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Monday, 19 September 2011

What’s the cause of our endless sea, road tragedies?

Makwaia wa Kuhenga

We are just emerging from national mourning following the loss of 203 people, going by latest figures, who perished at sea as their vessel capsized while sailing to Pemba from Zanzibar.

As we come to terms with this tragedy, a number of questions emerge. Although people hardly compare frequency of accidents through the time tunnel, those who have been around over the last forty years would agree that the frequency of accidents in this country is alarmingly escalating. Hardly a week passes without news of a horrific road accident somewhere!

In the heels of the Zanzibar tragedy, there was a fatal accident at Chalinze on the central highway in which ten people died. Morogoro road, which cuts across the country, is most notorious in the record of accidents, but it is not the only one.

Of course sea accidents are rare and for obvious reasons. Less people travel by sea than by road but that does not imply that sea travel in this country is any safer. We had almost a similar accident compared to the Zanzibar accident more than a decade ago when a relatively big passenger ship, MV Bukoba went under.

Because these happenings are described as “accidents” most of us leave them at that. We desist from taking a hard look or asking hard questions because of the repulsive word itself – an accident! But if we have to go through the time tunnel, why that accidents are alarmingly high today than in the past?

From news reports, the small boat that capsized on Zanzibar was overloaded, with 3,000 people, far beyond its capacity. Why was it left to sail out in that condition? Aren’t there regulatory authorities to ensure vessel standards are maintained? Of course one can pose other secondary questions.

Just take a hard look around yourself as you commute into the city bus or you drive around your car. Total absolute chaos and lawlessness, isn’t it?

Who seriously checks on passenger buses about to depart for upcountry towns, in terms of the health of tires and so forth?

Look at the recklessness in speeding and overtaking along the roads of Dar es Salaam.

The other day, driving my car, as I negotiated a junction without street lights or robots [having said my prayer quietly before taking the plunge!] and having satisfied myself that I can proceed, I was shocked to see that my car was hit on the sideway by someone who had considered himself smarter than me who overtook me from my left, at high speed at a road junction!

As I drove right behind, I pursue my attacker in a pick up. I asked him: Do you have to overtake vehicles this way, on high speed and at a junction? The guy pretended not to have heard the question! Furious, I decided to proceed on since my car was slightly damaged.

This is the world we live in these days and you, the reader, must have been subjected to even worse episodes.
In Dar es Salaam these days, the people to watch are the bus drivers or ‘daladala’ and our new form of taxis:motorcycles.

It is living hell! You must be shaking your head in agreement. Are these chaps properly schooled on how to use roads? Most often one sees them with more than one passenger on one motorcycle and some even carrying mothers with infants on their backs! Who cares? Who stops them?

Someone once told me that to know a country you are visiting, just look at the behaviour of people on the roads. You will know exactly the level of the country you have landed on. The way people drive their cars; buses and so forth will translate for you the level of governance and civility in that given country.

To me, the translation I make of that overloaded boat or ship that was flagged off to sail without checks or a bus that is allowed on the road with worn out tires, my reading of that situation is, it is MONEY that speaks in that country. Simple! Everything else is an excuse – money speaks!

Secondary to this reading of mine is that there are people in our society who are untouchable. They are rich. Therefore, they have the temerity to put law-enforcing officers in their pockets. These officers look away when there is an obvious breach of norms!

Once upon a time, there was an order for upcountry buses to have ‘speed-governors’ gadgets on the engines to check over speeding. I used to muse then that it is not the buses that require speed-governors, it is those guys themselves driving those buses who must be ‘hooked’ to speed-governors! Looking around, it is difficult to understand this quest for speeding and overtaking amid heavy traffic jams in the city of Dar es Salaam. But it is happening.

This phenomenon, coupled with a market force social economic order in place seem to have brought in its wake the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest; with the moneyed calling the shots.

We need to do something urgently as a people. Otherwise, we are finished. The Zanzibar tragedy will not be an exception.