Radar | Jun 25,2022
It is not hard to find something to lament about these days. One glaring issue in Addis Abeba is what may bring such changes on our roads regarding road traffic accidents and attitudes towards safety. It would not be too out of place to hypothesise that it is just the times where there is conflict everywhere, and people feel like there is not as much reason to live for another day as it used to be the case.
I raised the issue to a friend. It was reminiscent of a discussion we had a month ago, as we repeatedly met for coffee. It was almost every other day and the issue dominated our discussion; we underlined the human factors as it took centre stage. As an instance, it was then that we raised the issue of minibus drivers, who are key stakeholders in road safety.
Recently, after a long walk, I arrived in Megenagna at eight o’clock in the evening. I thought it was better to use a minibus taxi than walk any further in the evening. It was not that much of a struggle as I could secure a seat next to the driver. It took a long while for the minibus to fill to over-capacity, to 12-plus passengers, as is usual in the after hours.
A curious thing had happened when I boarded the minibus. The driver was reluctant to let me ride shotgun. It became instantly clear after a while. As the vehicle started to move, he brought out strands of khat and started to chew in one hand. He chewed on an addictive stimulant substance as he drove in the night with the lives of over a dozen people in his hands.
The driver had music on by 50 Cent, which was not fit for the car stereo given how bad it sounded. As he drove, he seemed to be in a race circuit, weaving and bobbing between turns and cars, no matter how small the opening was for him to pass. He would veer into oncoming traffic and swerve back into his lane simply to get ahead of other drivers. He never bothered to keep to a lane, as he took more than a share of the road and was yo-yoing the minibus and over a dozen other souls he was transporting. I arrived at an intersection close to my abode. I signalled to get off, paid what I owed and disembarked, disoriented as if I was drunk.
Suspiring in all of this was that the other passengers did not seem perturbed, and if they were, they did not show it. Everybody took it in stride. This is how minibus drivers are, and it is part of the risk of using public transport, passengers seem to believe.
All the way home, I walked pondering over the financial pressures on drivers and the excessive level of competition they endure for them to feel like they need to drive so dangerously and with gross disregard for safety regulations. The general public, including passengers, also cause problems by failing to understand their role in road safety and placing the blame only on others.
How could we expect traffic accidents to decline if we allow minibus assistants to load more than 12 passengers in their vehicles, which is not allowed? How do we expect drivers to transport us more carefully if nobody speaks out?
A bittersweet sight to me in Addis now is taxi queues. The queues are disciplined and orderly, sometimes stretching dozens of metres long. Snaking back and forth, they are mainly unsupervised but in working order. Hopefully, we soon demand the same discipline from the minibus drivers as commuters that line up with such order.
PUBLISHED ON Jun 11,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1154]
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