This month, our regular columnist on all things African Youth and Road Safety issues, Mr Brian Bilal Mwebaze is back with an observational column on his recent experiences in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While road safety remains a struggle, certain transport methods can make it almost impossible to reach somewhere safely.
As most of you were chilling and having all tons of ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy new year’ gifts, some of us ‘Ethiopians’ were at work in the biggest city in Eastern & Central Africa:- Kinshasa. I don’t need to remind you that Ethiopia uses a sidereal calendar based on the older Alexandrian or Coptic calendar, which in turn derives from the Egyptian calendar with the rest of the world using the usual Julian calendar: You therefore need not a calculator to note that since it’s 2007 here, and with the new year being celebrated in September, you will be 7 years younger when you visit Ethiopia?
The 'Spirit of Death' pictured left and a form of travel right.
Between 22nd-28th December 2014, I was with the Ethiopian team from the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa to Kinshasa to help in the pre deployment process of the Ebola Volunteers to West Africa: Ebola, being an infectious disease with a very high virulence has caught attention of many decision makers and member states showing solidarity with Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and Liberia. Anyways, then we saw the ‘Spirit of Death’ on the road!
Les Esprit de Mort literally translated as ‘Spirit of Death’ is a trademark taxi-bus Mercedes 207 which provides public transport for over 10 million Kinshasa city dwellers daily. The physical condition of the ‘Spirit of death’ needs so much polishing that God could as well spend 14 days working on it, despite spending 7 days creating the universe! Made from old scrap evidenced by ridges in the sides of the car body, and coal-like fumes struggling to exit from the exhaust pipe, the ‘Spirit of death’ is arguably the most dangerous thing in the streets of Kinshasa! But that’s nothing: In 2012 alone, the ‘Spirit of death’ was involved in 1000 reported road traffic crashes with, 200 real people loosing their lives. (source BBC Documentary, June 26, 2013) Compared to other developing countries where the ‘Spirit of motorcycles’ have killed even more, ‘Spirit of death’ takes the Ballor D’or in Kinshasa.
Over in Kenya, the Matatu and the Boda Boda pose similar risks on the road.
Yes, and they speed too! (Not overspeed)! With the conductor standing all the time at the edge of the open sliding door yelling ‘On y va?’ Literally meaning ‘Are you going’ to the potential passengers, the car is moving at approximately 50km/hr in the middle of the town! As we were informed later however, the government procured some city buses to replace ‘Les esprit de mort’ but clearly, they are so popular because of their ability to deliver passengers at any stage! So while we continue with major steps forward in road safety, through advocacy, through education and through road safety consciousness, things like the ‘Spirit of Death’ actually continue the spirit of death for road safety.
It’s clear that these types of vehicles are prominent in Africa, whether it’s the Matatu (small mini bus) in Kenya, or the Boda Boda (taxi motorbike) that both pose serious problems in terms of safe road behaviour. While a money maker for the transport drivers, the economic cost to the country is much higher. It’s time to start improving infrastructure to enable safer means of transport for people to get around, at the very least, we should be educating the drivers of the Spirit of Death, Matatu, Boda Boda and all the other dangerous transport methods on the importance of safety. Afterall, people need to be alive for business to continue right?
Stay safe! Hello 2015!