As I restructure the website at the start of a New Year, I archive the old news and create the new pages. The popular “Crash News Africa” and “Crash News World” pages for 2016 are fresh and empty. It is like opening another burial ground. Over the year, these new pages will fill up with obituaries, a graveyard of traffic fatalities, memorials of lives lost, many needlessly, on the World’s highways, especially Africa. I will be writing about people who are not yet dead or injured. That is a solemn thought.
It is déjà vu (an event or experience currently being experienced that has already been experienced in the past). The tragedy of road death will continue to mount until we start to apply stricter sanctions, not just against the individuals who break the laws of the road but also against those who pontificate as to what should be done. Not only those local Road Safety Councils, Road Safety Commissions, Ministries of Safety, Roads Authorities, Ministries of Works and Transport and the Police but also those in the International brigade of Transport professionals, Agency managers and Donors who continue to fail to deliver on the plans that they advocate.
In 2007 I attended the African Road Safety Conference in Accra. The great and the good attended, as they do. It was a pleasant time in congenial surroundings, spent with old friends. After many sessions of “death by PowerPoint”, a statement was issued and everyone shook hands and departed. What was the outcome and what was achieved? Little or nothing in terms of casualty reduction. In 2015 another gathering of the great and the good convened in Brazil and issued their statement which had echoes of the 2007 statement and other aspirational statements. Déjà vu.
You will have little difficulty in getting people to attend these International conferences, especially where it is all paid for. The World and his wife will come if it is free. Some change makers may be fortunate enough to attend but it is more likely to be the senior political figures and senior staff rewarded with an overseas “jolly”. What you will get as an output is a notional agreement that will wither with time, because the people involved in making decisions are not always the people charged with carrying out the decisions.
There is no enquiry as to why they fail, why they do not achieve the targets, why they have been paid good taxpayers money for failure and why they continue to get paid good taxpayers money, for more of the same the next year? If you ran a private business and your employees failed to do the job that they were paid for, you would replace them. You would not give them the opportunity to repeat their failure year after year.
The International community is somehow afraid, in this politically correct era, to name and shame the failures. Yet that same International community is happy to take the donor nation’s hard earned tax dollars to fund failure. Where is the accountability?
Enough. If you have evidence of failure, I am happy to publish it in these pages subject to verification?
The Decade of Action, that aspirational programme with hypothetical casualty reductions, is heading for the rocks. It will not work, not because the safety measures are bad science or irrelevant. They are just not being implemented. If success is not being achieved, we need to have an enquiry as to the cause of the failure and not just keep pretending that the targets are realistic and achievable and finally brush it under the carpet in 2020.
Let us have a financial evaluation of funding (both donor and internal) spent on road safety over the last 5 years. Make public the value for money if there is any. If money is being wasted, the donor nations should shut the account. If people fail, they should be retrained or dismissed for incompetence. If a surgeon had a history of failed operations, we would avoid him like the plague and he would become unemployable. Let us have some of this in the road safety community and have a “Decade of Change” or even better a “Decade of Honesty”.
Donor organisations seem to fail to grasp the fact that road safety cannot simply be compartmentalised and addressed in isolation from other national issues. There are some fundamental building blocks that need to be in place before any investment will have an impact. So there is an ORDER in which things need to occur, not simply tackling EVERYTHING at the same time (as current Action Plan blue prints would suggest). Sometimes investment needs to be directed at good governance first and foremost (which may take years) before any investment in road safety will bear any fruit.
It may be that the people driving the road safety agenda are just out of touch with the countries they aim to help. What appears to be important in Africa is just different to what is important elsewhere. The UN Study on My World (http://data.myworld2015.org/ ) suggests that what Africans really want are education, healthcare and jobs. Whether “Better transport and roads” includes safety, is open to question. Who is listening to these countries?
If we are going to impose a road safety agenda, it should with the signed consent of the leaders of the countries and on a basis where the country itself shows willing by providing some resources? If the political will is lacking then the option is to withdraw until there is a political will. Presidents can make things happen if they want to and that is their business not ours. Continuing to fund failure however, does not constitute a road safety programme.
And one final point. The “West” often fails to understand the underlying cultural values and ways of working in other countries. Developing an understanding is a good starting point before applying the neo-colonial wisdom that “we know best” and our “one size fits all” high tech’ road safety programme will work where you live. It clearly does not.
It is time for a reality check.