Curbing road transportation carnage in Central Africa By Chofor Che 25th July 2011

Most recently, Cameroon banned night-time public transport between cities after a spate of deadly accidents last year.

Countries in the Central African Region have one of the poorest road networks on the continent of Africa. These countries include Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, The Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon. Cameroon, one of the largest economies in the Central African region, is grossly affected by this quagmire to economic, political and social development. Less than 20 percent of the country’s roads are asphalted.

In Chad, roads are mostly unsurfaced and are likely to be impassable during the wet season. In the north, roads are merely tracks across the desert and land mines continue to present a danger. Some, but not all the roads in N’Djamena, the capital, are paved. The Central African Republic is one of the world’s least developed countries. The country also has the worst road network in the sub region. During the rainy season, roads are frequently impassable without four-wheel drive vehicles.
There are 2,880 km of highways in Equatorial Guinea, majority of which were not paved in 2010. Also during the rainy season, roads are impassable.

Ground transport in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has always been difficult. The terrain, the climate, chronic economic mismanagement and internal conflict has led to serious under-investment over many years.

In Gabon a north-south road runs the length of the country, from Bitam to Ndendé. An east–west road connects Libreville and Mékambo. Unfortunately most of these roads are also unpaved.

Most recently, Cameroon banned night-time public transport between cities after a spate of deadly accidents last year. This ban affected most especially hawkers who were put out of business. It was impossible for them to get produce to market without it wilting in the midday heat. Civil servants residing in other regions, who had to follow up issues pertaining to their careers in Yaoundé, were also affected. Due to the heated debates home and abroad that emanated from this policy move by the government, the ban was uplifted few weeks later.

Cameroon’s Ministry of Transport purports that night traffic represents just about 5 percent of human transport, but represents 35 percent of road accidents. About 1,258 people died in accidents in 2010, according to the Cameroon government. This same scenario is equally reflected in the other Central African countries.

A research project was undertaken by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2009 entitled ‘A status report on safety in countries of the WHO African region.’ According to this report, speeds above 50 km/hour, every 1 km/hour reduction in the average speed reduces the number of crashes by 2%. Crashes in rural areas with a 60 km/hour speed limit found that the relative risk of crash involvement with injuries to car occupants doubles, or more, for each increase of 5 km/hour of travelling speed above 60 km/hour.

There are several reasons why Central African countries continue to suffer from poor road infrastructure. These reasons have political, economical, social and legal dynamics.
First of all the political will from the leaders is absent. Politicians in the Central African region are busy amassing wealth at the detriment of the people.

The economy of most African countries and Central African countries in particular is pivoted on aid from developed countries. Government officials charged with ensuring that road infrastructure benefits from the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa instead indulge in embezzling financial assistance from the West.

Another factor which contributes to the poor road infrastructure in the Central African region is the lack of effective and responsive legal institutions and instruments. The institutions that are responsible for formulating and institutionalising policy on road infrastructure spend time on seminars and workshops. Money and time is wasted on training road construction engineers, only for these engineers to follow the brain drain path to the West.

Legal instruments like constitutions, laws enacted by parliaments and ministerial decisions are not helping the situation much. The Central African Region has undergone several constitutional amendments but these amendments focus solely on postponing the term of office of the Presidents of these countries rather than reforming constitutional provisions and laws pertaining to infrastructural development.

It is therefore recommended that countries in the Central African region provide resources to lead agencies, and support them to develop and implement national road safety strategies. It is also imperative that national targets are set for the reduction of road traffic crashes, injuries, and deaths. This is a crucial process that will draw in all relevant sectors and players both in government and non-governmental agencies.

Good quality national and local data are important for policy-makers and program managers who need to use limited resources in the most effective manner possible. Data systems should build on what exists, provide for linkages between data from different sources, and disseminate to stakeholders and the general public.

Investing, enacting and updating relevant legislation, and ensuring that laws are consistent with evidence-based international standards is also germane in curbing the carnage on roads in Central Africa. Continuous and informative public awareness campaigns should precede and coincide with enforcement.

Corrupt governmental officials and politicians responsible for ensuring that Central African states benefit from good roads should be brought to book. There is no need to have many anti-corruption units in the region whereas those actually responsible for road carnage continue to embezzle funds meant for road infrastructure.

Chofor Che is a Cameroonian academic and an affiliate of AfricanLiberty.org. This article is syndicated through AfricanLiberty.org

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