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Benin 2013 Crime and Safety Report

Africa > Benin > Cotonou

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

American citizens are generally well received. There is little anti-American sentiment. However, the Department of State rates Cotonou as “High” for crime according to the number and frequency of criminal incidents; the full spectrum of criminal activity can be found in Cotonou. Official Americans, businesspersons, and visitors are victimized primarily by crimes of opportunity, e.g., pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, theft of valuables from vehicles, assaults, and residential burglaries. In particular, low-level criminal activity occurs in crowded areas such as the Dantokpa Market in central Cotonou. Criminals take advantage of foreigners attempting to navigate through the crowded markets. 

Since September 2012, the Embassy is aware of at least 20 armed robberies involving guns, knives, and machetes. Most of these attacks ended violently and occurred late at night or in the early morning hours. The robberies were crimes of opportunity with the perpetrators seeking cash or valuables and targeting specific people. The typical modus operandi consists of small groups of two to four perpetrators, traveling on motorcycles or scooters, targeting victims walking alone in poorly lit areas. One or two perpetrators usually jump off of the motorcycle with a knife or machete and rob the unsuspecting victim. 

In recent months, criminals have also committed residential break-ins in areas where expatriates typically reside. On one occasion in 2012, a female victim was sexually assaulted inside her residence. 

Sexual assaults do occur and are usually associated with alcohol. Some victims have reported that perpetrators used date-rape drugs to assault the victims. 

Overall Road Safety Situation

Road conditions deteriorate noticeaby outside of Cotonou. Traffic conditions can be treacherous during the day and are unsafe at night. It is not unusual to see pedestrian traffic on all motor ways at all hours of the day. With the exception of the most popular restaurant areas, to include Haie Vive, Cocotier, and Littoral neighborhoods, driving at night is discouraged. 

Public transportation is not recommended. 

Carjacking is a major problem in rural areas; armed bandits place barricades in the roadway hoping to slow or halt vehicles before commandeering them. 

Overall vehicle maintenance and upkeep of vehicles such as large trucks and buses are poor at best. Large trucks break down or overturn frequently on the sides of the road due to poor maintenance and road conditions. 

Many road accidents result in death. 

In December 2012, at least 18 people, mostly children, drowned when their boat sank in a river north of Cotonou.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is an on-going regional threat of transnational terrorism in West Africa that directly pertains to Benin. In 2013, terrorist groups increased their rhetoric, calling for attacks or kidnappings against Westerners, particularly of those countries linked to the international military intervention in Mali. Benin and several of its neighbors are directly supporting the international military intervention, a move that elevates the concern for possible terrorism activity. 

In addition, in 2012, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for several violent attacks in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram utilized Suicide Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Devices (SVBIED) to target churches, government installations, educational institutions, and entertainment venues that resulted in multiple casualties. Benin has been spared any direct terrorist attacks but does remain vulnerable due to porous borders, increased regional instability, and the increased terror activities of both Boko Haram and AQIM (al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb). 

Organized crime groups continue to operate in the shipment of stolen cars, money laundering, and drug trafficking. The porous borders, lack of law enforcement resources, and convenience of an international airport and port provide vulnerabilities for organized crime groups to exploit.

Civil Unrest 

Benin is one of the more stable democracies in West Africa. While political violence continues to be low, recent incidents toward government officials have increased the concerns of the current stability. In October, there was an alleged assassination attempt against the President by one of the most prominent businessmen and a former minister. Over the last few months, ministers within the President’s Cabinet have been fired or arrested for allegations of various corruption or illicit activity. 

There were no anti-American protests or demonstrations, though such public dissension over economic and social conditions and local politics do occur. 

The government recognizes freedom of assembly and association and authorizes public demonstrations. Demonstrations typically begin or end in front of government facilities in Cotonou. While most demonstrations in Cotonou are non-violent, the risk of violence and clashes with police may occur. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards 

Floods are common during the rainy season (mid-March through June). Two years ago, most of Benin endured severe flooding, covering entire villages and making roads impassable. 

While earthquakes are rare, one occurred in June 2010 off the coast. The earthquake was felt in Cotonou but caused no physical damage. Americans in Benin should register with the Embassy and have a shelter-in-place plan.

Industrial and Transportation Accidents 

Traffic conditions are a major concern. Road and vehicle conditions and erratic driving habits make driving difficult and dangerous. Speeding and large numbers of motorbikes add to the driving difficulties. Motorbike drivers 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 motorcycle taxis, known as zemijans, though many are unlicensed. 

Most working conditions are unsafe due to poor structural integrity, electrical problems, and imprecise oversight; the latest example was an explosion at a chemical plant in January 2013 in Porto Novo that resulted in deaths and several injuries.

Privacy Concerns

Americans should do their best to keep their personal information private. Scam artists have used the mail and Internet to email people in the U.S. claiming to need help and asking for money.

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

Regional travel is restricted for Embassy employees without prior approval, especially overland to Niger or Nigeria.

Drug-related Crimes 

Drug trafficking continues to be on the rise in West Africa. Law enforcement agencies lack the capacity and training to control organized groups. While neighboring countries are making a concerted effort to fight the drug trade, traffickers are using Benin to traffic drugs from South America into other parts of the Sahel and Europe. Drug use is low, with marijuana being the drug of choice. It is grown in the central region of Benin. 

Kidnapping Threats

General caution against kidnappings should be exercised by maintaining a high level of awareness, protecting personal information, and using trusted forms of transportation. Lured by the false prospect of gold, one American citizen was kidnapped for ransom during 2012 and was later released. 

Police Response

Police responsiveness to reported crimes and investigative capabilities are limited due to lack of equipment and training. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment 

There are no known incidents of Americans being harassed or unfairly detained by the Beninese police. The prisons are poorly operated, unsafe, and overcrowded. American citizens are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy to report any incidents of police detention or harassment. The Regional Security Office maintains a great working relationship with the law enforcement authorities and is often immediately contacted in light of an incident involving an American citizen. 

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

If a foreigner is the victim of a crime, it is necessary for them to go in person to the nearest police station. Since French is the official language, 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. 

U.S. Embassy contact number: (229) 21-300650
Emergency Police: 117
Fire Department/Ambulance: 118

Various Police/Security Agencies 

While the National Police have primary jurisdiction in most major cities, the National Gendarmerie patrols most of the rural areas and government facilities. Americans should be aware of the nearest police/gendarme station to their location. The police units, including immigration, financial crimes, judicial crimes, cybercrimes, swat/reaction teams, and drug units, fall under the Director of the National Police. 

Medical Emergencies

Health care is well below Western standards. Most hospitals and medical facilities do not have the supplies and/or necessary drugs for treatment of major illnesses and injuries. Travelers are advised to bring appropriate sufficient amount of medication when traveling to Benin, as many prescription medications are not available. Most facilities require cash payment for service. 

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

The following is a list of recommended medical facilities provided by the expatriate community: 

Medical Facilities

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-rays.

Physicians: the following doctors can be consulted in their offices and make house calls: 

Dr. Dominique Atchade: 30-10-70. He speaks English. Office is located at the National University Hospital (CNHU).
Dr. Anne Brunet Apithy: 31-35-26 (office). She speaks English. Office is located in "La Residence" neighborhood.
Dr. A.M. Caudron-Tidjani: 31-56-34. Office is located in the "SCOA-Gbeto" neighborhood.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

CDC country-specific vaccination and health guidance can be found at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/benin.htm

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Crimes/Scams 

The Embassy frequently receives reports from Americans residing in the U.S. who have become victims of online financial scams originating in Benin. These typically include Internet scams in which a con artist attempts to convince you to send them money. These fraudulent schemes can include lotteries, on-line dating services, inheritance notices, work permits/job offers, bank overpayments, or even make it appear that you are helping a friend in trouble. Never send money to anyone that you have not met in person. Benin has seen an increasing number of Nigerian-style frauds involving various forms of advance fee fraud and Internet-based fraud. 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 needing to pay off customs officials, emergency medical bills, or bail to get out of jail. Please refer to the fraud warning on the Embassy’s website: http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/scam.html

It is not unusual for criminals to locate American businesses over the Internet and place orders to be imported into Benin. The criminals will ask for a fee up front and several small businesses have lost money due to this scheme. 

Benin is not a gold-producing country, yet there have been numerous scams and kidnappings involving the selling/purchasing of “gold dust.” The most recent scams involved a standing minister and an American pilot.

Areas to be Avoided and Best Security Practices

Do not use credit cards. If possible, use cash. Credit card fraud is rampant. While ATMs at major hotels and banks are considered safe, use caution. Cotonou is still very much a cash-based economy. If you must use credit/debit card, accounts should be closely reviewed for fraud.

Travelers are advised to avoid driving outside Cotonou after dark. Vehicle doors should always be locked and windows rolled up while traveling throughout the country. 

Due to the high crime level, walking outside at night or alone on the beaches is not recommended. 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. Do not swim in the ocean waters due to a strong current and serious risk of drowning.

Do not wear expensive jewelry or take unnecessary valuables with you to the markets or beaches. Travel in groups if at all possible when walking after dark.

While most demonstrations are non-violent, there is a possibility crowds can rapidly become unruly. It is recommended that official Americans, businesspersons, visitors and other bystanders avoid all public demonstrations and large crowds.

Photographing any government facility or military instillation is prohibited. It is recommended that visitors refrain from photographing Beninese citizens unless they 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.

U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information 

Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation 

U.S. Embassy Cotonou, Rue Caporal Anani 01 BP 2012, Cotonou Benin
Phone: (229) 21-30-06-50; Fax: (229) 21-30-66-82  
Embassy Hours: ACS 24/7; Mon-Thu 8-12; Fri 0730-1:30

Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers

Regional Security Officer: (229) 21-300650 ext 4218/4259
Embassy Operator: (229) 21-300650
Medical Unit: (229) 21-300650 ext 4249
Consular Affairs: (229) 21-300650 ext 4777
Political/Economic Section: (229) 21-300650 ext 4205/4206

It is recommended that all Americans register with the U.S. Embassy upon arrival to Benin and practice good situational awareness while in country.  

OSAC Country Council Information

The U.S. Embassy in Benin had its inaugural OSAC Cotonou Country Council meeting on January 31, 2013.