From the Field: João’s Travels in 10 Countries in Africa

João Fernandes, an Amend Programme Manager, describes his reflections on his travels across 10 countries in Africa for an Amend primary school based road safety project:

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In the chapa

Over the last six months I have been fortunate to have the chance to travel through 10 countries in Africa for an Amend primary school road safety project. During my travels, I have seen many similarities, but also differences, that characterize each of the realities. I have been especially interested in the urban areas and how people move around them.

I confess that I like asking questions and talking to people in different places, so I ended up talking a lot with my fellow passengers on public transport, and with the drivers of the numerous different types of vehicle that I travelled in. Speaking to people in ‘bajajis’ in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), ‘cabs’ in Windhoek (Namibia), ‘tro tros’ in Accra (Ghana), and ‘chapas’ in Maputo (Mozambique), people frequently complained that “There are far more cars than there used to be” and “The traffic now is terrible”. It was no different in Gaborone (Botswana), Lilongwe (Malawi) and Lusaka (Zambia).

While these are cities with very different population sizes and densities, diverse road networks and conditions and many different types of vehicles, the common theme is that traffic levels and congestion are increasing, and people are now feeling it.

Pedestrians – including the vast majority of school children, who walk to school unaccompanied by an adult – are among those who feel it the most. Wider roads are built, creating more lanes of traffic to be crossed. In the early morning and early afternoon – typically times when children are walking to and from school – drivers race to get where they’re going before the jam starts. And, in some cities, the ever-increasing number of motorcycles weaving between the lanes of traffic, mean that you have to be constantly alert.

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Safe and sustainable roads in Malawi?

The challenge for cities as they grow, is how to accommodate pedestrians as well as vehicles, and how to keep all road users safe. In Windhoek, for example, I witnessed efforts to improve conditions for non-motorized users – pedestrians and bicycles – through the provision of footpaths and cyclepaths. In Dar es Salaam, I will be interested to see how the imminent opening of the new Bus Rapid Transit system reduces congestion and improves the walking environment.

Among the many people I spoke to on my travels, it is clear that road safety is an increasing concern among the general population. Grassroots civil society organisations are starting up to develop their own road safety initiatives, as well as to push governments to fulfill their responsibilities to all citizens – not only to the well-off car drivers, but also to those who walk and cycle. The private sector is also becoming increasingly involved, including the Puma Energy Foundation, which is funding our work to improve the safety of school children in these 10 countries across Africa.

As cities develop and evolve day by day, I have the feeling that the real push for safe and ‘liveable’ streets and cities must and will come from the people – ourselves – as users of the roads, the footpaths, the public transport. The increasing social awareness about road safety that I have seen over the past few months, gives me confidence that change is just around the corner, and I look forward to continuing to be a part of it.