Ambassador Jean-Pierre A. EDON calls for the revival of the railway

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The cruel accident that occurred last Sunday in Dassa following a collision between a public transport bus and a truck continues to arouse strong reactions. Specialist in international issues, Ambassador Jean-Pierre A. EDON recommends the revitalization of the railway in Benin which could be a solution to avoid such tragedies in the future. “…In industrialized and emerging countries, despite the technological progress of other means of transport, the railway still occupies a place of choice and enjoys constant modernization. “he said in a reflection, the entirety of which follows.


On January 29, 2023, the people of Benin witnessed a tragic event in the city of Dassa-Zoumé. This is a road accident by a public transport bus that caused dozens of deaths and injuries in horrible, violent and very sad conditions. This recurring drama appeals to everyone, in particular road users, bus and truck drivers and their owners.

The irreparable being unfortunately done, it is then important to think of the precautions to be taken in order to limit in the future the repetition and the frequency of similar catastrophes.

Over the past few years, when buses have taken over travel from the South to the North and back, several accidents have occurred with significant damage. The great emotion aroused within the population and the Government by that of last Sunday, is due to its particularly tragic, unprecedented character and the unprecedented importance of the human and material damage.

Many voices were raised to deplore the tragedy and express their compassion for the bereaved families, just as the State authorities have done so well. A good diagnosis of this situation cannot be made without mentioning the causes.

Some of the causes of this kind of drama

The first cause is the disastrous state of the roads, their old age and their static character which does not take into account the rapid numerical evolution of the country’s car fleet. The South-North route needs permanent maintenance to be used not only by national vehicles, but also by those of the countries of the hinterland.

As a result, the inevitable wear and tear on the tracks causes breaks on both sides which become gaping and wide holes. Instead of fixing them quickly, we wait until they become dangerous or cause serious shocks before reacting.

A second cause is the poor condition and poor maintenance of rolling stock, with very worn tires and brakes that do not work. As for the headlights, they are poorly adjusted, the turn signals broken down, etc.

Another cause is to be found in the bad behavior of drivers. To see their way of driving the buses, we can not be surprised at the advent of a disaster of this kind. In fact, in a great hurry to reach their destination quickly, these drivers drive at high speed, even in places such as towns where the highway code prohibits speeding. Worse, they allow themselves dangerous overtaking, even in bends.

Basically they do not respect the highway code and behave as if they have priority over all other vehicles sharing the same lanes as them. They are not aware that one cannot drive a vehicle of this ilk like a light car. There is then a problem of training, accountability and awareness.

Added to these causes are regrettable attitudes such as notorious indiscipline, lack of awareness and responsibility. One of the manifestations of indiscipline is their way of imposing themselves on other road users because of the force constituted by the heavy and bulky weights of their rolling stock.

The non-exhaustive table presented above is also valid for truck drivers and various heavy goods vehicles. For this category, we can add another observation, namely the lack of experience for vehicles of this size, because today most of them are very young and manifest a certain unconsciousness.

Road accidents happen unexpectedly everywhere, what is abnormal is their frequency in our country. By the use of public transport buses, passengers are looking for safety, regular taxis being less safe.

The advantage of the railway over road accidents

The massive use of the services of these jumbo jets responds to the adage that nature abhors a vacuum. These means of locomotion indeed fill the void left by the disappearance of the train. Certainly the train is not a panacea in this area, however it is safer than other means of land transport.

Indeed it is proven everywhere, even in Benin that accidents on the railway are rare and less frequent than on the road. It is in the absence of the train that the passengers, having no more choice, rush to the buses.

For about five years, the press has reported that the railway renovation and construction project is on track. But from that moment to the present day, nothing is done on the ground. On the contrary, we note the appearance of certain disturbing signs which make us lose all hope as to the restoration of the railway line.

Although not familiar with the government’s program in this area, we nevertheless dare to plead in favor of rail, which is also a factor and an index of development. The proof is that in industrialized and emerging countries, despite the technological progress of other means of transport, the railway still occupies a place of choice and enjoys constant modernization.

Taking into account the firm determination of the Head of State to position Benin on the path of development through audacious and salutary reforms which are already producing good results, our conviction, shared by other observers, is that the railway can be rehabilitated as soon as possible, if such is the will of the President of the Republic.

Some lines of thought and action to counter the evil

In short, the reflection on the issue of road accidents in Benin involves some actions and reforms below:

  • Pay increased attention to the construction and maintenance of inter-city and inter-state roads. In this context, it is desirable that in the short term the South-North route be transformed into a motorway.
  • Review the conditions for issuing driving licenses to drivers of buses and trucks of all kinds. Introduce, if necessary, point-based permits which imply their definitive withdrawal when the points are exhausted as a result of a certain number of road accidents caused by the driver.
  • Strengthen the technical inspections of large carriers and make them half-yearly. Any vehicle in this category which no longer meets the required technical standards must be purely and simply withdrawn from circulation.
  • Re-institute speed control on main roads inside the country and limit it to 80km/h, with particular emphasis on road safety.
  • Urgently take the necessary measures to rehabilitate the railway and modernize it in order to have fast and comfortable trains. From then on, passengers can opt for the railway line, which offers more security. The train is the safest means of land transport.

With the assistance of specialists in the field, other measures can still be taken, such as those resulting from the Council of Ministers of 1is February 2023. In addition, traffic in our cities, especially Cotonou, is a bit messy due to the fact that little attention is paid to the highway code. Driving is done not according to proper regulations, but by resourcefulness. In reality, the observation of bad driving practices on the main roads, is a reflection of what is going on in the main cities.

For example, no motorist or driver of two-wheeled vehicles respects the podium placed at intersections and the police officers in place watch without reacting, which encourages this lack of discipline. It seems appropriate that particular attention should henceforth be paid to the mode of traffic on our roads and in the big cities to avoid in the future the resurgence of this type of drama which could also occur in the main urban centers, if we do not pay attention to it.

Jean-Pierre A. EDON

Ambassador, specialist in international issues.

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