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Cotonou, population 536,827 (1992), is the seat of government of Benin, though the official capital is Porto-Novo. Cotonou's airport and roads and rail facilities make it the transportation and communications hub of the country. Manufactures include palm oil and cake, brewing, textiles, and cement. Motor vehicles and bicycles are assembled, and there are sawmills in the city. Petroleum products, bauxite and iron are exported. Offshore drilling for oil is carried on.

Cotonou was originally dominated by the Kingdom of Dahomey from the 18th century. In 1851 the French made a treaty with the Dahomean King Gezo that allowed them to establish a trading post at Cotonou. In 1883 the French navy occupied the city to prevent British conquest of the area.