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Opinions of Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Ghana tops Africa in road crashes?

By George Sydney Abugri {Editor-in-Chief, the General Telegraph}

The Nigerian journalist got a little bit worked up and thumped on the table with a fist several times. David the programme host, looked irritated some¬what but did not protest.

The producer of the "Focus on Africa" pro¬gramme, a pretty young lady was however very, very angry. She switched off the micro¬phones and spoke through a tiny window in a screen separating her from the panel:

She told the Nigerian journalist that his over-animated submissions and banging on the table were ruining the broadcast. The very sensitive micro¬phones were picking every¬thing up, she said. If he could not moderate his voice and keep his paw off the table, he would do well to get his butt off the chair and his person out of the Studio.

That was in the BBC Studios at Bush House in London some years ago. To my right, sat the other two members of the panel, both middle-aged Britons who had done some consultancy work for World Bank-sponsored road transport management projects in some African countries. They appeared amused by what was going on. Since it was a live broadcast, I wondered what effect the interruption had had on the broadcast.

The host had told BBC radio listeners worldwide, that the programme would discuss road accidents in Africa. He had gone on to say that he had in the studio with him, two World Bank consul¬tants and a journal¬ist each from Nigeria and Ghana, the two countries with the highest road acci¬dent statistics in sub-Saharan Africa.

It would seem from the Nigerian journalist’s state of excitement, that he thought our host had in his introduction given listeners the impression that Ghana and Nigeria appeared inca¬pable of running an orderly society and ensuring the safety of both her citizens and foreigners.

Some African nationalists are so hyper-sensitive when it comes to the image of our great continent, that they could break the neck of a non-African who dares make any misguided statements about the continent and if the hapless fellow happens to be wearing a white skin, so much the better.

When on another occa¬sion, a BBC producer of an online survey asked a ques¬tion about the cause of the many road accidents in most African countries he received some angry responses. He had posed the questions, "Why are they many accidents on Africa’s roads? What do you think needs to be done to make the roads safer?"

One respondent veered to a prompt defence of the image of Africa, instead of dealing directly with the questions. "Africa is not a country. It is a continent and a huge one at that. You have asked a naive question about Africans. The BBC is asking these questions as if accidents do not occur in Europe and America. Why discuss Africa's minor prob¬lems and leave out the major ones such as HIV/AIDS, the lack of political stability and lack of economic development?"

What is supposed to be a joke outside Africa, namely that it is not communicable diseases that are killing the continent’s people but motor cars, apart from making Africans like the Nigerian journalist angry, is a dead serious matter that has some truth to it: Between January and 55,798 injured. December 2012 2,249 people were killed in road accidents in Ghana and another The accidents involved 21,817 motor vehicles. If those statistics are not grim enough, the revelation by the Motor Traffic and Transport Unit of the Police Service that 9,446 people were killed in road accidents between 2008 and 2012 in Ghana, should give a clearer picture of the road safety crisis which has plagued the nation for many years now.

The problem of high road accident rates is only one of many glaring examples of the distressing consequences of develop¬ment planning gone awry in African countries like Ghana.

What is develop¬ment? Is it tarred roads, cars, electricity, sky-¬bound buildings and some fast food joints? Can urbani¬zation rightly be referred to as "development", even when such urbanization has only led to congestion and a road transport system gone dangerously wrong?

There seem to be too many motor vehicles in Ghana for a country of her size. In the meantime, there are not enough roads to drive them safely on! I sometimes wonder if plan¬ners in the transport sector know the rate of annual increase in the population of motor vehicles.

Generalized and ambigu¬ous references to "road acci¬dents", makes it difficult to get down to specifics regard¬ing the problems facing road transport management. When we get down to specifics, we realize that head-on collisions for exam¬ple, are invariably the result of narrow, two lane, and pot¬hole-riddled roads!

Other specifics in the description of road acci¬dents, may lead us to an appreciation of the grave dangers posed by the absence of speed limit signs where they are needed, the poor "sight distances" at many road curves and on hilly terrain across the country, the absence of guardrails along many steep slopes and the poor design of the sides of some roads.

Other specifics may lead us to an appreciation of the need to do something about the fundamental economics of commercial transport in Ghana which culminates in the following frightening equation: “More passengers plus break-neck speed equals maximum profit.”

Sixty instead of 42 pas¬sengers are crammed into an old, rickety bus literally falling apart. Many a passenger is seated uncomfortably on a quarter of a buttock. Several passengers are hanging out through doors and windows. The bus goes hurtling down a two lane road full of pot¬holes, at the maximum speed the driver can coax out of the decaying hulk!

The cops conduct road safety checks, arresting and prosecuting hundreds of erring motorists from time to time, but a fat lot of good it appears to be doing road safety. For all their gallant efforts, traffic police prosecutors emerge from the court room to find a thousand more motorists waiting to break every single road traffic regulations in the Highway Code:

They charge into and out of lanes like heat-seeker missiles, charge on to main roads from arterial roads without any warning, suddenly branch off from main roads onto side roads without warning, stop abruptly in the rapid stream of motor traffic and do a lot worse.

To be able to manage safe road transport in a situa¬tion like ours, you need appropriate road surveillance technology and equipment and enough traffic police officers. You won't usually find a traffic police man within a ten kilometer radius, when dare devil dri¬vers are at their very worst.

In the meantime, the nation can only wait with justified apprehension to see whether by December ending this year, the road accident fatality rates will drop lower or go higher than the 2012 figure of 2,249 killed and 55,798 injured.

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