Famous for agriculture, Benin is filled with diverse ethnic groups cutting across the country. After it gained independence from France in 1960, this small West African country is estimated to have around 10.87 million people by the 2016 population census.
Even though its official language is French, languages such as Fon and Yoruba continue to be widely spoken. Its largest religious group is Roman Catholicism followed by Islam, Vodun and Protestantism. With an area of 114,763 square kilometres (44,310 sq mi), it is bordered by Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger.
This small West African country also has famous people who are raising the flag of their country on the world stage.
These are a few icons from Benin that are changing the world.
Djimon Hounsou – Actor
Djimon Gaston Hounsou is a Beninese-born American actor and model. As an actor, Hounsou has been nominated for two Academy Awards. He began his career appearing in music videos and has gained widespread recognition as one of the best black actors in Hollywood. He has featured in top blockbuster movies like Gladiator, In America, Blood Diamond, Guardian of the Galaxy and Fast and Furious.
He moved to the United States in 1990.
Coffi Codjia – Football Referee
Born in 1967, Coffi Codjia has defiled all the odds and has risen through the ranks to become a FIFA World Cup referee. He officiated the World Cup in 2002 and 2006, the FIFA Confederations Cup in 1999 and 2003 and the African Cup of Nations in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 in which he was the referee for the final.
Codjia was indefinitely suspended by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for not taking action against Algeria’s Fawzi Chaouchi, who appeared to head-butt him in a semi-final of 2010 African Cup of Nations semi-final game against Egypt. Chaouchi, who was later sent off for a second bookable offence, received a three-match ban by CAF for the headbutt.
Angélique Kidjo – Musician
Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, commonly known as Angélique Kidjo, this Beninese is a proud daughter of the continent. She is noted for her diverse musical influence and creative videos which have landed her a Grammy Award. Time Magazine has called her “Africa’s premier diva”. The BBC has included Kidjo in its list of the African continent’s 50 most iconic figures.
The Guardian has listed her as one of their Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World and Kidjo is the first woman to be listed among “The 40 Most Powerful Celebrities In Africa” by Forbes Magazine.
Olympe Bhely-Quenum – Author
Olympe Bhêly-Quénum is a Beninese writer, journalist and magazine editor. Born in Ouidah, Benin, Bhêly-Quénum had his primary education in Benin from 1938 to 1944. He worked shortly as a teacher and trained as a diplomat before venturing into journalism. He is the nephew of anthropologist Maximilien Quenum-Possy-Berry.
Mathieu Gnanligo – Athlete
Gnanligo is a Beninese sprinter who specialises in the 400 meters. With a personal best time of 45.88 seconds at the 2008 African Championships in Addis Ababa, he has not relented in his accolades, winning the bronze medal at the 2007 All-African Games. He also competed at the 2007 World Championships and the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
A native of Benin, Samuel Bilehou Joseph Oshoffa was the founder of the Celestial Church of Christ after reportedly resurrecting people from the dead. He founded the church in 1947 after being lost for three months near Porto-Novo in Benin.
The church now has its main offices in Nigeria. Five per cent, or 400,000, of the 8,000,000 people of Benin are Celestial Christians. Oshoffa was reported to have had 34 wives and 150 children when he died in 1985.