The World Health Organization reveals a 17% increase in traffic-related deaths in Africa over the past decade, contrasting with a global decrease of 5%. Nearly one in five fatal incidents worldwide now occurs in Africa, partly attributed to a surge in vehicle ownership without corresponding infrastructure development. Motorbike proliferation, notably in East Africa with popular services like boda boda, contributes significantly to the rising death toll, as these vehicles are deemed more perilous than cars. In Rwanda, motorbikes and bicycles caused a majority of accidents, leading to 98 deaths and 46 serious injuries in the first half of 2023.
Concerns are raised about inadequate helmet use, with riders often employing substandard headgear due to cost constraints. The FIA Foundation commits to establishing a helmet-testing center in Rwanda in 2024, emphasizing the importance of standardized safety measures. Despite legal requirements, compliance with helmet use varies, with only about 40% adherence in Kenya. The need for domestic manufacturing and enforcement of safety regulations is emphasized to combat the prevalence of low-quality, imported helmets.
While cheaper helmets flood the market, their reliability is questioned, prompting calls for subsidizing safe helmets and stricter safety enforcement by the government. Collaborative efforts between organizations like Transaid and local cooperatives, such as one in Kibera, Nairobi, demonstrate positive impacts, providing discounted, quality helmets to drivers. The story underscores the urgent need for comprehensive safety measures to mitigate the alarming rise in road traffic fatalities in Africa.
Elly Kegode, chairman of a boda drivers’ cooperative in Kibera, Nairobi, founded the cooperative after a personal experience with a serious collision, realizing the importance of wearing a helmet. Recognizing the dire situation, he collaborates with organizations like Transaid to empower drivers in his cooperative with access to discounted, high-quality helmets from companies like Boda Plus.
Kegode’s initiative highlights the tangible impact that local, community-driven efforts can have on reducing accidents and minimizing injuries. He shares success stories, such as a recent incident where a driver, equipped with a proper helmet, emerged with only minor injuries despite a serious accident. This underscores the effectiveness of advocating for safety at the grassroots level.
However, Kegode emphasizes the need for broader governmental intervention. He calls for subsidies on safe helmets or stringent enforcement of safety regulations to protect all road users effectively. His plea reflects the broader sentiment among activists and experts who believe that a combination of grassroots initiatives and government-backed measures is crucial to tackling the complex issue of road safety in Africa.
In response to these concerns, there are promising developments on the horizon. Organizations like the FIA Foundation are taking steps to establish helmet-testing centers, aiming to ensure that the helmets meet international safety standards. Simultaneously, there is anticipation that the Kenyan government will follow suit with its commitment to creating a similar testing center. Such initiatives are vital for establishing and enforcing safety standards, particularly for the affordability and reliability of helmets.
As the conversation around road safety in Africa continues, the focus is shifting toward the necessity of a domestic manufacturing sector for helmets. By encouraging local production, countries can not only meet the rising demand for affordable and reliable helmets but also stimulate economic growth. The hope is that with a testing center in place and a thriving domestic manufacturing sector, the prevalence of substandard helmets in the market will decrease, leading to a tangible reduction in road traffic injuries and fatalities.
In the end, the collective efforts of individuals like Elly Kegode, combined with the commitment of organizations and governments, hold the key to fostering a safer road environment in Africa. Advocacy, education, and proactive measures can pave the way for a future where road users, regardless of their mode of transport, can navigate the streets with a significantly reduced risk of accidents and injuries.