A traffic warden at work in Nairobi, Kenya.
Road traffic rules are a pretty easy concept to grasp; in fact there are so easy we start teaching our children about them in primary school. Green means go, red means stop and amber means get ready to stop. Basic stuff.
However, other traffic rules appear to be more perplexing to car drivers in Africa. Rules such as allowing pedestrians to cross the road at zebra crossings and obeying road marking and signs seem to be a foreign concept to drivers particularly in African cities. But it is with one particular road directive that shows the stark difference perhaps in psyche of a driver in Africa to one in the West. And that is the right of way rule.
This principle establishes which vehicle has the right to go first when at intersection with other vehicles so that the vehicles do not interfere with each other’s routes. It decides which car has the right to use the conflicting stretch of road and which vehicle has to wait until the other one does.
For example, for countries where cars are driven on the left of the road like the United Kingdom, Kenya and South Africa, the rule dictates that when approaching an intersection, a vehicle should always give way to another who is to the right of the first vehicle. The vehicle which is given way to is said to have the right-of-way.
This rule is of course intuitive because for cars driven on the left of roads, the steering and by extension the drivers are placed on the right of the car compartment so making it easier for the driver to see vehicles approaching from the same right as opposed to cars coming from the other side.
The benefits of obeying this rule is seemingly lost on drivers across the African continent. From Cape Town to Cairo, car drivers routinely flout this particular rule amongst others, causing kilometres of gridlock and accidents. This added to the terrible roads and lack or road signs make travelling on roads much more than an adventure than it should be.
The reason I think this law is strictly obeyed in the West, even when the threat of getting caught offending doesn't exist, is because drivers there realise that it is to the collective well-being of everyone concerned if they do so. Everyone benefits and its all more orderly on the roads when road users give way to other when they should.
This willingness to seek the common good, even at some temporary inconvenience, largely underpins everything that happens in the West. If it seems like I am being excessively obsequious towards the people in the West, I must apologise. It’s that i see so much good happening here, so many things working as there should and would love to see them replicated on the motherland.
We Africans used to be known for our community spirit, we used to be known for always putting the good of the community above all. Somehow, we seem to have lost that in our earnest race towards growth and development.
It would behove us to try and rediscover that community spirit; if we would realise that we can’t really move forward as a people if we insist on shoving everyone else out of the way, whether on the roads or in general.
It might sound counterintuitive but to move forward as Africans, the only real way we can do that is all together. One after another, in an orderly manner, as one.