The second life in Cotonou of European cars

Dozens of used cars from Europe, Asia or the United States on display at a seller in Ekpe, (Benin) on September 16, 2022 (Yanick Folly / AFP)

His car exceeds 170,000 kilometers on the clock and would not pass a technical inspection in Europe, but for Adam Adébiyi it is “like new”. This Beninese, computer scientist by profession, cannot afford to buy a new vehicle from the factory.

So for him, as for millions of Africans on the continent, the used market is the only option.

Africa is the main destination for used vehicles, with a quarter of vehicles exported globally between 2015 and 2020, or 5.6 million vehicles, according to the UN. These vehicles come mainly from Europe and Japan, more and more from South Korea or the USA, often very old and polluting.

Adam Adébiyi’s car, a small Matrix Toyota, was put into circulation in 2004 in Canada, before fifteen years later it made its way by sea to Benin, where it was bought in 2019 by a first owner. , who then sold it to him.

Not far from the port of Cotonou, Benin’s economic capital, used car fleets stretch for miles.

Because Benin is one of the five largest importers of used vehicles in Africa, according to a UN report published at the end of 2021. The West African country has only 11 million inhabitants, but it is the gateway to the markets of Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and especially Nigeria, the most populous neighboring country in Africa.

In one of these gigantic parking lots, near the border with Nigeria, Zakari Cissé, with a smile on his face and his hand on the steering wheel, has just acquired a car that was put into circulation in Belgium in 2002.

This father would have liked to buy a new one from a dealer. But lacking enough resources, he fell back on this 20-year-old used vehicle. The price of these used cars starts around 1.5 million CFA francs (2,300 euros).

He finds it “clean and well maintained”. Even “the engine responds very well and you can feel the noise,” he says.

“We don’t import rubbish”, says Ossama Allouch, an importer of used vehicles in Cotonou, specifying that vehicles are subject to a minimum of checks before purchase.

“Used cars are everywhere… It’s not just vehicles that are banned from use,” he adds.

Sawn catalyst

But according to a report by the United Nations Environment Program published in 2021, most of these vehicles exported to developing countries are very old, polluting, energy-consuming, dangerous and endangering the goals of the fight against global warming.

A used car market from Europe, Asia or the USA, in Ekpe, (Benin) on September 16, 2022
A used car market from Europe, Asia or the United States, in Ekpe, (Benin) on September 16, 2022 (Yanick Folly / AFP)

During an inspection by the Dutch authorities at the end of 2019 in the port of Amsterdam, from where the boats transporting these cars to Africa leave every week, the average age of the waiting vehicles was 18 years and their count exceeded the 200,000 km on average .

Almost all (93%) were Euro 3 or lower, i.e. marketed before the start of 2000. Some of the vehicles were out of service, some had their catalytic converters disconnected.

But Amen Djidjoho, manager of one of the sales parks in Benin, assures him that “all imported vehicles come with a catalytic converter, because in Europe and America it is strictly forbidden to remove them”.

Catalysts make it possible to significantly limit the emission of polluting gases, such as nitrogen oxide. They are made of precious metals such as gold, silver, rhodium and platinum and their value can exceed 100 euros. They are thus traded in Europe and Africa.

To avoid their thefts, agents are assigned to check at night during transfers to Beninese sales parks, assures Mr. Djidjoho.

Worrying pollution

The pollution generated by these cars is a major concern for conservationists.

Used cars from Europe, Asia or USA and sold in Ekpe (Benin), September 16, 2022
Used cars from Europe, Asia or the USA and sold in Ekpe (Benin), September 16, 2022 (Yanick Folly / AFP)

These old cars, along with the poor quality of fuels used in West Africa, are “one of the main reasons for the increase in air pollution levels in the cities of the region”, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

“Children going to schools and taking busy roads and informal vendors along these roads” are the most exposed to the health effects of these toxic fumes, the UN laments.

But it is not easy to regulate this important sector of Benin’s economy, which is also a major provider of jobs.

The fifteen countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) actually adopted a directive in 2020 with the aim of introducing cleaner fuels and vehicles to the market, the implementation of which should begin in January 2021. .

Imported used vehicles must at least meet Euro 4 standards, i.e. have been put into circulation after 2006. But we note that in Benin the vehicles sold in parking lots are much older.

Contacted several times, the Ministry of Transport did not respond to questions from AFP about the current legislation in the country.

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