Story by Andrew Wasike, Muhammad Al-Amin, Martina Schwikowski • 38m ago
Every year, scores of people die or get seriously injured on African roads. The situation becomes notably worse during Christmas and New Year celebrations. Authorities in several African countries want to change that.
In Africa, the risks of traffic accidents are exceptionally high. The number of road accidents is also higher than on any other continent.
In the past week alone, road accidents have claimed dozens of lives in Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, and South Africa, to mention just a few countries. Available data from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that Africa has the worst rate of road traffic deaths in the world, with an unacceptably high fatality rate of 26.6 deaths per 100,000 people — nearly three times that of Europe.
The Dominican Republic takes first place in a ranking compiled by the health service platform World Life Expectancy using WHO data. After that, only African countries, such as Zimbabwe, Malawi, Liberia, Eritrea and others, follow until Venezuela breaks the ranks at 26th.
Authorities in Kenya are seeking to clamp down on traffic offenders to avert road incidents© Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images
Kenya is ranked 12th, with 48 traffic fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. However, the number of deaths in relation to the population has risen steadily since 2013. Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki announced that he would take tougher action against drivers who do not obey the traffic rules.
“We expect all regulations governing traffic on our roads to be complied with 100%, by all people, regardless of their rank or social position,” Kindiki told reporters, adding that he had instructed the police to take action against all those who violate traffic regulations without exception.
Traffic authorities in South Africa have warned motorists to be mindful on the roads during the Christmas and New Year celebrations. With slogans such as “Be safe — get there,” radio stations have been drawing attention to the dangers of flouting traffic rules almost every hour.
The “Arrive Alive” campaign has been active for years and provides valuable tips on responsible behavior behind the wheel and during traffic jams and other disruptions. It also offers help on how to plan trips to a destination popular with tourists. Recently, South Africa has observed a decline in traffic fatalities.
Nevertheless, traffic accidents still killed about 22.2 people per 100,000 inhabitants in 2019 on South Africa’s roads, according to the WHO. By African standards, that’s a huge improvement, but well above the global average.
For example, about four people per 100,000 inhabitants in Germany died in road traffic accidents in 2018.
Pedestrians are often at risk of being hit by cars while crossing the road© Ângelo Semedo/DW
Alcohol is a major factor in accidents in South Africa, writes the South African Journal of Science on its website. The journal recommends introducing zero tolerance for drunk driving.
Overall, calls for stricter penalties for road traffic offenses are growing louder, not least because corrupt police officers often make it difficult to punish traffic offenders efficiently when they can buy their way out for small amounts of money.
In Kenya, too, the excesses of corruption contribute to carnage on the roads. In some instances, some have been caught driving without licenses, thereby risking the lives of other commuters.
“Our drivers cut it short. They buy papers at the counter, and the next day, they’re on the road, driving too fast and we have to be on our guard,” Eunice Imwenda, manager of a driving school in the capital, Nairobi, told DW.
In Nigeria, road traffic crashes are among the leading causes of death, along with insurgency and banditry, according to data from the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Africa’s most populous nation recorded 41,709 road deaths between 2013 and 2020.
In many cases, one should speak of collisions (crashes) rather than accidents, Gbenga Akimbule, a policy analyst, told DW.
“An accident is something you didn’t plan for, but if you have a bad tire and you know that the tire might not get you to your destination and you pray and believe that God will get you there, that’s different.”
“Road accidents and collisions have become so normal that hardly a day goes by without a report of a road accident that takes lives or causes permanent disabilities for victims,” Badiya Sani from Maiduguri told DW. “Those of us who don’t own a car have no choice but to switch to public transportation. But we do so with a lot of trepidation,” she added.
As in many African countries, authorities must establish a good public transport network. Buses and minibus cabs are usually in poor condition, technically untested and often involved in accidents. The government needs to do more about this, Sani urges.
In Kenya, local motorcycle cabs known as “boda bodas” are a popular means of public transport. But they are also responsible for many accidents, Evans Langat of the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) told DW.
The agency is therefore emphasizing this in its educational campaign. “We’ve made all drivers aware, and I think the message has gotten through,” Langat said.
The numbers in the coming years will show whether he’s right about that. For now, many a Kenyan family will breathe a sigh of relief once the holiday traffic is over.
Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu
Author: Andrew Wasike, Muhammad Al-Amin, Martina Schwikowski