Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Death on the Roads - A humanitarian crisis for Zambia

Many people with limited knowledge of Africa probably think of Poverty, Malaria and HIV/Aids as the major causes of death in countries like Zambia and other parts of Sub Saharan Africa but add to the list Road Traffic Accidents.

 35 people killed in Easter Weekend Accidents

This is horrendous news but it barely ruffles any feathers in Zambia because death on the roads is so frequent. First and foremost drivers must start taking responsibility for their actions as most "accidents" (I prefer the term collisions as accidents implies a lack of accountability to any party!) are caused by recklessness. Such recklessness is often due to driving under in influence of alcohol. In many countries driving under the influence of alcohol is stigmatized. There is little sympathy from the public or court when a driver causes an "accident" while drunk.

Meanwhile in Zambia it is commonplace to drive from bar to bar during all day drinking sessions and even to drink while driving! This is where individual responsibility is essential. Obviously the driver is blameworthy but I would argue so are all of his/her passengers if they are aware of the amount of alcohol he has consumed. Moreover, I would also apportion blame to the bar/pub that allowed him/her to drink when inebriated and in charge of a motor vehicle.

Individual responsibility should also be applied to those who knowingly drive vehicles that are unfit for use upon a public highway. Zambia's roads is full of such unfit vehicles and these are often the cause of fatalities. Major highways are strewn with broken down trucks (that have passed through weighbridges and roadblocks!) and countless cars can be spotted without headlights.

In each of the above scenarios though the accountability lies not only with the individual but also with authorities. Government must take the lead and ensure that credible education programs are implemented. Police must enforce high standards of road-worthiness upon vehicles and investigate how clearly unfit vehicles came to be granted "fitness certificates." Everyone knows it is because of "back-handers" and corruption but little is ever done to deter RTSA (Road Traffic Safety Agency) employees from issuing such certificates in return for bribes. Government and RTSA also have a role to play in ensuring that the quality of roads are improved in Zambia and that less "accidents" are caused by potholes and roads which are not fit for purpose.

Over the Easter weekend the Zambian Police Force issued a statement reinforcing a police presence over the holiday period. This included the setting up of roadblocks to promote road safety. Unfortunately reality of a roadblock is a license to make money by the Police Officers on duty. Drivers will often be fined for minor indiscretions in order for the officers to raise some capital for Mosi, Castle and Hunters Dry (for the side-dish!) so that they can enjoy the weekend festivities too.  Such dereliction of duty is a crime and a crime committed by those entrusted to uphold the law!

The tragedy is that similar events occur every day in Zambia. Every day mothers bury their children and people grieve over "accidents" that could have been avoided. May the souls of those who passed away this past weekend rest in peace.

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