With the way Malawi is depicted on the international scene, one would think this is the last place to find traffic jams. We are, after all, depicted as a jungle full of illiterate and malnourished people who have not experienced civilisation. I am sure it is such a shocker to get into the two major cities and find them thronging with traffic, leaving one wondering where the jungle and wild animals have disappeared to!
Jokes aside, traffic in the country has become a menace. We underestimated how fast people would own cars, especially in the Capital City. Lilongwe is a vast and big town, yes, but getting things done can be a headache. It can take a whole afternoon to get errands that will ideally take two hours done because the hustle is just too much.
However, things could have been better than they are. There is need for strict enforcement of regulations. I am told that all road users in other countries are subjected to regulations and fines once they violate the laws of the road.
Not in Malawi. For instance, it seems pedestrians assume that a zebra crossing means they can just jump onto the road any time and anyhow and a car ought to halt immediately when, in essence, a car is mandated to stop when a pedestrian has already stepped onto a crossing or has indicated the intent to cross just as cars are obligated to slow down when approaching a crossing.
Someone summed it up nicely:
“Let’s begin with rules for pedestrians crossing the street, first in crosswalks and then at other locations. At crosswalks, pedestrians really only have one rule: Don’t run out in front of a car, making it impossible for the driver to stop in time.
Again, seems obvious. However, have you ever seen a pedestrian step into a crosswalk, right in front of a car, because sending a text message was higher priority than checking for traffic? Cars are required to yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks, but that doesn’t relieve the pedestrian of the requirement to pay attention and have reasonable expectations about how much distance it takes a car to stop.”
In short, a zebra crossing is not a carefree zone.
As much the number of cars in the country has increased, it is evident that there is more at play when it comes to traffic jams than just the number of cars. Traffic jams are mostly caused by unnecessary bottlenecks caused by selfish people, both on the ground and behind cars. Selfish driving is evident in the number of drivers that fail to yield to other drivers, that block junctions unnecessarily, that stop, turn and park carelessly and that zig zag on the roads.
And, of course, minibus drivers are often culprits of spontaneous and careless law breaking on the roads of Malawi. They stop anywhere, anytime and anyhow. They block the roads without caring about other cars in front of, or behind, them. But, more often than not, we also see other road users engaging in such tendencies. At times, it’s the Kabaza guy who carelessly overtakes his fellow Kabaza driver without checking the traffic behind him. If not, he has an abnormal load protruding into the main road. Sigh.
Some accidents are greatly avoidable. It’s about time the country revolutionised the roads and held everyone responsible. Fines should apply to all road users. Our traffic police should note what all road users are doing, and not just focus on vehicles. Bicycle owners, pedestrians, minibus drivers and all vehicle owners should follow regulations on the road.
Traffic police should regularly check if drivers licenses are actually authentic.
I rest my case