The Port of Cotonou is Benin’s de facto capital, economic hub, and biggest urban center. Its natural deep water harbor supports brewing, textile, and palm-oil processing industries. Located on the Africa west coast, it is home to the country’s political leadership and over 700 thousand people.
Cotonou means “mouth of the river of death” in the language of the Fon. Early in the 19th Century, the Port of Cotonou was a simple fishing village. The French established a trading post there in 1851 and signed a treaty with the Dahomean King Ghezo in 1868 that gave them title to the area. In 1883, their navy took the city to stop British conquest. In the late 1800s, the Port of Cotonou grew to be the biggest harbor in this region of Africa.
The country of Benin was formed in 1972 when it split from the Republic of Dahomey. Initially a Marxist republic, an economic crisis led to dropping communism in favor of parliamentary capitalism in the late 1980s. In 1991, free elections resulted in the President stepping down peacefully – the first black President to do so in all of Africa. Benin’s successful fair multiple-party elections have given it a reputation as a model democracy for Africa.
Containing two-thirds of Benin’s industries and headquarters for the country’s large companies and banks, the Port of Cotonou is a market town facilitating trade for landlocked countries in Africa’s Saharan interior with a free trade zone in the city’s center. It is also an automotive center, bringing European brands to the country. With manufacturing plants for bicycles and vehicles, the city also hosts several sawmills. Other manufactured goods are palm oil and cakes, textiles, and cement. Major exports include bauxite, iron, and petroleum products.