Last week’s MV Nyerere disaster in Tanzania, which claimed over 200 lives, feels even more tragic because it could have been avoided. We can prevent the next one by refusing to shrug our shoulders and continuing to let negligence and greed dictate our fate.
Notice that every time a tragedy of this magnitude happens, press reports have all the data like the model, capacity of the vessel, how long it’s been in service, the last time it was refurbished and their safety record.
Better still, governments and transport agencies should make it mandatory that these facts are availed on official websites, ticketing and booking offices and on the vessels themselves so that travellers know what they’re signing up for, so to speak. Carry your own life jacket or flotation device and equip yourself with some survival skills just in case.
I know what you’re thinking, “This is Africa”, and, “We have so many problems to deal with.” A sick relative, a funeral, a wedding we can’t afford to miss… I understand all that but the problem is that it’s this very urgency to get to places that causes these accidents in the first place. I remember growing up, we didn’t have a family car and like most people, we used public transport.
But we also had family friends and relatives who had cars and whenever we had a get-together or function, we counted on them to give us a ride. I’m sure some of you can relate. And so there we were: eight or more people squashed in a four-seater! The kids sat on their parents’ laps. No seat belts, no car seats. Somehow, we survived.
Would I let my child ride like that today? I don’t think so. Looking back, I’ve also hitched rides with friends who had been drinking at the party and again, by God’s grace, we made it safely home. Now though, I’d rather miss the party if I can’t afford to drive there or pay the bus fare or whatever other mode of transport. You live and learn, right?
There’re still many remote areas where travellers have to wait hours or even days for a boat, bus or taxi and this often explains the overcrowding because you don’t know when the next one will come along, plus the fact that food is a lot cheaper upcountry and so everybody wants to bring as much matoke, fruit and charcoal into the city on that one trip and so you have passengers competing with cargo for space!
If we want to cut back on these tragedies, I think we need to hold not just ourselves but our transporters accountable.
If your bus driver is over speeding or trying to overtake in a notorious spot, let them know you’re not having it instead of holding your breath and hoping all goes well. If the minibus clearly states that it’s licensed to carry 14 passengers, don’t try to board when it’s evident it’s already full.