Roads unsafe for pedestrians in African cities

Africa has the highest road fatality rates in the world for pedestrians, according to the World Health Organization report on pedestrian safety. The proportion of pedestrians killed in relation to other road users is 38 percent on the continent, compared to a global average of 22 percent.

Data recorded in different African cities speaks for itself. We can cite two examples, among many, of cities where pedestrians are the most affected segment of road accidents. According to research conducted in Nairobi, pedestrians comprised the highest proportion of road traffic injury admissions at Kenyatta National Hospital, representing 59.1 percent of admission. In the case of Yaoundé, a similar study estimates that pedestrians account for 34 percent of those affected by road accidents.

Pedestrians are vulnerable and exposed to different hazards such as high speed motorized traffic on the roads and the absence of laws that put them as privileged users when walking. Other deficits are found in urban planning in cities when there is absence of pedestrian lanes and, when existing, there is a misuse of these lanes by street vendors or vehicles occupying them during peak traffic hours.


Another risk factor is lax enforcement of, and disregard for, drink-driving laws. In South Africa, for example, it is estimated that alcohol contributes to 61 percent of fatalities among pedestrians. This represents a fateful landscape for the safety of urban pedestrians.

In spite of the pessimistic picture, some cities have already taken actions to improve road safety.

Recently the city of Cairo — where more than 500 pedestrians are dying annually because of traffic accidents, as reported by Egyptian Streets — has restricted the movement of trucks during certain times of day. Dakar implemented an Urban Mobility Improvement Project which has safe movement of pedestrians as a main objective through side-walks, road safety campaigns and traffic alleviation. Lagos has a complete plan for pedestrian safety and is trying to encourage Lagosians to walk and cycle. The city of Entebbe will benefit from a plan to relieve traffic congestion, banning the circulation of vehicles in some areas reserved for pedestrians. But so far the measure that has raised everyone’s attention is the implementation of robots to regulate urban traffic in the city of Kinshasa.

The mayor of Accra has also committed to road safety while focusing on pedestrian and passenger safety, as reported by the Ghana News Agency.

It will take several elements to reach a satisfactory situation: proper architectural and legal planning from governments and municipal authorities; the correct implementation by traffic police agents; greater awareness and respect from drivers, and the adoption of responsibility by pedestrians themselves.

Gemma Solés i Coll holds an M.A. in Social Science of Development South of the Sahara (URV) and graduated in Philosophy (UB). She specializes in artistic and cultural trends and urban dynamics in Africa. She serves as chief editor for the music and performing arts section of Spanish online magazine WIRIKO, of which she is the founder.

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