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Country Reports

Benin Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Benin (population: 10.6 million) is a small West African country situated between Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria. The country does not present any significant risks. However, in light of certain issues, travel to Benin should be undertaken with some preparation.

AREAS TO AVOID

The French ministry of foreign affairs formally advises against travel to the W park (North of the country), at the border with Burkina Faso and Niger. Likewise, these authorities advise against traveling to the Northeastern half of the country (Alibori and Borgou departments, between the interstate National Road [RNIE] n°2 and the Nigerian border from Tchaourou to Malanville, except for essential reasons.

CRIME

Compared to those of other sub-Saharan African nations, crime rates in Benin are relatively low, but petty crime (e.g. pickpocketing, aggression, etc.) is not unheard of in urban areas (Conotou, Porto-Novo).

In Cotonou, it is advised to remain vigilant in popular areas highly frequented by foreigners (hotels, ports, railway stations, bars, and restaurants). Likewise, it is recommended not to walk on Cotonou beaches, which are not safe during the day or night. In addition, travelers should avoid going to the Dantokpa market, especially at night.

It is advised to not walk alone, particularly at night and in remote areas.

Several cases of armed aggression (knives, machetes, guns) were reported in 2015.

Simple precautions should be followed: do not carry any valuables or large sums of money with you, and do not resist in case of an aggression.

Because of their assumed wealth, foreign nationals are often victims of scams that take different forms: romance, friendship, commercial entrepreneurship, employment, which can pose a significant financial threat for the victims. 

In addition, cybercrime is on the rise in Benin. Some individuals offer miscellaneous items with attractive prices via classified ads or emails; it is recommended to be careful when making purchases online.

Aggressions on highways and second roads are frequent. Travelers should be cautious due to the risk of carjackings, which are prevalent in Cotonou and outside major cities. It is advised to drive with doors locked and windows rolled up.

It is also recommended to avoid regions along the borders with Nigeria and Niger, where traffic and violent crimes often take place, and due to the terrorist threat coming from these two countries.

Acts of piracy off the Benin coast have been identified; sailors must exercise greater vigilance.

TERRORISM

It should be noted that Benin officially joined the fight against the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram in the summer of 2015; several hundred soldiers from Benin are taking part in the Multinational Mixt Force (FMM - military force, mostly made of troops from riparian countries of the Chad Lake - Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon). This engagement increases the risk of a terrorist attack in the country, as the terrorist organization could carry out retaliatory assaults.

Moreover, West Africa having been the victim of various attacks (Ivory Coast , Mali , Burkina Faso , etc.), travelers should be cautious, especially in popular tourist locations (luxury hotels, restaurants, cafés and resorts, etc.). United Kingdom diplomatic authorities consider the global terrorist threat against UK citizens and interests to be high and rising notably due to their involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. However, Benin does not face as high of a risk in this regard as compared to other countries in the region.

POLITICS

Benin is one of the most stable democratic regimes in West Africa. Patrice Talon was reelected as the Head of State on March 2016, running against Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou. The election took place in a calm environment with a high participation rate.

Demonstrations may still occur. In general, gatherings take place in front of official buildings in Cotonou and are often lead with calm. Student protests occur regularly; one protest organized in Banté in May 2016 left one person dead, and several others were held in Porto-Novo and Cotonou in August 2016.

The next elections will take place in 2019 (legislative) and 2021 (presidential).

Individuals are advised to be aware of developments to the political situation and to avoid gatherings.

TRANSPORTATION

Several international companies provide air links to Europe and other African capitals. However, some regional or national companies appear on the EU's blacklist.

The country suffers - with the exception of highways linking Cotonou to Nigeria, Togo, Niger and Burkina Faso - from unreliable, inadequate and degraded road infrastructure. During the rainy season (in the North from April to mid-July and from mid-September to October, and in the South from June to September) roads are generally unreliable.

Long-distance road travel can be extremely dangerous. Bandits are active on the roads, always armed and potentially violent. Carjackings are frequent throughout Benin road axes. It is advised to drive with doors locked and windows rolled up. Outside major cities, all travel must be done during the day, with an all-terrain vehicle (4x4), possibly in convoy, equipped with adequate supplies of water, food and fuel; fuel supply is ensured in major cities, but appears difficult to acquire outside major cities, especially in the North. Travelers should also ensure that the vehicle contains mechanical spare parts (wheels, cables, etc.) and that they have effective means of telecommunication.

The danger of road accidents is increased by a general non-observance of other drivers and of the highway code, the lack of maintenance of vehicles, and the lack of medical care facilities. Due to the lack of public lighting, all night travel should be avoided. When deadly, accidents may easily escalate into a violent riot. In case of an accident, travelers should not leave the vehicle and go immediately to the nearest police station. Road accidents are the leading cause of deaths for foreign nationals.

For all travel within the country, French authorities testify to the possibility of using the bus (especially Africa Lines company whose schedules are regular) ; or for areas not served by this company, to use  bush taxis. However, British authorities do not recommend it because of the lack of security.

Finally, though entry points exist at all borders of the country, only the coastal crossing points with Nigeria and Togo should be taken due to related risks.  

HEALTH

Prior to departure, foreign nationals should purchase a health insurance plan covering overseas care and medical repatriation, the latter being mandatory in case of a significant or urgent health issue.

A certificate of immunization against yellow fever is mandatory to enter the country for travelers coming from an endemic area or having transited by the airport of a country where there is a risk of transmission. Vaccination is recommended by the World health organization (WHO) for all travelers.

Lassa fever is endemic throughout the country, with a higher risk in Borgou. In certain areas such as in the Northern part of Tanguieta city, in the Collines, Alibori, Atlanque, Koufoo, Oueme, and Littoral region, cases have been reported. Since January 2016, an outbreak is ongoing. On June 13, 2016, 54 cases have been reported, including 28 deaths. An antiviral is available for Lassa fever, but is not suited for the situation on the ground.

Malaria is endemic in the country, and as such it is recommended to take individual protections measures against mosquito-bites and suitable treatment. Over one million cases of malaria have been reported between 2014 and 2015.

Bird flu has been identified in the territory, and the French General Directorate for Health recommends that travelers avoid contact with poultry and birds (i.e. visiting farms or volatile markets).

Tap water is not drinkable. Diarrheal diseases are frequent in the country. It is recommended to only drink filtered bottled water, to make sure food is properly cooked, and to wash hands several times a day.

To avoid any risk of parasitic infection, it is advised to avoid  bathing, or washing clothes in stagnant waters. It is not advised to walk barefoot.

Moreover, it is necessary to take precautions against HIV/AIDS, which is highly prevalent throughout the country.

Meanwhile, vaccines against measles and meningitis are recommended as numerous cases have been reported in the country. The risk of meningitis is particularly high in Benin as the country is located in the "meningitis belt". Cases are often reported during hot season (November to March in the South; October to May in the North).

Finally, public health infrastructures are weak; in case of an emergency, it is advised to head for private health facilities, while favoring repatriation as soon as possible. 

INFRASTRUCTURES

The electricity supply is problematic in the country and particularly in Cotonou. Power cuts are recurrent. Only 38.4% of the population has access to electricity throughout the territory.

NATURAL RISKS

Ocean currents are very strong, and many cases of drowning have been reported. Particular vigilance is required when swimming.

Flooding is recurrent during the rainy season (April to October in the South; June to September in the North), particularly in the Northern part of the country, making difficult any travel to Niger. Due to the lack of adequate water drainage infrastructures, roads are often impassable and several villages flooded.

Earthquakes are rare; however, one struck the country in June 2010.

LEGAL

Due to the prevalence of ancestral culture and traditions, it is recommended to be discreet about religion and respect places of worship.

It is forbidden to photograph some buildings such as official ones, airports, infrastructures, traditional markets, etc., as well as security forces and demonstrations.

The permitted blood alcohol level is 0.8 g/l.

Homosexuality is legal in Benin but controversial, it is advisable to be discreet. Offensive manners, in which Europeans are sometimes involved, are severely repressed. The law punishes "lewd acts between the same sex or with a minor under 21" (legal age of consent in Benin).

Climate

The climate in the south of the country is equatorial with high levels of humidity. The dry seasons last from November until March and again from mid-July until mid-September; the rainy seasons last from April until mid-July and again from mid-September until October.

The climate is tropical in the north; the dry season there lasts from November until May and the rainy season from June until September. Temperatures along the coast are tolerable, though temperatures often soar above 40°C in the north where there is, fortunately, dry air and cool nights. The Harmattan, a hot and dusty wind, blows across desert regions during the dry season.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +229 Hospital (C.N.H.U): 21 30 01 55 State Police: 21 31 58 99 Urban Security Cotonou: 21 31 20 11

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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