Economic Reconversion in the Zem Industry to improve Zem Operators' Socio-economic Well-being, in Cotonou, Benin.

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Tangaza University College
The informal motorcycle transport sector plays an essential (pivotal) role in the economy of developing nations. In Benin, where the sector of motorcycle transport locally known as Zemidjan or Zem accounts for 75% of transport services, providing livelihoods for about 90% of informal workers, many such supply-side workers still face significant socio-economic hardships that undermine their overall quality of life. This study examined economic reconversion approach aiming at facilitating social transformation by broadening occupational choices and resilience for informal workers, in order to reshape life trajectories of Zem operators, in Cotonou (Benin). Anchored in a pragmatic philosophical paradigm, a concurrent mixed methods design was employed with a survey (N=420) using simple random sampling and semi-structured interviews (N=15 key informants), informed by the theoretical frameworks of contestable markets, mechanism design, and developmental interventions. Five objectives investigated the influence of market entry into Zem business, education level, existing regulations, finance access, and willingness for reconversion, on operators' socio-economic well-being. The quantitative data were analysed using descriptive statistics and regression analysis, while thematic analysis was conducted for qualitative data. Results found ease of entry negatively influenced income (β=-.477, p<.05). Higher education positively impacted well being (β=.105, p<.05). Regulations showed a negative association (β=-.134, p<.05) while finance access correlated positively (β=.377, p<.05). Quantitatively speaking, the results revealed mixed reactions regarding occupational reconversion among Zem operators. A substantial majority (84.6%) expressed their willingness to transition, with driving motives including dissatisfaction, health problems, work-life balance, and economic uncertainties, notably with regard to retirement benefits. On the flip side, a minority (15.4%) were either indifferent or had explicitly expressed their intention to continue working as Zem service providers. The study recommends human capital development programs to equip Zem operators with marketable skills. It stresses the implementation of sound economic policies to improve microcredit schemes and access to finance, as well as the creation of stable and enabling business environment, free from excessive taxes and regulations. Furthermore, national and local political bodies should explore viable job opportunities in sectors currently under-optimised. The implication for policymakers is to create operational frameworks that provide for intra- and extra-sector economic reconversion, geared towards improving income levels and diversifying occupational opportunities.