Benin 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Overall, the crime rate in Benin remains high. Petty crime is common throughout the country, and violent crime continues to rise. Three incidents of note occurred within the past 12 months; all appear to be related. Three armed gunmen utilizing a motorbike robbed at least eight ex-pats over the course of a four-month period in the neighborhood of Haie-Vive. Coincidentally, this is where most of the embassy housing is located. These bandits robbed individuals at gun or knife point, late at night, or in the early morning hours as people returned from local bars or restaurants. Most of the attacks occurred within a block or two of the victims’ residences. During an assault on three individuals, the bandits were pursued by police and local security personnel working in the neighborhood. When the assailants were apprehended, one was beaten to death, another was hospitalized with severe injuries, and a third member of the gang was never apprehended. Similar tactics were used in all attacks including the use of multiple vehicles and automatic weapons. In some cases, criminals fired indiscriminately in the area or at surrounding vehicles and pedestrians. Car-jacking is a major problem in rural areas. It is not unusual for bandits to place barricades in the roadway so that when victims slow or come to a stop, the bandits commandeer the vehicle, usually at gun point. Petty theft continues to be an issue with pick pocketing and purse snatching in high- traffic areas preferred by criminals, such as large outdoor markets.
Road conditions deteriorate noticeably once outside major metropolitan areas. Traffic conditions can be treacherous at all times of the day but are more so at night. It is not unusual to see pedestrian traffic on all motor ways at all hours of the day. Driving at night is discouraged. Overall vehicle maintenance and upkeep of vehicles such as large trucks and busses is poor at best. It is not unusual to see large trucks overturned on the sides of the road due to poor maintenance and road conditions. There was a recent accident involving four Peace Corps volunteers travelling on a public bus. It was a head on collision with a large truck, killing nine people. Fortunately no volunteers were seriously injured. The bus driver chose to turn into oncoming traffic to avoid the heavy pedestrian traffic on the shoulder of the roadway.
Benin held Presidential elections and inaugurated President Boni Yayi in March 2011. The elections were peaceful, transparent, and fair. In April 2011, Benin conducted nationwide parliamentary elections that were held without incident and were considered fair. There are no known indigenous terrorists groups operating within Benin.
There are no known anti-American terrorist groups operating in Benin. Due to porous borders, there is the possibility of transnational terrorism. Organized crime groups from Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, and Burkina Faso involved in the shipment of stolen cars and drugs are a problem in Benin, presumably due to the lack of port and border security.
Protests and demonstrations over economic conditions and local politics are common. These protests can attract large crowds and while most are held without incident, the risk of violence and clashes with police do occur. All protests should be avoided regardless of how peaceful they may appear.
There were no anti-American protests in Benin in 2011.
Floods are common in Benin during the rainy season (mid-March through June). Last year, most of Benin endured severe flooding covering entire villages and making roads impassable. While rare, an earthquake occurred in June 2010 off the coast of Benin. The earthquake was felt in Cotonou but caused no physical damage.
As noted above, traffic conditions are a major concern in Benin. Road conditions and erratic driving habits make driving difficult and at times dangerous. Speeding and large numbers of motorbikes add to the driving difficulties. Motorbikes show total disregard to traffic laws and are known to pass other vehicles from either direction. The public transportation system in Benin is poor, even in major metropolitan areas. The most common form of transport are licensed (many times unlicensed, with no way of telling the two apart) motorcycle taxis, known as zemijans.
Kidnappings are rare in Benin, especially for westerners. General caution against kidnappings should be exercised in Benin such as maintaining a high level of awareness, protecting personal information, and using trusted forms of transportation.
Drug trafficking in Benin is increasing, due mainly to the porous borders and lack of government intervention of the illegal drug trafficking. While neighboring countries are making a concerted effort to fight the drug trade, the traffickers are using Benin to traffic drugs from South America into the United States and Europe. Drug use within Benin is low, with marijuana being the drug of choice. Marijuana is grown in the central region of Benin. There are no known narco-terrorist groups or drug syndicates operating within Benin.
Police response to crimes and reports of crime in Benin is limited due to lack of equipment and training. If a foreigner is the victim of a crime, it is necessary for them to go in person to the nearest police station. As French is the official language of Benin, it is advisable to have a French speaker on hand to report the crime. Americans are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy American Citizens Section for assistance.
Police patrols generally are lacking, and the response to crime is often handled by military gendarme. Some sections, such as the Financial Crimes Police within the Minister of the Interior, have received outside training and assistance. This unit is capable of conducting adequate investigations and conducting arrests.
There are no known incidents of foreigners being harassed or unfairly detained by the Beninese Police. However, westerners arrested or detained usually have difficulties contacting help. The prisons in Benin are poorly maintained, unsafe, overcrowded, and poorly operated.
American citizens are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy to report any incidents of police detention or harassment. Relations with the police and the U.S. Embassy are good, as evidenced by the fact that Americans recently detained by the police generated an automatic call to the U.S. Embassy to report the detention/arrest.
US Embassy contact number: 229 (Country code) 21-300650
Emergency Police: 117
Fire Department/Ambulance: 118
Health care in Benin is not up to western standards. Most hospitals and medical facilities do not have the supplies and/or necessary drugs for treatment of major illnesses and injuries. The following list is provided as a guide for medical facilities that enjoy a good reputation and do not consider a referral. It is always good practice to bring an appropriate amount of medication when travelling to Benin, due to the fact that many prescription medications are not available. Most facilities require cash payment for service.
Polyclinique Les Cocotiers B.P. 1227 Cadjehoun intersection across from Cadjehoun post office number: 30-14-31, 30-14-20 Dr. Assani.
Clinique d'Akpakpa (Boni) PK 2 on the road to Porto-Novo on the right: 33-14-37, 33-06-40. Contact Dr. Agboton (speaks English). The clinic is generally used for x-ray.
The following doctors can be consulted in their offices. Some will make house calls:
Dr. Dominique Atchade: 30-10-70. He speaks English. His office is located at the National University Hospital (CNHU).
Dr. Anne Brunet Apithy: 31-35-26 (office) 33-04-13 (home). She speaks English. Office located in "La Residence" neighborhood.
Dr. A.M. Caudron-Tidjani: 31-56-34. Office is located in the "SCOA-Gbeto" neighborhood.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
It is recommended that all Americans register with the U.S. Embassy upon arrival to Benin. Photographing any government facility or military instillation in Benin is prohibited. It is recommended that visitors refrain from taking photographs of anything other than the local scenery and Beninese citizens who have provided their consent to be photographed. It is not uncommon for local citizens to demand payment for photographs and will not allow them to be taken if a price is not agreed upon. Visitors taking inappropriate photographs risk arrest/detention and seizure of their photography equipment.
Benin has seen a larger number of Nigerian style fraud involving various forms of 419 advance fee fraud and internet based fraud. Nigerian nationals, often residing in Nigeria but passing themselves as residing within Benin are usually the perpetrators of these schemes. It is not uncommon for Americans to receive e-mails from individuals they have met over the internet asking for money via Western Union. These requests are for a variety of excuses, such as the need to pay off customs officials or as a means to pay for administrative costs of paperwork. It is not unusual for criminals to locate American businesses over the internet and place orders to be imported into Benin. The criminals ask for a fee up front and many small businesses have lost money due to this scheme. The use of credit cards throughout Benin should be avoided. Benin is not a gold-producing country and yet there have been numerous scams involving the selling/purchasing of “gold dust”. The most recent scam involved numerous Beninese as well as a standing Minister.
Travelers are advised to avoid driving outside the city after dark. Always keep vehicle doors locked and windows rolled up while travelling throughout the country. Cotonou’s beaches should be avoided at night due to the high rate of crime and lack of police response. The beach resorts outside of Cotonou are generally safe but experience occasional crime.
Embassy contact numbers:
Regional Security Officer: 229 (Country code) 21-300650 ext 4218
Embassy Operator: 21-300650
Medical Unit: 21-300650 ext 4249
Consular Affairs: 21-300650 ext 4777
Political/Economic Section: 21-300650 ext 4206
Marine Post One: N/A.
OSAC Country Council
U.S. Embassy Cotonou does not have an OSAC Council.