The situation has not improved, and if anything we are moving from bad to worse. Looking at our urban areas and especially the largest city in the country, one notes a complete breakdown of law and order in various aspects of everyday urban development. Areas where lawlessness is prevailing now include transportation, petty trading and service provision, noise and land use change.
As far as the transport sector is concerned, there are many traffic rules that are flouted with impunity. Is seems nobody these days respects traffic lights. For all senses and purposes, traffic lights do not exist for many drivers. In countries where law and order is observed, the red traffic lights are sacrosanct and no driver can think of crossing them. Not in our urban areas.
Drivers now stop at traffic lights if really they cannot cross them because there is traffic on the other side moving, making it impossible for drivers on the other to move. Stop at traffic lights and those behind you will drive around you or will hoot making sure they signal to you that you are too timid or you are a “mshamba”, a new arrival from the rural areas.
Should there be a traffic light breakdown (and these are frequent and remain defective for a long time) drivers do not give room for each other to cross the junction. Everybody tries to make it first. Sometimes a stalemate is reached and no vehicle can move. There is a new vocabulary to describe this. It is called “kupigiana pini” literally meaning to nail (or pin) each other.
Traffic police are sometime there to assist. However, where traffic lights are working the police should let them work or regulate them should they feel that they are not responding to the traffic situation on the road. Allowing drivers to cross red
traffic lights creates a habit, an impression that red traffic lights are not sacrosanct. Never should a driver be allowed to cross red traffic lights. Very few drivers respect speed limits.
The result of this has been the clamour by the public for road bumps to curb accidents especially involving children. Not only are these a nuisance, they also lead to early damage of the roads. With time too the get flattened and the speeding continues. Drivers do not respect pedestrian (zebra) crossings.
It is as if they do not exist. Indeed, it is dangerous for pedestrians to use zebra crossings without ensuring that there are no vehicles speeding on either direction of the road. In many countries drivers will stop on seeing pedestrians standing and wanting to cross. They must and do stop once pedestrians have set foot on the zebra crossing.
Not our drivers. Accidents have occurred as a result of a kind-hearted driver stopping and signaling to pedestrians to cross only to have drivers from behind overtake and sending pedestrians running for dear life or getting knocked over. Pavements, where they are free from traders, are seen as available driving space for overtaking especially if traffic is moving slowly.
Many motor vehicle drivers do not respect other road users including cyclists, who are given no peace whatsoever to be on the road. Another blatant lawlessness is to do with roundabouts. Traffic regulations require that a driver already in the roundabout should be given leeway by drivers who are yet to enter it.
Since we drive on the left drivers must give way to those on their right, but nobody cares about that. The gold medal in lawlessness should surely go to the drivers of of public service vehicles: the dala dalas, bajajs (tricyles) and motorcycles. Besides committing all the irregularities cited above, they over-load their vehicles with impunity.
They stop anywhere to take on or offload passengers; they do not respect parking bays at bus stops, where several of them will park diagonally or side by side leading to inconvenience for other drivers, including causing unnecessary jams. A daladala driver will not queue behind a fellow daladala driver who is early at the bus stop parking bay, but will instead, park diagonally in front of him as if to prevent him from moving.
This is called “kuchomekea”. On the road, overtaking could be expected from right or left or both. Dala dala operators are sometimes shabbily dressed and sometimes use language that is not civil. Routes may not be respected and passengers are sometimes inconvenienced when they have to be given change.
Motorcycles and tricycles are a relatively new phenomenon in Tanzania, but they are now used in huge numbers as public transport vehicles. It is not clear whether they are licensed and whether there are any conditions imposed upon them. They seem to have a republic of their own.
They set up parking (passenger waiting) points anywhere; drive in any direction, and on any part of the road, they snake unexpectedly anywhere through traffic and at high speed. The rate of accidents resulting in loss of life or injury is high as has been noted recently.
It would appear that motorcyclists and their passengers are required to wear crash helmets when on the road. It is however common to see drivers or their passengers ridding motorcycles without these safety gadgets. The law on wearing crash helmets (if at all there is one) is sometimes violated by the police themselves who are seen in a number of occasions happily riding motorcycles as drivers or passengers without crash helmets. Overloading motor cycles is now common.
Some five persons can be seen “packed’ on one motor cycle. New phenomena come with new vocabulary. The phenomenon of having more than one passenger on a motor cycle is called: “mshikaki” literally meaning pieces of meat, strung on a spoke for roasting and eating!
One more thing needs mentioning. Much as the motorcyclists ride carelessly they have solidarity among themselves, should any one of them get knocked down by a motor vehicle. They will pursue the driver and punish him. They therefore have their own government. This negative picture is not meant to belittle the important role played by all these formal, semi-formal and informal public transport providers.
City life would be impossible without their services. But this is all the more reason why they should be regulated; why they should obey law and order. Most of our drivers have never driven in a country or city where people obey laws. Giving them such a chance may be one of the way forward strategies. (to be continued with trading, land use changes and noise).