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Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:03 PM

Benin, a narrow, north-south strip of land in West Africa, lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. Benin is bordered by Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east, and the Bight of Benin to the south.

With an area of 112,622 square kilometers, roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Benin extends from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, a distance of 700 kilometers (about 500 miles). Although the coastline measures 121 kilometers (about 80 miles), the country measures about 325 kilometers (about 215 miles) at its widest east-west point. It is one of the smaller countries in West Africa: 8 times smaller than Nigeria, its neighbor to the east. It is, however, twice as large as Togo, its neighbor to the west. A relief map of Benin shows that it has little variation in elevation (average elevation 200 meters). The country can be divided into four main areas from the south to the north. The low-lying, sandy, coastal plain (highest elevation 10 meters) is, at most, 10 kilometers wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons communicating with the ocean. The plateaus of southern Benin — between 20 and 200 meters in altitude — are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Oueme Rivers. An area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 meters extends around Nikki and Save. Finally, a range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo: this is the Atacora, with the highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 658 meters.

Two types of landscape predominate in the south. Benin has fields of lying fallow, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrubs and dotted with huge baobab trees. Some forests line the banks of rivers. In the north and the northwest of Benin the Reserve du W du Niger and Pendjari National Park attract tourists eager to see elephants, lions, antelopes, hippos, and monkeys. Benin's climate is hot and humid.

Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 36 centimeters (14 inches), not particularly high for coastal West Africa. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons. The principal rainy season is from April to late July, with a shorter less intense rainy period from late September to November. The main dry season is from December to April with a short cooler dry season from late July to early September.

Temperatures and humidity are high along the tropical coast. In Cotonou, the average maximum temperature is 31°C (89°F); the minimum is 24°C (75°F). Variations in temperature increase when moving north through a savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the harmattan blows from December to March. Grass dries up, the vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be overcast.

Population Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:04 PM

The majority of Benin’s 6.59 million people live in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 50 years.

About 42 ethnic groups live in this country: these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include: the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); Dendi in the north-central area (from Mali in the 16th century); Bariba and the Fulbe (Peul) in the northeast; Betammaribe and the Somba in the Atacora Range; Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central region; and Mina, Xuda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.

French, the official language, is spoken more in urban than in rural areas. Benin’s literacy rate is 52.2% for adult males and 23.6% for adult females, and is slowly growing.

Recent migrations have brought other African Nationals to Benin: Nigerians, Togolese, Malians, etc. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade. The personnel of the many European Embassies and Foreign Aid Missions and of non-governmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large number of the 5,500-person European population.

Several religions are practiced in Benin. Animism is widespread (50%), and its practices vary from one ethnic group to the other. Arab merchants introduced Islam in the north of Benin, and European missionaries brought Christianity to the south and central regions. Moslems account for about 20% of the population and Christians for roughly 30%. Many Moslems and Christians continue also to practice animistic traditions. It is believed that voodoo originated in Benin and was introduced to Brazil and the Caribbean Islands by slaves taken from this area of the Slave Coast.

Public Institutions Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:05 PM

Following independence in 1960, Benin (then Dahomey) passed through a succession of governments that ended with a military takeover in 1972. Marxism-Leninism was declared the official ideology in 1974, and a single political party, which came to dominate all aspects of Beninese public life, was established. Major businesses, including banks, were nationalized. East bloc countries became the focus of Benin’s foreign policy. The collapse of all state-owned banks and an increasing economic crisis led to the convening of a national conference in 1990.

That conference, which included representatives from all segments of society, repudiated Marxism and created a transition government with a mandate to draft a new constitution based on multiparty democracy. The national conference was later imitated as an organ of change in many African countries. After adoption of a new constitution, multiparty democratic elections for the National Assembly and the Presidency were held in 1991. Nicephore Soglo defeated the incumbent, Mattieu Kerekou, in Presidential elections, which were recognized as free and fair by international observers, and Benin became the first African country to replace a leader installed by coup d’etat by the power of the ballot box. President Kerekou returned to power after the 1996 presidential elections and was returned for a second, five-year mandate in March 2001.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:06 PM

Museums in Porto-Novo, Abomey, and Ouidah feature Beninese culture and history. Porto-Novo has a small ethnographic museum displaying artifacts, and the best collection of masks and statues is found there. At the Honm Palace, the curator will brief you on the history of the Porto-Novo kings and the colonial period. The Portuguese slave fort in Ouidah has been restored and can be visited. A visit of the palace grounds at Abomey, the capital of the former Dahomean Kingdom, is highly informative. Artisans weave or forge and sell their crafts within the courtyard.

Contemporary artists specialize in stylized cast-bronze figurines and applique wall hangings. They are beautiful, inexpensive, and of good quality. African art objects from Benin and neighboring countries are sold at several ONATHO (Office National du Tourisme et Hotellerie) shops in hotels. Outlets located at tourist attractions and the Hall de l’Artisanat in Cotonou where craftsmen such as weavers and metal smiths will also fill orders for you. Bargaining is expected.

The American Cultural Center has an Information Resource Center (IRC) containing about 5,000 books, 55% in English and 45% in French, and subscribes to many magazines and journals in English and French. The IRC also has new sections such as the Commercial Library for businesspersons and the Cyber Cafe for training and research purposes. The American Cultural Center’s English-language program has an enrollment of 667 students. “The Jim Lehrer Newshour” is shown every Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. It also hosts shows by international performers several times a year.

The French Cultural Center in Cotonou has a large French-language library and offers a variety of classes for children and adults, including French-language instruction, computer science, arts, and sports. French and African artists exhibit their work regularly at the Center. Musical and dramatic performances and French films are shown in an outdoor theater and attract large crowds.

Benin has a total of four indoor movie theaters. Of these, three are in Cotonou, and one is in Porto-Novo. They feature international movies dubbed in French. Cotonou also boasts several video clubs offering a wide variety of films mainly in French, with a few in English with French subtitles. These are, however, in SECAM format and require a SECAM or multisystem VCR.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:07 PM

Benin’s economy is chiefly based on agriculture. Cotton is the principal cash crop, accounting for about 40 percent of GDP and 80 percent of official export earnings. Other export items include textiles, palm products, and cocoa. Corn, beans, rice, peanuts, cashews, pineapples, cassava, yams, and other various tubers are grown for local subsistence. A modest fishing fleet provides fish and shrimp for local subsistence and export to Europe. Benin began producing a modest quantity of oil offshore in October 1982, but subsequently shut down those fields. New offshore exploration is ongoing. Several formerly government-owned enterprises have been privatized. A French brewer, for example, acquired the former state-run brewery. The Government of Benin is also considering privatizing its electricity and telecommunication companies, as well as the port of Cotonou. Smaller businesses are privately owned by Beninese citizens, but some firms are foreign owned, primarily French and Lebanese. The private commercial and agricultural sectors remain the principal contributors to growth, including the transshipment of used cars imported into the port of Cotonou and re-exported, mainly to Nigeria.


Automobiles Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:08 PM

Shipment of a foreign-made, foreign-purchased vehicle is authorized. Most Europeans and Americans drive small European or Japanese cars. New or used vehicles can be purchased duty free locally. Avoid bringing vehicles with fuel-injection engines or computerized/digital controls, as such features are difficult to repair. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are useful when traveling in the country, especially to the game parks in the north, but not essential to drive between major cities or within Cotonou. The following dealers operate here: Peugeot, Citroen, Renault, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, and Mercedes-Benz.

U.S. Government employees can purchase duty-free leaded gasoline at the Embassy’s gas station. All vehicles should be furnished with two triangles (an early warning device, or EWD), one fire extinguisher, and one first-aid case. An international driver’s license, which must be renewed annually, can be obtained at AAA in the U.S. and at some American insurance companies. All vehicles must have third-party insurance purchased locally. Many personnel carry an all-risk policy with an American insurance company. A Beninese driver’s license is not necessary.

Ship your vehicle well in advance, as transit times can be lengthy. At the end of your stay, and with the permission of the Beninese Government, you may sell your car to another person with duty-free status. Cars may be sold to non-diplomats, but the seller must maintain control of the car until tax and custom formalities are completed.

Local Transportation Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:08 PM

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets often consist of deeply potholed dirt. Cotonou has no public transportation system. Most Beninese rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemi-jahns, which are moped taxis. All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemi-jahns. Buses and bush taxis offer service in-country. Traffic moves on the right, as in the U.S. Driving in and around Cotonou can be hazardous. Local cars and trucks lack proper lights and efficient brakes.

A railroad line connects Cotonou with Parakou, a large city in the north, but train service is extremely slow and not recommended. Bush taxis ply the roads throughout the country, but most Embassy personnel drive their own personally owned vehicles or use Embassy vehicles when traveling in the countryside.

Regional Transportation Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:09 PM

Following the bankruptcies in late 2001 of Sabena (Belgium) and Air Afrique, only Air France, at present, provides regular international air service to Europe from Cotonou-although a restart of service by Air Afrique and other carriers is possible. Automobile roads to Lome, Accra, Lagos, and Niamey are serviceable.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:09 PM

There are occasional telephone service interruptions during the rainy seasons when water often seeps into underground lines and switching equipment. Embassy personnel can direct dial from their homes. The Embassy has two IVG lines that allow toll-free calls to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The local telephone company currently does not allow use of a calling card from a separate long-distance carrier. Long-distance charges to the U.S. are about US$3 a minute.

Wireless Service Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:09 PM Cellular phones are available in Cotonou from several operators and are often more reliable than landlines. Benin uses the GSM 900 network. If planning on using a cell phone at post, it is best to purchase the phone in Benin, since most U.S. phones are incompatible with the local system.

Internet Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:10 PM

There are several internet service providers in Cotonou. Price is 12,500 cfa (about US$17) per month, plus any charges for local calls. Connection is usually sluggish, and lines are often busy during afternoon business hours. It is a good idea to purchase modem surge protectors, electrical surge protectors, a voltage regulator, and a separate transformer if bringing a personal computer to post. The Embassy has several computers connected to the internet for official use. Home internet users should note that local calls are charged 66 cfa per minute between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:10 PM

The Department of State dispatches air pouches to Cotonou several times weekly. First-class mail from the U.S. takes about two weeks to arrive. Outgoing first-class mail usually reaches its U.S. destination in less than 2 weeks. Unfortunately, the mail service can be unpredictable.

Personnel should address their mail as follows:

(Name) Department of State 2120 Cotonou Place Washington, D.C. 20521–2120

Letters, personally recorded audiocassettes and videocassettes, and items purchased at post weighing 2 pounds or less may be sent from post. Envelopes containing items other than letters must be clearly labeled. No boxes may be sent from post to the U.S., except for prescription eyeglasses, orthopedic devices, and merchandise from mail orders that is unsatisfactory. Employees must affix postage to the returned mail-order item, and the original envelope or box must be used and be clearly labeled as to the contents therein.

Incoming surface-to-air packages are limited to 40 pounds and cannot exceed 24 inches in length and 62 inches in length and girth combined. No aerosols, alcoholic beverages, ammunition, controlled or illegal substances, corrosives, currency, explosives, firearms, flammable film, glass containers, incendiary materials, liquids or magnetic materials can be sent to or from the U.S. through the mail or pouch. The Department of State does not accept certified, insured, registered or special delivery.

The international mailing address for Benin is:

(Name) Ambassade Americaine Rue Caporal Bernard Anani 01 B.P. 2012 Cotonou, Rep. du Benin

Radio and TV Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:11 PM

Benin has a wide variety of radio stations. Three are national radio stations, one in Cotonou and the other in Parakou; the third is the Atlantic FM. Also, six community radio and eight commercial private radio stations are broadcast within Benin. The three national stations are both owned and operated by the national government. Beninese radio broadcasts a wide range of programs in French and eight national languages. Golfe FM and Radio Carrefour Bohicon are new Voice of America (VOA) partners and broadcast VOA programming 5 hours a week. Some programs broadcast in English. The broadcasts of Radio France International (RFI) can be received on the FM band within a 50-mile radius of Cotonou (90.0). BBC broadcasts in English and French on 101.7 FM. A short-wave radio is useful for receiving VOA and other foreign broadcasts.

Benin has two TV stations. ORTB is owned by the national government. It offers a wide variety of programs, some locally produced and some originating from France. In 1990, a satellite antenna was installed at Television Benin by CANAL France International to enable French TV programs to be received live and retransmitted. AFN is accessible to American Embassy employees, and cable and satellite dish services are available as well. LC2 is a second, privately owned television station that broadcasts 24 hours a day.

The media has set the tone for the national reform movement in Benin. Although the national government claims the right to censor concerned materials when matters of national interest are involved, in practice, there is little or no censorship. Beninese journalists frequently engage in investigative reporting, although their efforts to do so are limited by budgetary constraints. In Cotonou alone, there are about a dozen daily newspapers. Journalistic standards remain low, but overall the media does a good job of keeping the populace informed and of conducting an ongoing debate on the country’s political and economic future. The press does not hesitate to criticize public figures, for example, including the President.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:13 PM

The ICASS-operated Medical Unit serves the official American community. It is located in the Embassy Annex. The staff consists of a Canadian-registered nurse and a Liberian medical doctor, both of whose professional competency have been reviewed by the State Department Regional Medical Officer in Lagos. The Medical Unit treats day-to-day medical problems, provides immunizations, conducts primary health education, refers and liaisons with local health providers, arranges medevacs abroad, updates official employees with current medical information, and conducts health inspections of the Embassy’s cafeteria. Most laboratory work is done at the Peace Corps medical unit in Cotonou.

Bring a good supply of first-aid items, sunscreen, and insect repellants. If you are on any long-term maintenance medications (BCP, Vitamins, Antihypertensive, etc.), bring enough to last your tour. Ship liquid medications in your household effects (HHE), since the pouch cannot be used for liquids. Bring your favorite brands of over-the-counter medicines and basic health care products, as they are usually not available here. Local patent medicines are usually of French manufacture.

Specialists in Cotonou are available from time to time, but English-speaking doctors are hard to find. Emergency dental care is available in Cotonou or in Lome, but most restorative work must be done in Europe. Have all your routine dental care done before coming to post.

Bring your medical records from previous post or the U.S. and any prescriptions and medication prescribed for special or chronic conditions.

Two small private clinics may be used for emergency surgery and X-rays. Serious medical problems are medevaced to Europe.

Community Health Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:14 PM

The most common health problems in Benin include malaria, dysentery, hepatitis, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, skin diseases, and various intestinal parasites. Observing proper precautionary sanitary measures should prevent most of these diseases. Chloroquine-resistant malaria prevails. Childhood diseases, such as measles, polio, and strep infections, are common. Meningitis is seasonally reported; vaccination is recommended.

Rabies is present in Benin, so avoid stray animals. Asthma and respiratory infections might be exacerbated during the harmattan season. Some local doctors are French-trained, and a variety of specialists practice in Cotonou and Porto-Novo. Standards of medical care are judged as not sufficient by American standards.

One of the greatest hazards in Cotonou is contaminated water. Houses in modern residential quarters have septic tanks, but the many impoverished neighborhoods have no sanitation facilities whatsoever. The Embassy issues water distillers for drinking water. Most cooks are trained in water sterilization and filtration techniques; but periodic reminders help ensure their continued compliance. Soak locally purchased fresh vegetables and fruits in a solution of chlorine or iodine and rinse in boiled, filtered water. Cook locally purchased meats thoroughly.

Ants, cockroaches, and termites are the greatest household pests. Regular usage of off-the-shelf baits and traps, a clean house, and a tidy garden keeps them under control. Most Embassy staff members have a full- or part-time gardener. Keeping the lush tropical foliage cut back prevents rodent problems. Although snakes, including poisonous varieties, are occasionally found in residential areas, they are not a significant hazard.

Take precaution against sun exposure, since Cotonou is only 6 degrees north of the Equator. Because of high temperatures and humidity, extra precautions are required during outdoor exercise to avoid sunstroke or heat exhaustion. High humidity and a dust-laden wind during the harmattan can exacerbate respiratory problems.

Preventive Measures Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:15 PM

A current yellow fever vaccination is required before arriving at post. Also, typhoid fever, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and hepatitis B, meningococcal meningitis, and rabies shots must be kept updated. A yearly tuberculosis skin test will be given.

Malaria suppressants must be taken beginning 1 week before arrival and continued for 4 weeks after departure from endemic areas. The Medical Unit provides vaccinations and malaria suppressants for Embassy personnel. Current State Department recommendation is Mefloquine 250mg/weekly, unless contraindicated. Although Mefloquine has been associated with some adverse side effects, all current published studies confirm that Mefloquine is usually well tolerated when used as prophylaxis.

Alternative prophylactic drugs can be taken such as daily dosage of Doxycycline in cases where Mefloquine is contraindicated: people with history of epilepsy, those on beta-blockers or quinidine, pregnant women, and children under 15 kg. Another alternative regimen of daily Proguanil plus weekly Chloroquine is recommended for people who are intolerant of Mefloquine and Doxycycline. Whatever regimen is used, the drug(s) MUST be taken continually while in the malaria-infested area and for 4 weeks after leaving.

In addition, there are some common-sense measures to protect against mosquito bites and malaria: remain in well-screened areas; use mosquito nets enclosing the beds while sleeping; wear clothes that cover most of the body, especially at dusk; use flying insect spray or mosquito repellants, especially during dawn and dusk hours when mosquitoes are most active.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:15 PM

Opportunities for employment at the Embassy vary from year to year. The English-language program at the American Cultural Center provides some opportunities for teachers. Other opportunities for employment include private tutoring or teaching at one of the children’s schools. Positions with international organizations and corporations are difficult to obtain; however, these should not be overlooked when seeking employment in Cotonou.

American Embassy - Cotonou

Post City Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:16 PM

Cotonou, a rapidly growing Atlantic port city located on the Gulf of Guinea, was founded in 1851 as a French trading post, and has a population variously estimated at between 1.0–1.5 million inhabitants.

The World Bank is financing an extension of the port, which upon completion will give it a freight-handling capacity of more than a million tons of cargo annually. The Port of Cotonou is the transit point for many goods destined for West Africa.

Porto-Novo, 32 kilometers to the east, is older and smaller than Cotonou with 295,000 residents. Whereas Porto-Novo is the capital of Benin, Cotonou’s economic predominance has made it the administrative capital. Almost all ministries, all diplomatic missions, and the President’s homes are located in Cotonou. Most foreigners live in one of the several neighborhoods of European-style dwellings.

A lagoon connecting Lake Nokoue with the Atlantic Ocean separates Cotonou from its eastern residential quarter, Akpakpa. Two bridges, one financed by USAID, connect the city’s two sections. Lagos, Nigeria is a 3-hour drive east of Cotonou. A two-lane highway connects Cotonou with Lome, Togo, which is about a 2-hour drive between the edges of both cities. Much of that route parallels the coast.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:18 PM

The post is headed by an Ambassador and is a Special Embassy Program post. USAID and the Peace Corps are also represented in the Mission.

State Department staff at the Embassy includes a Deputy Chief of Mission, the Ambassador’s office management specialist (OMS), a consular/political officer (who may or may not share economic and commercial responsibilities with the DCM), the public affairs officer, an administrative officer, a regional security officer (RSO) and his/her OMS, a general services officer, a regional financial management officer, an information management office with two communicators, and a community liaison officer.

The Chancery is a one-story former home that houses the executive section, RSO and RSO/OMS, and the communicators as well as the consular section. The complex is located a block away from the main entrance to the city’s military Camp Guezo. The Embassy Annex houses the Administration Section, General Services Office, and the Medical Unit. The Public Affairs Section is in the Cultural Center located about 1 mile from the Embassy. Chancery telephone numbers are (area code 229) 30–06–50, 30–17–92, 30–05–13, 30–14–11, and fax number 30–14–39.

The Mission has no Marine Guards. Security is contracted out to Inter-Con, and they are responsible for guarding the Chancery, Annex, and American Cultural Center at all times.


Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:18 PM

Cotonou offers several hotels with comfortable accommodations for temporary personnel. Each room is equipped with air-conditioning, TV/radio, and telephone. Facilities include a swimming pool, tennis courts, sauna, disco, cafe, dining room, and giftshops. Given advance notice, the Embassy will make reservations for all official travelers.

Permanent Housing Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:19 PM

Most new arrivals are moved directly into permanent quarters. All housing is U.S.-Government leased and furnished. Construction is solid, usually of cement block. Exteriors and interiors are white, and most houses have small gardens. Tiles are used on floors, patios, terraces, and balconies.

All Embassy-provided housing is furnished for the living, dining, and bedroom areas. Houses have American appliances: refrigerator, freezer, stove/oven, microwave oven, hot-water heaters, washer, dryer, and water filters, as well as carpet, draperies, lamps, and bookcases. Furniture can also be made locally. Upholstery, drapery, and curtain materials in local stores are of good quality. Air-conditioners and dehumidifiers are necessary and are provided by the Embassy.

Houses are within a 10-minute drive to the Embassy. Housing is modern, comfortable, and spacious by most standards. Dust, insects, and outside air enter houses easily, since weather stripping is not used, but Embassy carpenters make screens to help alleviate the problem.

Doors and windows are protected by decorative iron grillwork. American-manufactured security locks protect doors, and walls surround all yards. All Embassy housing is equipped with burglar alarms and nighttime security guards. Homes are also equipped with battery-operated smoke detectors.

Furnishings Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:20 PM

Kitchen equipment, dishes, glassware, linens, pictures, vases, and other decorative items are not furnished. Kitchen utensils, dishes, and glassware from France are available locally but are expensive. Bring any small appliances that you may need. Keep in mind that American appliances will only operate with transformers. To operate on local current without a transformer, an appliance must be 220v, 50 cycles, or have a DC motor. The Embassy has a few step-down transformers, but new arrivals are advised to bring additional ones.

Welcome Kits are available upon your arrival. They contain enough dishes, glasses, silverware, cooking utensils, bath, and bed linens to last until your airfreight is delivered. Pack accordingly, as surface freight might take longer than the expected 2 months.

Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:20 PM

Electric power is 220v, 50-cycle, AC and is not always stable (with spikes of up to 260v). The power is hydroelectrically generated. Brief and infrequent outages are usually due to distribution equipment problems. Bring flashlights for power outages. A voltage regulator and surge protector are useful for home computers and other electronics. As homes are equipped with French-style wall sockets (two-round prongs), bring plug adapters. All houses have gas-powered generators. Ovens and stoves use bottled natural gas that is supplied by the Embassy.

Telephone service is good but expensive. All officers are furnished with two-way radios for communication with the Embassy during emergencies. A radio check is conducted once a week.

Food Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:22 PM

Locally grown fruits and vegetables are abundant. Most vegetables available in the U.S. can also be bought in Cotonou, with the exception of corn on the cob (the local version is tough), yellow squash, fresh greens, peas, and broccoli. Cabbages, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, radishes, green peppers, squash, pumpkins, leeks, potatoes, parsnips, onions, eggplants, and string beans are available year-round at variable prices. Fresh herbs like parsley, basil, thyme, bay leaves, and mint are sold in local markets. Mangoes, guavas, melons, and avocados are plentiful and inexpensive when in season.

Throughout the year, the following fruits can be found at the open-air markets: tomatoes, pineapples, grapefruits, bananas, oranges, tangerines, papayas, lemons, limes, and plantains. Wash and treat thoroughly all locally grown vegetables before eating. If you want to start a flower or vegetable garden, bring seeds.

Local meats, beef, veal, lamb, and pork, of varying quality, as well as eggs, can be purchased at supermarkets. Chicken, duck, quail, and rabbit of varying quality are also available. Fish such as capitaine and soles, shrimp, and crabs are plentiful.

Cotonou has several small, clean, well-stocked supermarkets. Foodstuffs are imported from Belgium, France, Holland, Germany, Lebanon, and South Africa. Cotonou stores carry imported canned and frozen goods, flour, rice, dried spices, wines, juices, powdered milk, sterilized long-life milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, cereals, baby food, and diapers.

Several have in-store delis where meats, cheese, and eggs are available. Stores often stock imported fruits and vegetables such as Valencia oranges, pears, apples, kiwis, artichokes, lettuce, spinach, and cauliflower. They also sell cleaning products, insect repellants, paper products and other various household goods. Imported high-quality meat such as ham, salami, and luncheon meat are available, but prices are very high. Good French-style bakeries sell fresh bread, cakes, and pastries.

Locally produced beer (Castel, Eku, Beninoise), soft drinks (Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fizzi, Fanta), tonic water, and mineral water are bottled locally and are always available. They can be bought by the case at several outlets. Liquor prices are high. Some American wines are available, but most are French.

The various markets will leave a lasting impression, and Cotonou boasts some good ones. The Dantokpa Market — the largest in Cotonou — extends near the banks of the lagoon. With a noisy confusion of zemi-jahns, traders, stalls, and merchandise, this market is opened Monday through Saturday, closed on Sundays. Everything can be bought here, from locally grown tubers, cans of powdered milk, liquors, Nigerian cosmetics, beautiful enamel bowls, and locally printed colorful cloth of the Dutch wax batik design. The Ganhi market located downtown is much smaller but bustles with activity every day of the week. These markets are easily accessible, and parking nearby is not difficult. Markets are a favorite spot for pickpockets, so exercise caution when shopping.

American Government employees are allowed to bring consumables to Benin. Some members of the community suggest shipping the following food and supplies: raisins, snack chips, dips, peanut butter, cereals, cake mixes, cooking oil, pancake mix and syrup, American-style mustard and ketchup, baking powder, baking chocolate, chocolate chips, snack food for kids (such as Granola Bars), canned soups, canned mushrooms, canned vegetables you cannot find fresh locally (corn, green peas), wild rice, American coffee, canned fruits (apricots, peaches), cocktail needs (maraschino cherries, cocktail onions, stuffed olives), and special diet food. This list is not by any means exhaustive.

Remember that almost everything is available in Cotonou, but as products are imported, prices are higher than in the U.S. The ease of ordering groceries via the Internet is also expensive, so bring what you and your family like and would miss. A shipment of consumables in two installments within 12 months of arrival date is preferable to one large one, so you can see how much storage space you have. You can also adjust your second order and monitor expiration dates on foodstuff more easily.

Clothing Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:23 PM

Cotonou’s climate requires lightweight, washable clothing. Bring summer clothes and sandals. Also recommended are hiking boots for in-country trekking. Local shops carry a limited selection of European dresses, skirts, and blouses. Sizes vary, and prices are high. Colorful 100% cotton African cloth is plentiful. Dress and suit material can be purchased, and local tailors and dressmakers can copy Western styles and are relatively inexpensive.

In the short dry season (August/September), temperatures are sometimes cool enough at night for sweaters and shawls. Bring a few clothes for cold weather, in case of a medical evacuation to Europe or the U.S. Raincoats are not comfortable in the rainy season, as they are too hot; large umbrellas and galoshes are the best protection.

American staff may order clothing through mail-order catalogs. Merchandise purchased by mail may be returned via airpouch if it is not correct. A large used clothing market called “La Fripe” can be found near the Dantokpa Market in Cotonou, and you can buy nice secondhand shoes and clothes imported from Europe and the U.S.

Men Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:23 PM

Office dress is usually casual, an Oxford shirt or sport shirt and slacks. Business suits are worn for official meetings and public functions. Short-sleeved dress shirts are suitable for most evening gatherings. A suit and tie or local costume is worn at formal functions.

Women Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:24 PM

For the office, women favor cotton dresses, slacks and blouses. Most entertaining is informal and simple; tailored washable dresses are appropriate. The locally crafted African “booboo” is both attractive and comfortable for eveningwear. Senior officers will need formal evening dress. Stockings are not available locally. Women should avoid tight-fitting slacks and mini-skirts, as Benin is a modestly dressed society. A wrap is useful to cover shorts when shopping in villages.

Children Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:24 PM

Children’s clothing is expensive in Cotonou. Bring sandals, tennis shoes, blue jeans, and other types of everyday clothing. T-shirts are acceptable for everyday wear. School uniform varies from year to year, so contact the appropriate school before classes start.

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:37 PM

Most household products are available but are much more expensive than in the U.S. Toiletries, cosmetics, suntan lotions, medicines, cleaning supplies, and household gadgets are all imported from France. An initial supply of medicine cabinet items is useful. Bring picnic coolers, Thermos jugs and bottles, paper plates, and plastic glasses for entertaining. They are available locally but are expensive. Also, bring holiday decorations and gift-wrappings. If you have small children, bring a selection of birthday presents to give friends. Locally produced cards suitable for invitations and notes are available. Local prints make colorful tablecloths, napkins, and curtains.

Basic Services Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:37 PM

Men’s tailoring is of good quality. The quality of women’s dressmaking varies, but simple designs can be copied successfully. Basic repairs for French-manufactured automobiles can be done, but work involving electrical systems, wheel balancing, and alignment is not always predictable or available. American parts can be ordered from suppliers in the U.S. but are expensive and usually difficult to attain, so bring filters, belts, points, spark plugs, condensers, bulbs, and other common replacement items. Small appliance and radio repair is available, but quality is poor and prices vary.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:38 PM

Most Embassy employees hire at least one cook, housekeeper, nanny, or gardener. Cooks are especially valuable for shopping, saving the employer from trips to the market and bargaining. Standards of cleanliness must be maintained with strict supervision, especially in the kitchen. A part-time gardener is useful, as tropical flora requires constant care. Contributions to the Benin Government social security fund are mandatory. The Embassy provides hiring assistance and has an English translation of the labor code regarding employment of domestic staff. The average monthly salary of domestic help is between US$60 and US$100 depending on work category and experience. Annual cost of domestic staff is raised somewhat by payment of fringe benefits and social security contributions. Most employers provide uniforms for staff who serves at the table.

Religious Activities Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:38 PM

Cotonou has several Catholic churches. Assembly of God, Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist, Methodist, interdenominational churches, and mosques are available. Services are usually in either French or Fon, Notre Dame Catholic Church offers Sunday mass in English. American missionaries are present in Benin.


Dependent Education

At Post Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:26 PM There are two English-language schools and one French-language school in Cotonou that Embassy families might find appropriate for their needs. Both English-language schools deal with a small student body by combining classes, e.g., 3rd to 5th grades in one case.

The British School of Cotonou is a member of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. The current headmistress is Pauline Collins (229–30–32–65). The school opened in 1993 and currently has a full-time faculty of five and seven part-time teachers. All teachers must be certified. Current student enrollment is 65. The school provides instruction for ages 4–16 and is one of 90 international schools using the International Schools Curriculum Project. This ensures that pupils will be a part of a truly international education system, will follow a rigorous and progressive curriculum, and be assured some degree of continuity when moving from one member school to another. The headmistress of the BSC is a member of the steering committee and the Science Coordinator for this project. The school also provides a nursery for 2- and 3-year olds, part-time. The school is located in the housing community where the majority of Americans reside.

The International School of Benin offers a PK–12 program and uses an American-based curriculum. The current principal and owner of the school is Mrs. Edna Tounou (229–31–15–94). Some teachers are not certified. Current enrollment is 85. The school is located 15 minutes from the primary housing area. This is the only English-language school that offers grades 9 to 12; almost half of the 85 students are in these grades. The school is up for evaluation for the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools this November. Several graduates have been accepted into U.S. universities.

Ecole Montaigne (229–30–17–28) offers a PK–12 program taught in the French language. The school follows the national French curriculum and is a classic French school. Most teachers are certified. Current enrollment is 800, and application must be made as soon as possible as they have waiting lists for some grades. Non-French-speakers usually are readily accepted in preschool through K or 1st grade. Older students (up to age 10) may be accepted even if they are below grade level in French but may be placed one or two grades below their academic grade level. High school students are prepared for the French Baccalaureate; average-to-good students graduating from a French high school can usually get passing scores on a variety of AP tests.

There are two preschools (both French language) which Embassy and other American families have used and recommend. ONU (United Nations Club) is located between the main housing area and the Embassy, and Les Lapins Bleus (preschool through age 6) is located in the middle of the main housing area.

Away From Post Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:26 PM The away-from-post allowance is US$31,050 for away-from-post education per school year from grades K–12 and should be sufficient to cover costs.

Special Needs Education Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:27 PM

No facilities exist for students with learning disabilities or other handicaps. The CLO has materials and catalogs for ordering study and teaching aids for exceptional children. The Embassy has Foreign Service Institute French-instruction books and tapes. A French-language program is conducted for staff members and for dependents on a funds-available basis. Arrangements can be made for individual tutoring, either with the post’s program, or at the French Cultural Center, which also offers private instruction and the added advantage of making new acquaintances.

Recreation and Social Life

Sports Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:27 PM

The swimming pool at the EMR is open to staff members. Several hotels in the city have swimming pools open to the public for a fee. The entire coast of Benin is a long sandy beach. Unfortunately, it is not safe to walk on the beach except in a few areas. Most muggings occur on the beaches, and especially after dark. The water is lovely but swimming is not recommended, as there is a treacherous undertow and strong currents.

Tennis courts are available at several hotels and clubs. Bring racquets, balls, shoes, and clothing. A squash court is in town and is available to members. The larger hotels have small golf courses (no grass greens), but many golfers go to Lagos or Lome to play. Benin’s favorite spectator sport is soccer. Matches are frequently played at stadiums in Cotonou.

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:29 PM

Some Cotonou residents enjoy the weekend social life in Lome with its good restaurants and hotels. In addition, Embassy Lagos has a large commissary that Cotonou employees may join. Many weekend excursions within Benin can be made from Cotonou.

Abomey, the capital of the Dahomean Empire until the late 19th century, is a 2-hour drive north of Cotonou. Artifacts from the royal period are on display, and efforts are underway to restore the royal buildings to their original state. Weavers work in the courtyard. Their artwork, as well as carvings and bronzes, are for sale.

Ouidah, a 1-hour drive west of Cotonou, offers a Portuguese castle and a temple displaying sacred pythons. Further west of Ouidah, near the border with Togo, the beaches at Grand Popo attract many foreigners. However, it is too dangerous to swim in the ocean because of the undertow. Visitors can spend the weekend relaxing at a nearby inn facing the sea. Visits to fishing villages on the coast or by the lagoon provide an enjoyable outing.

Porto-Novo, a large city located about 30 kilometers east of Cotonou sprawls over the hills surrounding the Gun people, and the palace of the rulers has been restored. More recently, it served as the capital of the French colony of Dahomey. The colonial buildings are reminders of this period.

Ganvie, located 18 kilometers northwest of Cotonou, is said to be Africa’s largest lake village. Ganvie is an extraordinary sight that is only accessible by boat. Wooden houses with thatched roofs are built on tall stilts rising above the gray surface of the waters. Even the market is held on the water, with women selling their wares from canoes. The entire town spreads across the shallow waters of Lake Nokoue and has been dubbed the African Venice.

For the activity of the African markets, a rotating schedule of large markets is available in Cotonou, Porto-Novo, and Adjarra, just north of Porto-Novo. An adventuresome trader can buy “grigri” charms, colorful enamelware from China, and interesting fabrics.

Travelers to northern Benin can visit self-help projects funded by the Ambassador’s Special Fund, where a visitor is welcomed into a village and enjoys a greeting by the entire community. Farther north, the region is rich in wild game and the scenic beauty of mountains and waterfalls.

Lome is a 2-hour drive to the west. Shopping and fine restaurants are popular attractions. Lagos, a large bustling city, is to the east. It has bookstores, with a large English-language selection, an interesting museum of Yoruba and other tribal art, and a busy social life within the large diplomatic and foreign communities. Other points in Nigeria within weekend reach of Cotonou are Ibadan, Nigeria’s second most populous city, and Ife, which has a museum displaying many excellent 15th- and 16th-century bronze, terra cotta busts, and effigies.

Entertainment Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:29 PM

Cotonou has three cinemas, none of which are air-conditioned. Soundtracks are usually in French. The Embassy participates in the AAFES motion picture film circuit. Nightclubs and discos are crowded and lively with European and African music and atmosphere. Restaurants and bars are plentiful and reasonably priced. Options include Chinese, Italian, Thai, French, Indian, Lebanese, and even standard American fare all served in air-conditioned dining rooms or relaxed outdoor patios.

Social Activities

Among Americans Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:29 PM Despite the small size of the Embassy staff and American community (about 300), the social atmosphere is good. Small, informal get-togethers are popular and are often combined with a viewing of videos or DVDs. As both Lagos and Lome are within 3 hours of Cotonou, Americans from both posts visit Cotonou for a day of shopping or sightseeing.

International Contacts Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:30 PM Chad, China, Cuba, Denmark, Egypt, France, Ghana, Germany, Holland, Libya, Niger, Nigeria and Russia all have Embassies in Cotonou. Belgium, Greece, Holland, and Switzerland have honorary consuls or trade representatives in Cotonou. A large UN staff and several French Canadians are also represented. Business cards or calling cards are useful and can be procured in Cotonou. An officer will need about 200 cards for a 2-year tour.

Official Functions

Nature of Functions Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:30 PM

National day receptions of the countries represented in Cotonou are the most formal diplomatic functions. Dress for officers is a dark business suit or appropriate dress. Senior officers attend some host-government ceremonial functions, where the attire is a business suit or a long or short dress. Other functions are informal with slacks and open-neck shirts for men and informal dresses for women.

Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:30 PM

The major Embassy-sponsored representational function that all Embassy staff members attend is the Fourth of July reception. Upon arrival and after presentation of credentials, the Chief of Mission calls on other Chiefs of Mission in Cotonou.

Special Information Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:31 PM

Post Orientation Program

Contact the community liaison officer for a Welcome Kit and include any questions you have. The Welcome Kit narrative goes into great detail on what to expect and includes a comprehensive pamphlet on health precautions. The Bureau of African Affairs (AF/EX) has some locally published tourist books.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:31 PM

Air France serves Cotonou from Paris, Abidjan, and Lagos. Official travel must comply with the Fly America Act. Contact the post for the latest travel information.

Temporary duty personnel, contractors, and other official travelers should notify the Embassy in advance of their travel. Obtain a visa before arriving in Benin. The Benin Embassy in Washington, D.C. will issue visas, as will the Benin Embassies in Abidjan and Lagos.

Ship HHE to Cotonou through the appropriate Despatch Agent, European Logistical Support Office (ELSO), Antwerp, or if direct service is possible, to:

American Ambassador American Embassy (employee’s initials) Cotonou, Rep. du Benin

Write the post in advance if you plan to ship items that may cause suspicion (anything with a possible military use, i.e., firearms, ammunition, two-way radios, or anything of an olive drab color). Although the U.S. Government will cover certain losses, all employees should take out marine insurance on HHE and automobiles. The Embassy contracts out for packing services, and although these companies have considerable skill, the administrative officer should be informed of fragile items well in advance of packing.

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:32 PM

Personnel with diplomatic status are accorded duty-free entry for their entire tour. Since regulations are subject to change, check with the Embassy for the latest information. Although customs’ officials reserve the right to search all luggage, recently diplomats have been allowed to forego luggage inspection. Permanent Embassy staff is issued diplomatic identification passes that facilitate international travel and activity at the airport.

Passage Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:32 PM

Visas and health certificates with valid yellow fever inoculations are required for entry into Benin. Obtain visas from the Benin Embassy in Washington, D.C., or from the Benin Mission to the UN in New York. If visas cannot be obtained, inform the Embassy well in advance, so local entry arrangements can be made.

Pets Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:32 PM

Cats and dogs entering Benin must have a record of a valid rabies vaccination and a veterinary certificate of health issued no more than 10 days before arrival. To help speed entry procedures, inform the post in advance if you plan to bring a pet.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:33 PM

Only the following nonautomatic firearms and ammunition may be brought to Benin:

Item Quantity

Rifle or shotgun One per adult family member plus 1,000 rounds per employee

Firearms and ammunition can be shipped but not mailed. Personnel must contact the Embassy before shipping so that an import permit can be obtained. Firearms are consigned to U.S. personnel for their personal use and are not for resale.

Register all firearms. In recent months, import permits or licenses for weapons have been difficult to obtain, and some Embassy employees have waited for extended periods and have not received the necessary licenses. To bring additional firearms and ammunition into the country, obtain permission from the Deputy Chief of Mission in advance. In shipping additional firearms and ammunition from the U.S., copies of the exchange of correspondence with the Deputy Chief of Mission must be forwarded, along with a completed form DSP-5 (export application) to:

Office of Munitions Control (PM/MC) Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520

The application should include all firearms and ammunition to be shipped. The export license issued by PM/MC must be given at the time of shipment to the U.S. Despatch Agent who, in turn, will surrender it and other shipping documents to U.S. Customs. Should permission be received from the Chief of Mission to ship firearms and ammunition exceeding those prescribed, and if they are shipped between foreign countries only, no license is necessary from PM/MC. No Department of State license is required for shotguns (with barrels 18 inches and over in length) or less than 1,000 rounds of shotgun ammunition. However, compliance with the Deputy Chief of Mission's determination and with export regulations of the Office of Export Control, U.S. Department of Commerce, is necessary.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:33 PM

The official unit of currency is the CFA franc. The average currency exchange rate for April 2002 is 727 CFA = US$1. The CFA franc, supported by the French franc, is also legal tender in several other West African countries (100 CFA = 1 French franc). Beginning in 2002, the Euro will replace the French franc. As of December 2002, 614.76 CFA = 1 Euro.

At least eight banks are available in Cotonou, some with various locations. The metric system of weights and measures is used.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:34 PM

Restrictions Benin has no currency restrictions.

Facilities A Class B Embassy cashier may cash travelers and personal dollar checks for official personnel if made payable to the American Embassy Cotonou. The cashier offers cfa or dollars. A limited supply of dollars is kept on hand for official personnel on home leave or transfer orders. Pay and allowances checks can be received at post or sent directly to a U.S. bank by FSC Paris/Charleston. Pay periods are biweekly, and checks are usually received at post 4 days before the pay period ends. Members of the Embassy staff are not required to pay local tax.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:35 PM

These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

In French

Adam, Kolawole Sikirou. Le Benin. Sodimas, Edicef: Paris, 1983.

Cashiers d’Etudes et d’Analyses No.1. Propos et Position: La Transition au Benin ou la Democratie en Gestation.

Cerd (Centre d’Etudes et Recherches pour le Developpement)

Garcia, Luc. Le Royaume du Dahome: Face e la Penetration Coloniale: Affrontements et Incomprehension, 1875–1894. Karthala: Paris, 1988.

Huanou, Adrien. La Litterature Beninoise de Langue Franeaise. Karthala-Acct: Paris, 1984.

Igue, O. John. Benin Etat-Entrepet. Karthala: Paris, 1992.

Medeiros, Francois. Peuples du Golfe du Benin (Aja-Ewe). ISBN 286537209X, 1988.

Pilya, Jean. La Fille Tetue: Contes et Recits Traditionnels du Benin. Abijan: Nouvells Editions Africaines, 1982.

Pilya, Jean. Histoire de Mon Pays. La Republique du Benin. CNPMS, 1992.

Quenum, Maximilien: Au Pays des Fons: Us et Coutemes du Dahomey. Paris, Maisonneuve Larose.

In English

Argyle, W. J.: The Fon of Dahomey: A History and Ethnography of the Old Kingdom. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1966.

Burton, Sir Richard. A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahomey. Praeger: New York, 1966 (reprint).

Chatwin, Bruce. The Viceroy of Ouidah. Summit Books: New York, 1980.

Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Benin. Scarecrow Press: Metuchen, New Jersey, 1987.

Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Dahomey. (African Historical Series No.7). Scarecrow Press: Metuchen, New Jersey, 1976.

Duignan, Peter and Gann, L.H.: The United States and Africa: A History. Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Hazoume, Paul. Doguicimi. Three Continents, 1980.

Herskovits, Melville. Dahomey. (2nd printing). Northwestern University Press: Evanston, Illinois, 1958.

Manning, Patrick. Slavery, Colonialism, and Economic Growth in Dahomey, 1940–1960. Cambridge University Press: New Rochelle, 1982.

Manning, Peter. Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa — 1880–1985. Cam-bridge University Press, 1988.

Obichere, Boniface I. West African States and European Expansion: The Dahomey-Niger Hinterland, 1885–1898. Yale University Press: New Haven, 1971.

Law, Robin. The Slave Coast of West Africa, 1550–1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society. Oxford: Clarendon Press: Oxford University Press: New York, 1991.

Else, David, et al. West Africa. Lonely Planet Publications: Australia, 1999. ISBN 0864425694.

Polyani, Karl and Rotsfien, Abraham. Dahomey and the Slave Trade (American Ethnographical Society Monographs #42), 1988.

Local Holidays Last Updated: 11/28/2003 3:36 PM

New Year’s Day January 1

Traditional Religions Day January 10 Ramadan** Labor Day May 1 Easter Monday* Ascension Day* Pentecost Monday* Id El Mulud (Tabaski, Feast of the Sacrifice)** Memorial Day May 28 Whit Monday* Independence Day August 1 Assumption Day August 15 Maouloud Day** All Saints Day November 1 Christmas Day December 25

*Variable Christian holidays **Variable Muslim holidays

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
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