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 Editorial 2017

Who is responsible for Road Safety?

As I open the new obituary pages, “Crash News Africa 2017” and “Crash News World 2017”, I reflect on the continuing failure by individuals to take road safety seriously.

But firstly, let me thank those reporters who feed us the crash reports. In my opinion, we are getting the best quality and most informative reports from Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa. The other countries might learn a lot from these professionals. Well done!in-god-we-trust

Back in April 2016, you will have read, “The United Church of Zambia (UCZ) has conducted countrywide prayers, seeking God’s intervention, in the wake of escalating deaths resulting from road traffic accidents”. The recent crash in Tanzania (bus pictured), shows that sticking a message about God on to a bus, however well meaning, does not work as a road safety remedial measure. Much more engagement is required, more personal responsibility in the community, after all it is their lives on the line. You may trust in God but you could not trust the bus driver, who incidentally, is currently being sought by the police.

Another group “led by the bishop with other religious leaders in offering prayers at the spot, where 13 vehicles involved in the accident were burnt. While at the spot, he called on the government to involve religious leaders when commissioning new roads”. They do not need permission, they need to be proactive and act before the tragedy, not wring their pious hands after the fact, but as we know, in Africa, we generally fix the problem after the wheel falls off, not before.

There is no such thing as an ‘accident’, there is cause and effect. I am reminded of the man who gave his excuse for speeding, that he was late for a funeral (27/12/15). Why should we expect Divine intervention to override individual carelessness and stupidity? Road Safety has to get out of the blame shifting business and people have to acknowledge their own responsibility.

In August 2016, we read of 68 children injured, 3 killed in Kenya, when a brand new 52 seater school bus was put in the hands of a borderline lunatic. Having overloaded it, he put his foot down and then rolled it several times on a bend. The report suggested rather apologetically, “the driver of the bus also seemed to be new” –  unlike the one day old bus he had just wrecked!

Drunk driving remains a major contributory factor to crashes. Another contributory factor is those bastions of law enforcement, the police. Fortunately not so much the senior officers but the poorly paid lower ranks, continuing to supplement their miserable salaries by obtaining ‘donations’ from unsuspecting motorists. Those whose job is to uphold licensing integrity were described in one country as “a traffic authority “gangrened” by corruption and “fake licence holders” who “turn into lethal hazards””.police-car

There was also a report in one country that the police vehicles (a new fleet!) were “turning into death traps”. Seeing how little care is lavished on police vehicles, I have often thought that that process of deterioration could be accelerated by providing each new police car with a sledge hammer, so that the police could batter the vehicle into scrap metal even quicker. They seem to have so little care for their fleet. “Easy come easy go”, as they say.

The responsibility for road deaths lies squarely with the community in each country. It is not the responsibility of another country, some external international “nanny agency” to sort out a nation’s problems without invitation. And I do not mean the sort of invitation that goes without obligations on the part of the beneficiary. Every one who has worked in Africa knows that people do not turn down a “freebie”. They should learn a lesson from the organisations that supply Bibles to Africa. They ask for a small contribution for them, because they know that if they give something away it will not be treated as having any value, just like those police cars.

There needs to be a process of holding people to account. Holding to account those people who work in the local road safety organisations, right up to the Transport Ministers. Accountability without fear or favour for failure to act. While we are at it, let us hold the ‘experts’ (local and international) to account also. If the “experts” have achieved so little to date, they need to go, because they certainly would in any self-respecting company that had to show results.

Yet how can we have any accountability when we do not know where the responsibility lies? It is about time that we the taxpayers were told ‘who’, at every level in the road safety programmes, is responsible for delivering ‘what’ and the precise targets and indicators that each one must achieve.  Give us the names of people please. And while we are at it let us see what has been a sustainable achievement, not another ‘good practice’ model project. What did we get for our money that will stand the test of time? It is not fair to other nations that they fund Africa’s road safety forever.

If we help countries, then we should expect more in return than excuses for why things did not happen. It seems to me that the big beneficiaries of road safety programmes are the ‘T’ shirt manufactures, the poster printers, the cap makers, the pen makers, the banner makers and those of course who get these ‘freebies’. And what is the impact of all of this on casualty reduction? unrswYour guess is as good as mine but I think the figure is quite near to zero. (Image: local transport carrying African road safety supporters to a UN road safety event!).

When are we going to see a war on the waste and corruption? Perhaps when the liberal elites have the courage to confront the culprits and stop foreign aid? Yet we hear that a new fund is being launched in support of road safety. No doubt the International Consultancies will be rubbing their hands but not we tax payers. Hopefully, the ‘peasants revolt’ that is now occurring in many countries around the world will close down funding for these operations unless the beneficiaries will meet them half way.

I read with regret, as we close the year, that Ms Christine Lagarde (IMF Managing Director), was found guilty of ‘negligence by a person in a position of public authority’. The head of the International Monetary Fund choked back tears as she proclaimed her innocence on the final day of her trial in Paris (Times report). I choke too and my regret is that we can hardly demand transparency and honesty from the beneficiaries of international funding when the people who should set an example do not.

So it is business as usual as we enter 2017 AD. The same old villains, the same old protagonists, the same pleas for care, the same wise words, more committees and more declarations of good intent from the great and the good.  Just remember that where there is no accountability, promises count for nothing.

See you next year…..or maybe not?

 Is Aid killing Africa?

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