Commercial exchanges: Dantokpa Market, fortune alongside fire in Cotonou

Fires at the international market of Dantokpa are still commonplace despite the measures taken for ages. The sources of these fires are multiple and the responsibilities are shared.
“Each year there are always fires in the international market of Benin that is Dantokpa. It’s been since our independence in 1960,” says Mama Yabo, a loincloth trader, over 60 years old, met at the Dantokpa market. “I was a victim in 2015 when my shop caught fire before being extinguished,” adds Mama Yabo. These words of the shopkeeper seem to be justified by the two recent fires. Indeed, on the night of Saturday November 5 to Sunday November 6, 2022, a fire broke out at the Dantokpa international market. The fire consumed a store built with permanent materials and several storage areas made of sheet metal. The flames were brought under control following the intervention of a team from the departmental company of Littoral firefighters and civil firefighters from the Autonomous Port of Cotonou. According to witnesses met at the scene, the origin of the fire remains unknown. Significant material damage was recorded. But no deaths or injuries were reported.

The fire episodes in Dantokpa
Fire episodes frequently affect the Dantokpa market in Benin each year. As proof, a fire consumed several shops on the evening of Saturday May 21, 2022 at the Dantokpa market. The fire started from a shop around 9 p.m. in the “Hangamè” area (in the hangars, in French). The fire spread to six (06) other shops selling cosmetic products, according to Frissons Radio. It took firefighters nearly 3 hours to extinguish the flames. This fire caused enormous material damage.
In addition, on the night of Friday May 7 to Saturday May 8, 2021, a fire was recorded in this large market in Benin. An electrical short-circuit would be the cause of this umpteenth fire at the international market installed on the edge of the Cotonou lagoon. The fire would have started after midnight and mainly affected the poultry trade sector. The losses are considerable, according to the testimonies of some victims. No loss of human life however.
As a reminder, a few weeks before this umpteenth fire, another had been reported in the afternoon of April 4, 2021. The damage was heavy because around fifty shops filled with goods had been reduced to ashes. These are series of fires that have been recorded at the Dantokpa international market since the case of 2015.
Market visits have been organized each year by the various governments but alas, fire still dictates its law at the Dantokpa market. As proof, following the fire that occurred on April 4, 2021 at the large Dantokpa market, on Tuesday April 20, 2021, Minister Alassane SEÏDOU accompanied by members of his cabinet, the Director General of the Autonomous Market Companies of Benin (SOGEMA), Armand GANSÈ was at the side of the victims. On this occasion, the Minister Alassane SEÏDOU, said that “This is a file that is of great concern to the government and after studies, the appropriate measures will be taken to rebuild the market”, he confirmed. In addition, several causes explain the different fires. For some, the major causes are, among others, short circuits, smuggled gasoline commonly called “kpayo”, constructions in precarious materials. Others confide that the causes of the fires are of criminal origins in particular human wickedness.

Forex traders still in the informal sector in Dantokpa
For currency exchange transactions at the Dantokpa market, traders always conduct their activities in the open air under parasols or umbrellas. Wads of FCFA, Naira, Cedi, Dollars and Euro notes etc. are displayed on small tables. This practice of currency traders is contrary to the texts in force in Benin. Because it exposes exchange managers to dangers including robberies, thefts, etc. Despite the many awareness sessions organized by the General Directorate of the Treasury and Accounting of the Ministry of Economy and Finance in collaboration with the National Directorate of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), the practice has tough skin among currency traders. As a reminder, the foreign exchange market is a decentralized market that does not have a specific physical location in the Dantokpa market where traders can buy or sell currencies. The foreign exchange market is a place where buyers and sellers exchange currency at a set exchange rate. The daily currency trading volume has already reached USD 6.6 trillion in 2020 according to the Bank for International Settlements report.
Largest market in West Africa, almost 60 years old (1963), the Dantokpa market is struggling to modernize. Despite the many fires recorded in the market (05 fires in 2021), we are surprised at the inaction on the organizational level. As proof, no provision was made to react promptly to the fires. According to reports, the market which spans nearly 20 hectares does not have a fire hydrant. The one with the most porch is located far away, precisely at the 4 Thérapies crossroads and would be installed on private initiative.

When cases of fire break out in the market, the obstruction of the aisles also makes it impossible to reach the scene of the tragedy easily and in time. We have frequently pointed an accusing finger at the precarious infrastructures and the electrical installations with little or no security or even the phenomenon of smuggled gasoline known as Kpayo, but we have never deigned to recognize that the market lacks support infrastructures. . It is not only about measures against fires or to deal with them quickly but also about health care units, child care centers or crèches… The development plan of the market to date lacks ambition and everything contributes to convince that it is a vulgar center of transactions.
This has real impacts on reactions to fires and other tragedies in the market. Traffic lanes are not clearly cleared. They are always crowded, which makes it difficult for firefighters and the police to intervene when called upon. A source who requested anonymity explained that for several interventions, it is often an obstacle course that it takes to reach the scene of the tragedy. In the cleaning on the way leading to the scene of the tragedy, the degree of the fire increases, and this, in proportion to the damage. Cross-checks show that the Autonomous Markets Management Company, the market’s administrative authority, has taken initiatives to strengthen the fight against fires by creating fire hydrants and water and sanitation points. Also, to reinforce security, a detachment of the Group of firefighters and a special police station are set up in the market.

But the fact remains that the distance remains and access to the place of drama requires clearing the way to access the theater of drama, which generally takes longer and increases the time of intervention to circumscribe a flame , and proportionally, increases the extent of the damage. This is without reckoning with the stubbornness of certain populations who also pay no attention to priority vehicles.
But this situation will have served as a lesson. Proof of this is that the ongoing Special Economic Zone in Glo-Djigbé was designed with a fire station. This shows how important it is to have the presence of this security unit in a business space.
The challenge of a modern market
Obviously that the promiscuity, the indiscipline of certain users, the makeshift electrical installations constitute a real fertile ground for repeated fires (even if it is not to hide the endogenous reasons), modernizing the Dantokpa market which extends over twenty hectares is essential to save the activity of the more than 35,000 economic agents who are there. This challenge, the government of President Patrice Talon has assimilated so well. Consequences, to create both a comfortable and secure commercial framework, and relieve congestion in the city of Cotonou, in the Council of Ministers on October 18, 2017, the Beninese State has committed to the construction of a “food platform of Greater Nokoué “. Still called “wholesale market”, this commercial framework in progress on an area of ​​168ha 18a 6 in the town of Abomey-Calavi (Zopah) 1.5 km from Interstate Route 2, aims to be ambitious in the height of the challenges. Indeed, with the aim of decongesting the international market of Dantokpa, the “wholesale market” which is part of the major infrastructural projects of the Beninese government will mainly welcome wholesalers or wholesale trade professionals. On this new platform, which is based on the shortcomings of Dantokpa, police services, firefighters and customs are integrated. This should make it possible not only to ensure the physical security of people and property, but also to facilitate the obtaining of administrative documents for the economic agents who will be deployed there. Implemented in a context where the Dantokpa market has reached its peak in terms of users and reception, this platform, according to Minister José Didier Tonato, will be the most modern “wholesale market” in the entire sub-region. . In the spirit of conforming to the various activities that take place in Dantokpa, a Mall and a commercial gallery are planned on the esplanade of the General Mathieu Kérékou stadium to accommodate modern commerce and noble commerce concerning cosmetics, jewelry and textiles. A set of three projects that will allow the final move of the Dantokpa market within a few months. Even if the said project is still struggling to be finalized when we know that the end of 2021 was the advanced date to concretize it, more than ever, it is topical in the programs of the government which, moreover, is investing in the renovation of the urban markets whose capacity is multiplied by one and a half times to accommodate retail traders.
Impacts on local development
In a context where, everywhere else, calls are multiplying in favor of the transformation of cities and towns of Africa into engines of economic growth and social development, the Dantokpa market transfer initiative is proving to be beneficial in several respects. of sight. With a total cost of 80 billion FCFA, this project, without a doubt, will accelerate the urbanization of the dormitory city (Abomey-Calavi) and the surrounding towns in terms of housing and road infrastructure. Which, logically, would reduce the density of traffic observed on the Calavi-Cotonou axis when we know that a large number of economic agents and/or consumers, for their activities or purchases, are obliged to head for Tokpa every day. This could also allow a drop in the cost of transporting agricultural materials (from the center and the north), and, perhaps, a drop in the price of food products. One thing is certain, local development is the winner.

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