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Spygalss: Someone, Please Stop This Carnage! 

By Azore Opio

After so much has been said and written about road carnage in this good old country, it may seem unnecessary that I should say more, but let me begin by saying that 2010 is starting off just as 2009 finished with grizzly road accidents, with far too many people being killed on Cameroon highways. The appalling deaths on our roads have neither rhyme nor reason. Those killed and injured range in status from ragamuffins to intellectuals, academics, politicians, lawyers, businessmen and all the like.

Road carnage has been a hot topic for long with virtually everyone putting in a word or two albeit without action. But whenever "Les Brasseries du Cameroun" increase beer prices, we make a lot of noise, but we seem to be strangely immune to the endless road traffic accident deaths, with too many people seemingly intent on killing themselves and others on the roads. It appears we have developed a level of tolerance to road deaths that somehow devalues the lives lost. What other explanation can there be?

Cameroon bleeds not only from the wounds inflicted by marauding politicians and "feymen" in high places, but also from road traffic accidents. On Sunday 10, I had knocked off work, I work on Sundays you know, and was chilling out with a frothing beer and savouring a plate of charcoal grilled "nyama ngwa", pork, if you like, when news broke that a busload of GCE Board staff had crashed in Mbanga in the Littoral, killing three on the spot. I didn’t know how to believe it, but there it was; three people I knew very well had died in a horror car crash.

My mind shifted gears and went to work. I quickly munched the last morsels of the "nyama ngwa", knocked down the last dregs of the beer, and "commandeered" a car and sped to Mbanga. When I arrived at the accident scene, I couldn’t hold my emotions and broke down in tears when I saw my bosom friend, Martin Njakoy, crumpled like a rag doll and still wedged in the wreckage. The fire brigade, which had arrived too late to save a life were struggling to yank out his tangled remains. Then I caught sight of Oliver Binda and I recalled the good old days when we hit snooker balls at the Buea Mountain Club, sipped cold beer together and shared zesty banter.

What is the price of a life on our roads? It is exasperating the bloodshed on our roads. Every so often in Cameroon, especially on the notorious Mbanga highway, one has to put up with the tangled mess of motorists too lazy or too tired or too stupid to realise that driving fast on a wet road, or overtaking at a bend or stupefied by alcohol or not paying attention can have terminal consequences for themselves, their families and strangers. A lot of other people never have to confront in person the bloody nightmare that is a fatal car accident. If they did, they might realise that this could happen to them as easily as the next person and then they may be a bit more careful.

Cameroon already has traffic laws, but who cares? Penalties are quickly palmed away with a measly FCFA 500 that could not buy half the life of a nit.  The country’s roads have never improved over the past 40 years, along with the construction and safety features of motor vehicles such as providing safety belts in public transport buses; a person’s capabilities as a driver at the time they obtain a licence are never taken into account nor the mechanical conditions of the vehicle.

I was down at the inspection centre in Ombe one day when I saw a motorist palm an inspector who said, "make sure you replace those parts, eh." Do you think the motorist ever changed those parts? It is likely that he went and bought beer instead and caused a fatal accident because the car broke down while in motion.

A combination of factors; weather, road surface, skill shortfalls, vehicle defects and driver error, are the causes of motor vehicle accidents. All of these have a significant impact on the road death toll. And there is still too much carnage on our roads. We may conclude that much of the blame lies with individual drivers. Driving requires and takes concentration and entails decisions and judgements. If only drivers could assess how fast it is safe to go within a speed limit, and if all drivers and road users assumed more responsibility for taking care, because it is a matter of life or death, we could lose fewer of our loved ones in accidents that could otherwise have been avoided.

Part of the failure of the Cameroonian society, even just to minimize road traffic accidents, is the powerful appeal of corruption in all the strata of life, especially government officials who are like scavengers ever pecking away seasons harvests. At issue is the state of the ministries, the forces of law and (dis)order, the judiciary, particularly the peril of social justice.

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