Untold tales of victims of taxi motos

Ubiquitous motorbike taxis snake through gridlocked traffic, navigate between cars on roads and provide the much-needed employment for young people. The tiny bikes have become an integral part of Rwanda’s transport system and development.
L-R: Bihimana and JMV Nsazimana. / Courtesy
L-R: Bihimana and JMV Nsazimana. / Courtesy

  • Police statistics indicate that about 18.5 per cent of the 162 fatalities registered between August and October this year, are motorcyclists
  • There are over 30000 commercial motorcyclists in Rwanda
  • There are 23,300 active members from 283 cooperatives countrywide

Ubiquitous motorbike taxis snake through gridlocked traffic, navigate between cars on roads and provide the much-needed employment for young people.

The tiny bikes have become an integral part of Rwanda’s transport system and development.

Commercial motorcycles commonly known as taxi motos are the fastest mode of road transportation in Rwanda. They are not only swift, but also reliable in times of emergencies - when vehicles get stuck in jam or can’t access certain areas, these motorcycles slither their way through with ease.

Small, fast as an ostrich and conveniently able to negotiate complex corners, they are our answer to this Kigali’s stressful traffic jam during peak hours. But they have also become agents of chaos and the second leading cause of fatal accidents.

While commercial motorcycles are helping to reduce youth unemployment – the impact of a serious injury can prove catastrophic for riders, their families and families of all those affected by the deadly behaviours of commercial motorcyclists.

Behind this convenience lays sad untold tales of victims; livelihoods have been lost and dreams shattered.

“When I got a motorcycle accident, I lost my means of livelihood,” says Jean Marie Nsazimana, a rider who hails from Rusizi, who spoke from his hospital bed in the orthopedics department at Rwanda Military Hospital.

Nsazimana had come to Kigali to make ends meet, with the motorcycle transport his hope to support his family back home in Rusizi.

“I woke up in hospital with an excruciating pain...with only one leg.”

To survive and to foot the hospital bills, he sold-off everything he owned. “I had a plot of land in the village where I wanted to build a house for my children,” says Nsazimana.

Jean Bosco Bihimana, 28, another motorcyclists, shares the same agony.

Bihimana spent five months at Kigali University Teaching Hospital (CHUK) and another year at home recovering after a collision with a car in the Kicukiro in September 2015.

“I had an amputated leg. It was too painful,” Bihimana recalls.

“It was hard for me to get money because I could not work, and so my family had to suffer during that time. We went into debt after taking out a loan for accommodation and other overheads.”

Bihimana’s wife, also left her salon job to attend to her husband in the hospital. “We left our two young children with relatives. They cannot go to school. We have spent all our savings on treatment.”

Their landlord was at first lenient, but he soon run out of patience. The family was thrown out of the house.

Passengers alike sometimes in an effort to beat time urge the riders to ‘fly’ yet they never wear helmets.

Another victim at Kibagabaga Hospital, Paul Karamage, his right leg flung on the extreme side of the bed, is strapped with a white bandage. He rests the palm of his right hand on his bare chest, struggling to open his tired eyes.

His wife sits down on a mat, her round dark face dejected.

Two other young men -brothers to Karamage - stand near his bed, their eyes transfixed on their ailing brother. Karamage is a motorcycle rider. There is no prize for guessing what happened to him.

With most accidents affecting the youth aged 21-30 years, “the impact of motorcycle accidents on country’s most productive population will have far reaching effects on the economy.

Many motorcyclists have died and others lay in hospitals and in their homes with lifetime injuries. This is the same with their passengers and other road users who have fallen victims of the deadly conduct of motorcyclists on roads.

Police statistics indicate that about 18.5 per cent of the 162 fatalities registered between August and October this year, are motorcyclists.

They also account for the majority of the 254 serious injuries recorded in the same period.

There are over 30,000 commercial motorcyclists in Rwanda.

Alex Uzayisaba the executive secretary of FERWACOTAMU, a federation of motorcyclists, however, says they have 23,300 active members from 283 cooperatives countrywide.

“There are many unregistered commercial motorcyclists, which is another issue we are trying to tackle in partnership with the Police,” says Uzayisaba.

“Many microfinance organisations and banks are readily providing loans for people to buy motorcycles. You do not have to register. You can ride anyhow and anywhere,” he adds.

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Uzayisaba. / Courtesy

Rwanda National Police (RNP) has established a unit within the traffic department and is working with the regulatory agency - RURA - Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA) and Revenue Authority (RRA), against malpractices within motorcyclists and to reorganise the motorcycle transportation.

Out of over 5,000 motorcycles impounded since the beginning of the year, over various serious traffic related offences and other unlawful activities, about 1,000 are yet to be reclaimed by owners.

The Traffic Police Spokesperson, Chief Inspector of Police (CIP), Emmanuel Kabanda says that police holds regular meetings with motorcyclists to educate them, but also to “warn them about indiscipline.”

“Institutions in the justice sector are looking into how the law can be revised where offenders can lose their driver’s and operation license, but also increase imprisonment term,” CIP Kabanda said.

The current law provides a term of imprisonment of not more than six months for any serious traffic offence, although this law is easily challenged in court and offenders rarely get convicted.

The same law also provides revocation of a driver’s license in such circumstances, but only one person has had his license suspended in the last four years, according to Police.

“The situation of the motorcycles victims is what police seeks to avoid or at least minimise impact, speed kills,” says Kabanda.

He advises motorcyclists to “operate only when you have a driver’s and operation license, wearing a reflector jacket and helmets, put safety first.”

“Survival rate is low in case of motorcycle accident when you’re not wearing a helmet,” Kabanda said.

Motorcycle patients also spend 18% longer in hospital than other trauma patients, medical experts say.

CIP Kabanda observes that there is a growing number of people who do not follow traffic rules thus contributing to an increase in road carnages.

Passengers alike sometimes in an effort to beat time urge the riders to ‘fly’.

“We cannot afford to lose more lives due to road accidents.”

He also warned against driving while using the phone, while drunk and overtaking in sharp and dangerous corners, which also contribute to fatal accidents.

“Adhere to the traffic rules; don’t wait to be policed,” he says.

Under the new proposed measures to regulate and control the speed of motorcyclists is the installation of Geographical Positioning System (GPS) in all motorcycles, which can be used to monitor and lock a speeding or wanted bike.

“Such a system should be able to detect which rider is over speeding and easily traced”.

Meanwhile, Uzayisaba says FERWACOTAMU has hired a permanent lawyer to offer legal support to victims of accidents access their insurance compensations.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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