Jim Taylor
Driving in Africa
Monday, February 12, 2018, 10:30

In Kenya the drivers are only marginally less suicidal than lemmings. As we came over a blind rise at the foot of Mount Kenya, a heavily loaded matatu (taxi) came straight for us on the wrong side of the road, for the simple reason that his side of the road was potholed. Being bigger and tougher than us, we were forced onto the verge, nearly rolling as our wheels hooked a vicious ledge. Ten minutes later, the same thing happened again: This time we were ready for the bastard. As he drew level with us, we hurled rotten tomatoes at the driver. This is not recommended standard operating procedure, but is useful as a stress relief measure for Third World driving.

The last thing you want on an overland trip is to be involved in an accident. At the least, it will involve you in weeks of bureaucracy, and the probability of having to fork out money for a bribe or fine. At worst, it could wreck your vehicle, and severely injure or kill you. In extreme instances, you run the risk of being beaten to death by a mob if somebody has been killed in an accident in which you are involved.

We heard another tale of an overlander who flipped his vehicle in the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui. As he hung upside down, dazed, bruised and bewildered, a crowd gathered around and after checking he was still alive, proceeded to strip the vehicle. As he hung here, imprisoned by his seat belts, dazed and wounded, he saw his wheels, windshield, luggage, tools, exhaust pipe, carburetor, distributor, springs, shocks, headlights, indicator and brake lenses, cylinder head, radiator, battery, wallet and cigarettes disappear while a traffic policeman directed traffic past the accident scene. So don't screw up: It could be disastrous.

Don't if you can avoid it. African roads are always hazardous, and the dangers are multiplied exponentially at night. Many vehicles drive without headlights, livestock wanders onto the road unsupervised, and there is a greater chance of drunk pedestrians. Dark people usually in dark clothing. This is also the time when carjackers and bandits are most active.

There is an inverse law of danger on African roads -- the better the road, the more dangerous it is, because good road surfaces encourage terrifying speeds. This is particularly true on the newly resurfaced north-south Tanzam highway. Here buses, called "Video Coaches" because they boast TV sets showing non-stop kung fu movies, tear along at speeds in excess of 140km/h, swaying from side to side and cornering on the wrong side of the road. The drivers also watch the movies.

South Africa has probably the worst record in Africa for road fatalities. It ranks third in the world for the number of deaths per vehicle kilometers traveled. Kenya is not far behind.

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