Last Updated: Friday, 29 August 2014, 14:18 GMT

Benin: Violent crime threatens markets, livelihoods

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 30 December 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Benin: Violent crime threatens markets, livelihoods, 30 December 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/496321d32c.html [accessed 30 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

COTONOU, 30 December 2008 (IRIN) - A recent increase in violent crime threatens to further impoverish Benin by choking off small business, according to law enforcement and arms control officials.

Police in Benin's economic capital Cotonou link this year's spike in armed robberies and violent crime to small arms trafficking, as well as the growing desperation of people who can no longer afford to cover their basic needs.

In the past two months at least seven people have died and dozens more were seriously injured in a series of bank robberies, mostly in Cotonou. "People are looking for any means necessary to make ends meet," the head of Cotonou's police headquarters, Constant Sossou, told IRIN.

The average monthly income for employed persons in Benin is less than US$50, according to 2007 World Bank data. The price of rice and corn, two widely-consumed products, increased by 50 percent from 2006 to 2007.

Police commissioner Sossou said increased economic desperation has turned some to "brazenly violent and bloody" crime. "This has nothing to do with the fact that it is the end of year [when we typically face more crime]; this is a constant threat we face now."

Police have not uncovered the culprits, or found the close to $1 million still missing from the year-end bank robberies.

Small arms

The non-profit network African Human Security Initiative noted one year ago that "the use of homemade weapons in all crimes has increased to an alarming level" throughout Benin.

Just about anybody can get their hands on weapons, said the president of Benin's Commission Against the Proliferation of Small Arms, Bonaventure De Oliveira: "Everyone is implicated in armed crime, even children. The [small arms trafficking] phenomenon is worrisome and is worsening exponentially."

He said weapons are smuggled in from neighbouring countries and are also made in Benin. According to the anti-trafficking commission, some 4,000 weapons were seized in 2006, the most recent year for which it had data. But this is just a fraction of the problem, said De Oliveira.

He estimated there are thousands of small arms manufacturers throughout the country.

Also a professor in sociology at the University of Abomey Calavi in Cotonou, De Oliveira told IRIN widespread fear caused by growing insecurity is slowing down parts of the economy that affect the most vulnerable.

Cutting business hours

In Cotonou's largest market, Dantokpa, fabric vendor Madeleine Hessou told IRIN she does not feel safe coming to work anymore: "People are hungry and since there is less money circulating now, they increasingly resort to stealing."

De Oliveira told IRIN fear has started whittling down incomes: "Now everyone is afraid to go out, even me. Female market vendors do not want to take the risk. They come late and go home early to avoid the worst. Farmers go to their fields late and go home early as well."

He said the worsening insecurity threatens to beat down the poorest. "Those who drive the economy ? farmers, vendors ? will no longer take the risk [to continue their livelihoods]?This is an indirect cost to development. It is in this way that insecurity will further impoverish this class."

But while some may feel the "chilling" effect of crime De Oliveira described, Dantokpa market continued to brim with vendors and customers in mid-December.

Supply

De Oliveira told IRIN to halt the spread of violence, fear and a potential economic slowdown, his commission has started trying to convince small arms manufacturers to shut down their operations. "We want to make them aware that violent hold-ups are not possible without weapons. Many have understood and voluntarily turned over their weapons, which pleases us ? despite the many others left to convince."

When asked how many of the thousands estimated to produce arms in Benin have shuttered their businesses, De Oliveria replied: "Dozens."

gc/pt/np


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