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Why Cameroonian Roads Are Death Traps 

By Mefo Takambou Mimi*

A little more than seven years ago, a Transport Minister put a couple of inter-urban bus services "off the road". The transport agencies in question had each been involved in separate ghastly accidents along the Bamenda-Yaounde and Douala-Yaounde highways respectively. Many lives were lost in each of the cases.

The Minister followed up the ban with what he said were far-reaching decisions meant to curb the carnage and implant general sanity on Cameroonian roads. But this was of very little or no effect, as the trend of accidents remained the same, more or less.

The indiscriminate issuance of driving licences to just any Tom, Dick and Harry went on in perpetration. In some instances, certain individuals who could not as much as start a car engine were simply declared proud owners of a document permitting them to move automobile. Even as we write, some road signs are either done in a language not understood in certain given localities, or allowed to be covered up by bush.

And then, police or gendarmerie patrol teams, always overly eager to pluck a fast buck from defaulting motorists, are known to practically hide themselves at razor-sharp, or blind bends, where they halt automobiles indiscriminately. When accidents occur, courtesy of such unscrupulous acts of these law enforcement officials, they quickly flee the scene. Many other accidents occur due to the poor state of the vehicle or of the driver himself. You would imagine a driver who can barely read or write or one that is dumb and deaf, armed with a licence to drive in any case. Then, there is also the case of drunken driving.

Surprisingly, even so-called officials of the Transport Ministry, drafted on the streets to ensure that good road use manners are respected, very often, with the apparent conspiracy of certain top notchers in Yaounde, appear more concerned with executing a budget and making personal benefits from it than with inculcating good road manners in motorists.

How about over-loading and the fact that both road safety officials and the forces of law and order look the other way, as long as they collect bribe from those who drive without care and concern for other road users?  Generally speaking, the poor state of Cameroonian roads has often accounted for many of the accidents recorded yearly. The Kumba-Mamfe and the Bamenda Ring roads quickly come to mind. Stories are told of how rather than risking more deaths by insisting on getting through to the journey’s end, families have been forced to bury their dead in the bushes between Kumba and Mamfe.

A recent trend is that of pedestrians behaving worse than sheep on the roads. It is common to find people waiting to board vehicles at odd spots. It is equally common to find others casually crossing the street while cars drive swiftly by or people driving while in deep telephone conversation.

The so-called road safety officials hardly ever attempt to discourage such practices. A taxi driver, picking up or dropping a passenger right in the middle of the road is a pretty common sight in Cameroon. Not much is known to have been done, both by municipal authorities, transport or road safety officials to stop the trend. On the contrary, law enforcement officials seem to encourage the practice, since it offers them occasion to collect bribe.

All is not lost though, as there are still a number of conscientious motorists with good road manners. A case in point is that of this Buea-based taxi driver, Julius Bessong. He agrees with the fact that his colleagues are responsible for many of the frequent accidents on Cameroonian streets. "While some drivers are exhausted and drunk before going on to drive, others simply disregard road rules. I have come across drivers who have not mastered the Highway Code and cannot even interpret road signs", noted Bessong.

According to him, drivers are more often than not, concerned with getting to a destination than getting there safely. Bessong had some advice for his colleagues, namely, to rest before driving, avoiding over speeding and generally respecting driving rules and regulations.

A Buea-based gendarme officer, Yannick Ela Ela, told this Reporter that it would be an overstatement to say that police or gendarme officials account for road accidents. Ela Ela claimed that several taxi drivers with incomplete documents tend to dodge police check points.
Hear him:  "Our principal objective as agents of the law is to ensure that each driver has his documents intact and also to thwart frequent accidents and not otherwise."

Divine Bisong, a Lecturer at the University of Buea, UB, who owns a private car, notes that most road accidents today are due to reckless driving. "Drive at a speed you can control," he advised, adding that, many road users are unable to observe all the road signs. He cited the case of zebra crossings, which he said are indicators for pedestrians to cross roads conveniently.

A relatively new headache on Cameroonian roads today is the motorbikes, popularly known as benskins. Observers have referred to this latest mode of transportation as madness on two wheels. Their riders just criss-cross. They simply take off and move on a given direction and destination. They kill and get killed in large numbers daily. But none seems to learn or forget any lessons.

One of such riders, Jeffrey Enow could be a rare biker with a difference. He says that victims of accidents lack "professional ethics". "It does not matter whether you are a bike rider or a taxi driver because if you cannot use the highway well, you will end up being a defaulter. Others go as far as colliding with electric poles, all because of poor mastery of the road", he told this Reporter.

Southwest Regional Chief of Circulation, Josiah Likafi Motutu notes that rapid booming urbanisation has resulted in traffic doubling in recent years, which makes the streets more dangerous. However, he adds, government has set vehicle inspection stations to ensure that automobiles are routinely checked for roadworthiness.  

UB Journalism Student On Internship

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