The ‘Zemijahn’ Factor in Road Safety Agenda of #Benin


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In this year’s last release of my column, I focus on my road safety experience in Benin-a small country in West Africa bordering Niger with a sharper lens on principles and practices of motorcyclists (also called Zemijahn in Benin), while on the roads in Cotonou and Porto Novo. This is coupled with an insight into what you can do to prepare for and as you celebrate Christmas and the New Year.

Hello every one!!! Merry Christmas and happy New Year! I wish everyone a Christmas and a happy new year’s card! Every one say, ‘Thank you!’ Greetings from Porto Novo, Benin! Wait, now you must be wondering what the hell Iam doing in Benin, but yeah…I didn’t come here to conduct a coup on the current Benin government- I can explain. As you may be aware, YOURS conducted the first ever African Youth Assembly on Road Safety in Niamey-Niger, October 2011 yes? Right, that platform marked a generation of road safety ambassadors (including myself) in my continent-Africa! Now, you are also aware of something called the ‘African Union’ yes? Well, it’s an umbrella of all African countries united by the word ‘Pan Africanism’ I will discuss with you more about this if you invite me over Christmas. But the point is, Iam part of the African Union Youth Volunteers who from 9th-22nd December 2012 are undergoing an intensive course in African leadership, volunteerism and staying safe. We are live in Songhai-a very historic and cultural site…please consult my other half, Madam Google for details. I thank you!

So, I touched down Cotonou Airport in Benin at 11:30am on 9th Dec and oh, boy…the temperatures…It must have been around 38 degrees! I hurried myself into a taxi, put on my seatbelt, upon which I yelled (not really) to the driver ‘Your seatbelt Monsieur Sil vous plait’ (considering my inefficient French) before we started our way to Porto-Novo town which is just 25km from Cotonou airport.

Listen carefully; I was left in a state of ‘Wao’ when I saw that motorcyclists and pedestrians had different routes from the cars, Lorries along the highway! Yesssssss!!!!! This is not a joke! ‘This is Impossible’, I could hear myself saying. I’ve never, never, NEVER, NEVER seen something like this in any of the African Countries I’ve visited! It was really amazing to see a 25km long road with a separate highway for motorcyclists! I almost felt like summoning all presidents of my continent for a ‘learning experience’ before I realized that Iam not the Secretary General of Africa or the UN in this case! At least, not yet!

3 days ago, I and my friends headed out to have a look around Porto Novo town. Everything seemed interesting until I realized that Motorbikes here are sold like a cigarette in a shop. You have the money? You pay now. You go away. You start riding! There is no period for certification or registration of the motorcycle. In fact, there is NO registration numbers on all the motorbikes I saw that very day! That’s not interesting no? How about this: – selling petrol on the streets in transparent-like glass…and hooooo…I have seen some men smoking around those zones! As usual, I don’t sit and start speculating, so to gather some evidence, I jogged to the police who were doing amazing work of controlling and directing traffic (which to me, is the work of traffic lights).

‘The government tried registering these motorbikes, but we had too many coming from the neighboring countries. The system fell and we no longer register them. We are encouraging people to buy cars instead’ said one of the traffic police officers. Now, that’s kinda interesting because it means, the government doesn’t have an idea of how many motorbikes are in the country. There was no need of inquiring whether the motorbike riders were certified officially as well as investigating why they don’t put on helmets.

Road traffic accidents (sorry, road traffic crashes) continue to claim lives in Benin with at least 3 accidents being registered in Porto Novo every day. That’s very scary considering Doctor Santi and Mademoiselle Christmas are coming in town! This figure gotta double. Needless to mention, young people are at the heart of the negative outcomes of these crashes!

While the New Year will come along with her own challenges, the road safety situation in Benin continues to be jaw dropping and our governments need to style up. Meanwhile, as we get set for Christmas and the New Year’s celebrations Just don’t do something I wouldn’t like!

· Don’t drink and drive!

· Don’t forget to use your helmet & seatbelt!

· Don’t speed! Don’t forget to check your car before you set for the road!

· Take breaks after 2 hours drive!

· Assume that you are the only sane person on the road and that the rest are mad!

· Install first aid boxes in your car!

· Don’t eat too much during Christmas and the New Year! STAY ALIVE! STAY SAFE! See you next year! Inshallah!!!!

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From Top: Numberless motorbikes traffic jam in Porto Novo, Awesome separate lane from Cotonou to Porto Novo, Petrol/fuel being sold on streets and the rest of the team looking around Porto Novo

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