part of the country's shoreline impede access to the ocean, however.
The coast of Benin lies on a wide bay in the Gulf of Guinea called the Bight of Benin.
Benin has no islands.
Benin has no natural harbors.
Benin's principal lake is Lake Ahémé, in the southern part of the country.
Most of Benin's rivers flow in a north-south direction. Benin's longest river is the Niger River, which forms part of its border with Niger in the northeast and is navigable for 89 kilometers (55 miles) in Benin. The longest river located entirely within Benin's borders is the Ouémé, which is 459 kilometers (285 miles) long. It flows southward through about two-thirds of Benin. The rivers in the north, including the Alibori, the Mékrou, and the Sota, drain into the Niger. To the southwest, the Mono River forms part of the border with Togo.
Benin has no significant desert regions.
The low-lying coastal plain is flat and sandy.
The area of low precipitation in southwest Benin—a dramatic exception to the high rainfall elsewhere in this tropical region—is called the "Benin window." It is thought to have resulted from the destruction of the native rainforest.
The Atakora Mountains extend northeast to southwest across the plateau of Upper Benin in the northwestern part of the country. They rise to elevations of 300 to 600 meters (1,000 to 2,000 feet). Heavily forested, they belong to the same system as the Togo Mountains to the south.
There are no notable caves or canyons in Benin.
North of the coastal region, 90 to 230 meters (300 to 750 feet) above sea level, lies a belt of the fertile, savannah-covered clay plateau called terre de barre , composed of lateritic clay (clay made from decayed rock) and bisected by the swampy Lama Marsh. The granite and gneiss tablelands of Upper Benin are farther north; these are traversed northeast to southwest by the Atakora Mountains.
The Nangbeto Dam is located on the Mono River, a waterway that comprises part of the border between Benin and Togo. The dam restricts the flow of the Mono River, and it also retains sediment that would be carried to the mouth of the river. Erosion along the coast may be traced to the existence of this dam.
Chatwin, Bruce. The Viceroy of Ouidah. New York: Summit Books, 1980.
Eades, J. S., and Chris Allen. Benin . Santa Barbara, CA: CLIO Press, 1996.
Manning, Patrick. Slavery, Colonialism, and Economic Growth in Dahomey,
1640-1960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.