Taxi license exempts holder from Rule of Law
The intense focus on road safety over the past week, is a useful catalyst to help understand other broader development issues. Many voices were heard since the launch of the Road Safety campaign, drawing stark attention to lawlessness, drunkenness, recklessness, roadworthylessness and many other forms of cluelessness and carelessness, all contributing to the annual holiday carnage on our roads.
It has long been my contention that the absence of strict law enforcement is the main reason why our roads turn into a battlefield every time there is a holiday. The first time I was directly exposed to appalling road-user standards was in 1999 when I described road conditions in Nairobi as low-level anarchy. Fortunately, I have never returned there, and do not intend to, but it opened my eyes to the reality of too many road users, using too few roads, policed by an inadequate law enforcement capacity.
The disconcerting part of this experience is that I have lately started seeing similar conditions on our roads, and it reminds me of Nairobi’s traffic. The irony is that I frequently have the opportunity to drive in Johannesburg and while this is an even bigger city than Nairobi, I am always amazed at the disciplined drivers I encounter. It would have been easy to use the typical excuse that lawlessness is the order of the day where traffic in African cities is concerned, but Johannesburg provides a striking example of exactly the opposite. This means in effect that any excuse based on an African identity of geography is nonsense.
It is not my intention to even try and change traffic conditions in Nairobi. I could not care less if it is their collective intention to kill themselves using vehicular means. But, with regards to my own country, it is very much my concern, and if a lack of law enforcement, is the main reason, I will continue to press my finger on this sore point. The whole Road Safety Campaign is paved with nice words and nice intentions, but if the official undertaking of really, strictly enforcing the law is not given any practical substance, then it is just a waste of time.
Earlier this week I was on my way to work when Taxi P 91 skipped the red light at the Sam Nujoma, Nelson Mandela intersection, only narrowly avoiding a collision with another car, and only because the other vehicle violently swerved out of the way. Less than a minute later, I caught up with Taxi P 91 where it cut across the lane to abruptly stop right in front of all following traffic to pick a passenger in Sam Nujoma road at the tricky turn-off just before the roads goes uphill. This lead to much hooting and shouting, but Taxi P 91’s driver was non-plussed, shooting past all the other cars as he roared up the Luxus Hügel ridge. On the downside of this hill, same taxi swerved again from the left lane to the right, trying to be the first to cross the intersection at Robert Mugabe. One block further, it was in the right-turn-only lane when it charged straight ahead forcing two other cars to break hard to avoid another collision – the second almost-collision in less than three minutes. At the end of that hill, at the Sam Nujoma, Independence Avenue intersection, the driver skipped the red light again, changed his mind halfway through the intersection, turning sharp right, into Independence, sending about four pedestrians, who had right of way, scattering to get out of the taxi’s way.
It was at that point that I was fortunate enough to carry on straight, putting the all-too-vivid display of lawlessness and recklessness behind me.
But now back to what traffic in general says of us in particular.
The driver of Taxi P 91, in my view, will not drive the way he does if he has had a serious run-in with the law, and actually experience its “full wrath” as the Police Chief so eloquently puts it. This driver drives the way he does because he knows from experience he can get away with it. He has absolutely no regard for traffic laws and rules, or for any other person sharing the road with him.
And the saddest is, he is not the exception. On any given day, on my daily commute from home to work, I am confident that I can pick out and list half a page of traffic misdemeanours, committed right in front of my eyes, sometimes even right in front of the eyes of Namibian Police officials, or City Police officials.
This state of affairs is so widely acknowledged by ordinary Windhoek residents who make use of taxi transport on a daily basis, it has even entered our vocabulary and our collective psyche in the way we refer to taxis’ traffic habits and their complete disregard for the law.
I know not all taxi drivers are guilty, but the law-abiding taxi driver is a very rare breed indeed. To me, this is not the core issue. My main concern is the question why they feel they are entitled to this kind of behaviour, and the only reasonable answer is because they get away with it all the time. So much for the fancy Road Safety campaign.