Numerous ethnic groups, culturally and linguistically different from each other, as well as for somatic characteristics, inhabit the country. The distribution of the population is also very varied. The greatest concentrations occur in the South, in relation both to the wider agricultural possibilities and to the centuries-old process of densification triggered by the commercial activities promoted by colonialism and related urbanism. In the southern section live the predominant ethnic groups, the fon (39.2%), heirs of the kingdom of Abomey, and the Yoruba (12.3%), who came from Nigeria but largely settled in the country. The central section of the country hosts populations of adja (15.2%) who ethnically represent the link between fon and Guineans in general and Sudanese people, while in the North, alongside various and consistent Sudanese groups, such as the bariba (9 , 2%), groups of fulbe survive (7%) and paleonegritic residual tribes such as the somba dell’Atacora, farmers settled in their curious fortresses (sukala). Another fairly consistent group is that of the houeda (8.5%); other ethnic groups make up 8.6%. With an average of 78 residents / km² (which becomes more than double in the provinces of Atlantique and Ouémé), according to threergroup, Benin is one of the most densely populated countries in West Africa, despite the very serious shortcomings in the field of health and health care in general. The rapid demographic growth poses major problems to the state and there is a consistent emigration to Ghana (while Nigeria has closed its borders). The urban population is increasing: at the beginning of the year 2000, over a third of the residents live in cities; the main ones are located near the coast and have developed mainly thanks to port functions. Cotonou, enhanced by the construction of a modern port, is the main and liveliest city, seat of the most important economic activities. Porto-Novo, the capital, has remained the city it once was, with its old African style urbanism. At the edge of the coastal plain is Abomey, whose history is linked to the ancient kingdom of the fon; in the center of the country is Parakou, an important agricultural market and terminus of the railway, while in the North new cities are taking shape: the main ones, including Kandi, are located on the great meridian road that connects Cotonou to Niger.
Along the waterways there is the gallery forest. In the central part of the country the wooded savannah predominates, while in the northern part that of the Sudanese-Guinean type, usually grassy, often devastated by fires started by the natives to make way for agricultural activities. In the savannah, which is covered by a carpet of grasses, deciduous shrubs are found interspersed with isolated trees such as acacias, palms, xerophytes and baobabs. In the southern area the oil palm dominates, which in Benin covers vast areas and represents an example of the transformation of the virgin forest into a secondary forest by man. The wildlife has numerous varieties especially in the northern part of the country, which has its best preserved area, from a naturalistic point of view, around Atakora, to the west of which one of the two national parks of the country extends, that of Pendjari. which is home to the African mammals characteristic of the savannas: giraffes, buffaloes, elephants, antelopes, warthogs and carnivores such as the lion, the leopard and the cheetah. However, the necessary control of the protected areas that suffer the devastation of the undergrowth is not always carried out; the latter, due to fires, uncontrolled land occupation and illegal cutting down of natural vegetation, is giving way to the savannah. The percentage of protected areas reaches 22.6% of the entire territory.
Towards the end of the 17th century, the kingdom of the Fon, whose starting point and center was the city of Abomey, gained strength. The kings of this empire gained monopoly in the slave trade; in the process, they delivered slaves to European traders (Portuguese, British, French) in exchange for firearms, which they had stolen in the vicinity of their territory. When Great Britain and France stopped the slave trade after 1815, King Ghezo (1818–58) reorganized his empire (Danxome) and made it economically v. a. to trade in palm oil. He shook the sovereignty of the King (Alafin) of Oyo (Yoruba) and concluded a trade treaty with France in 1851. In 1863 France placed the dominion of Porto Novo (Hogbonou) with King Toffa at its head under its protectorate and in 1892 subjugated the Danxome Empire under King Béhanzin (* 1844, † 1906), until 1898 then the entire hinterland up to the Niger River. The French government incorporated the area of the current state of Benin under the name Dahomey into the colonial area of French West Africa. Since the population quickly took up French schooling, Dahomey was considered in the later colonial era as the Latin quarter of Black Africa, which also provided administrative staff for other French colonies.
In the course of the decolonization of Africa, the Dahomey area was given internal autonomy as a republic in 1957, and state independence in 1960. The first state president of the country was 1960–63 Hubert Maga (* 1916, † 2000). Regional and ethnopolitical conflicts, especially a pronounced north-south contrast, determined the development of the new state for a long time. After a rapid succession of coups (since 1963) and new governments, M. Kérékou asserted himself, which also came to power in a coup in 1972. On November 30, 1975, he proclaimed the People’s Republic of Benin and initiated a Marxist-Leninist policy without loosening his country’s close ties to France and the EC. As an ideological platform and unity party, he founded the Parti de la Révolution Populaire du Bénin (PRPB; German Revolutionary People’s Party of Benin). The expulsion of over 100,000 Beniners from Nigeria (1983) and the closure of the Nigerian border with Benin (1984) put the country in severe economic distress, which was exacerbated by the rapidly growing deficits in the state budget.
Mass protests in the years 1989/90, especially by civil servants and students, who initially only complained about their outstanding salaries and scholarships, finally led to the convening of a national conference, the abandonment of Marxism-Leninism and the peaceful introduction of a multi-party system.