A resident of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast reached out to the France 24 Observers team after noticing quite a few Toyotas with a rear window broken across the city. His own Toyota had also been damaged. After looking into the matter, he was able to explain to our team why thieves are targeting the Japanese car brand in particular.  

On July 10, our Observer Filip Kabeya posted a photo of a Toyota with a smashed window on the "J’aime Abidjan” Facebook page (of which he is an administrator). In the text accompanying the photo, he warned followers about what he described as a new criminal trend in Abidjan.

 

In this post (translated from French), Kabeya explains that several owners of Toyota cars have had their cars vandalized. The windows were broken and the box containing the switch used to control the windows were missing. He warned his followers to cover their cars and avoid poorly lit areas.

He explained:

 

"I saw footage from a surveillance camera showing how, in an incident on June 10, car thieves went directly for my black Toyota car, which was parked at the time in a car park near my home. Two thieves pulled up in a car. One stayed in the car, while the other hopped out and broke the rear window.


It didn’t take long because they knew what they were after: the control box and switch that operates the power windows.  The thief also took a bit of money that I had left in the glove box, but what really interested him was the control box for the windows.

 

On my way to file a complaint with the police, I saw another six Toyota cars with their rear windows broken, just like mine.

When I got to the station, the police told me that a lot of other Toyota owners had also come in to report that the switch for controlling the power windows in their car had been stolen.

An easy-to-steal car part, according to one mechanic 

The FRANCE 24 Observers team turned to Moussa Soro, a mechanic in Adjamé, a neighbourhood in the north of Abidjan, to find out why criminals have been stealing the switches for controlling power windows this summer.

During the rainy season, which starts in May, we have a lot of work because there are a lot of thefts. The rain is noisy and so it is much easier for criminals to operate without being spotted during this time of year.

I noticed that criminals have been targeting Toyotas this year. I think this is because you don’t need tools to remove the switch for operating the power windows, you can just unhook it. It is quick and easy. 

Most of these stolen car parts end up in Abobo, in northern Abidjan, where they are sold for about 40,000 CFA francs [€60]. The most ironic thing is that a lot of people whose switches are stolen end up going to Abobo to buy a replacement -- and shopping from the same market where their stolen switch is probably for sale! 

 

Toyota Ivory Coast says they’ve notified the parent company about this trend

The Ivorian branch of Toyota is aware of this issue. Yves Rolland Bamba, head of customer service, said that he had received "multiple complaints” from Toyota owners who had their rear windows shattered and their power window switch stolen.

"Victims of this kind of theft often have to pay about 350,000 CFA francs (around €530) to replace the broken and stolen car parts. We reported this problem to the parent company to explore technical options for reinforcing these components. In the meantime, we’ve advised owners to park their cars in secure and well-lit areas,” he told the FRANCE 24 Observers team.


An ongoing racket in Abidjan

It’s difficult to get exact figures for the number of Toyota cars that have been targeted by this kind of theft, but the trend has been discussed by members of the "Police Secours" Facebook group, which provides a link between Ivorians and the police.

Assane Coulibaly Keita, one of the group administrators, spoke to our team.

The municipality that seems to be the most affected by this trend is Cocody, in the Riviera, Palmeraie and Angré neighbourhoods. People tend to act either alone or in groups of four. The police have already arrested a number of people in the 34th and 35th districts of the city.

Between April and May 2019, at least two people were arrested for selling stolen switches according to the "Police Secours" group.

 

Toyotas aren’t the only cars being targeted but, because they are popular in Abidjan, there are a lot of mechanics who need these parts. [In 2018, Toyota was ranked as the most widely sold car in Africa, representing 14% of the market].

The thieves target Toyotas because they know they can sell the stolen car parts quickly. People need to be vigilant and install an alarm system. 

If you have been victim to a similar crime or if you happen to have footage of the thieves in action, then don’t hesitate to contact our team at observers@france24.com.

Article by Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).