Hardly does a week go by without news of one road accident or the order. Indeed, road accidents are a recurrent problem in Cameroon, resulting in over a thousand deaths annually.
According to the World Health Organization, Cameroon records an average of more than 16,583 road accidents each year, which kill more than 1,200 people.
In the face of soaring road accidents, Transport Minister Jean Ernest Massena Ngalle Bibehe claimed that, “The number of deaths on our roads is falling. It fell from 1,588 in 2011 to 1,091 in 2015 and 937 in 2019.”
But from the end of 2020 and the first two months of 2021 have witnessed an ever-rising trend of road accidents.
The cost of road accidents
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) maintains that the human cost is dramatic. Furthermore, the related economic losses are estimated at nearly 100 billion CFA francs per year, equivalent to 1% of GDP.
Compared to the country’s urgent development needs, in terms of lost investment, each year these losses represent the equivalent of around:
• 10,000 classrooms
• Over 250 kilometers of paved roads
• Eight referral hospitals – enough to provide all regions of the country with referral hospitals within two years.
New wave of accidents
At the end of December 2020, at least 37 people, including 10 women and four children, were killed in bus accident in Ndikiniméki, a town in Cameroon’s Centre Region.
Nineteen other passengers were injured on the bus, which was found in a ravine, Ndikinimeki police commissioner Moantsouog Mempou Paulin told public radio station CRTV.
The bus hit a lorry coming in the opposite direction, he said, confirming the death toll.
The passengers were returning to the capital Yaounde after the Christmas break, said Manfred Missimikin of road accident prevention NGO Securoute.
On January 27, 2021, Fifty-six people died when a 70-seater bus collided with a fuel-carrying truck resulting in a fire that set both vehicles alight. The accident occurred at a place called “La Falaise” along the Dschang cliff.
Awa Fonka Augustine, the governor of West Region said the death had been burnt beyond recognition, with at least twenty-six people nursing severe burns.
In the wee hours of February 22, 2021, another accident was reported along the Foumbot-Bangangte in the West Region of Cameroon. With over half a dozen deaths and dozens of others injured, the accident is one too many in the country.
Government’s helpless measures
After December’s fatal accident at Ndikiniméki, the Minister of Transport, Jean Ernest Massena Ngalle Bibehe slammed Avenir Voyages a one-month suspension for failing to comply with traffic regulations leading to dozens of deaths.
The Minister handed down the suspension two days after the bloody accident. The Minister cited a police report, which suggested that the travel agency had failed to respect traffic regulation.
The buses of the travel agency in question were prevented from plying the country’s road for one month. The Minister had said there was a possibility for further sanctions at the end of an administrative and judiciary inquiry.
Although it is alleged that the agency engaged in foul games in the course of its suspension, they have resumed business as usual. The February 22 accident from this same agency is a pointer to the fact that government needs to go beyond suspensions.
Poor road network
Cameroon’s inter-urban road network falls below 21st century standards.
Experts say the country can only boast of narrow footpaths that pass for highways. Even at that, the existing infrastructure is in dire need of maintenance.
“Have you traveled from Douala to Melong of recent? You would agree with me that making it alive on that graveyard serving, as a national road is a miracle,” a road user laments.
“We may heap as much blames on the users but the reality is that, our roads are carefully designed to depopulate Cameroon. If not, how would a not-ready road maintenance team dig up the road all through without quickly attempting to fill back the potholes on time?”
Professionals say this issue of roads in Cameroon and car/vehicle/ bus accidents are 70 -80 % caused by the poor nature and state of the country’s road infrastructure.
“Accidents are inevitable, but the number of head-on collisions, negotiating bends, potholes, etc. are all pointers to the fact that our roads are death-traps. Roads in Cameroon do not respect international standards. We do not have any highway. It is a pity,” regrets a concerned Cameroonian.
Year in, year out, the state pumps in huge chunks of money into road maintenance and construction. But at the end of the day, these projects hardly ever see the light of day.
“The situation of the road in the country is indeed terrible. The parliament is ineffective as members of the executive partner with their friends who are contractors to bleed the public treasurer,” says Joe Leku, a public policy critic. “All you hear is that a control mission was assigned to the project. We never get to see results.”
He regrets that Cameroonians only think of their stomachs and not the welfare of the country.
“I think we ourselves are contributors to the failure. Take, for instance, the contract for the tarring of the Kumba Mbeng stretch of road executed by a local contractor. It is worse off than prior to the project. Who takes the blame for the decimal execution of that project?
“What has become of the projects executed in Bamenda prior to the December 2010 military anniversary? What has become of the projects realized in Buea prior to the February 2014 reunification anniversary? These projects have all but collapsed. These are billions of tax payer’s money gone,” Leku weeps.
Another pundit posits that local contractors are forced to give kickbacks to government officials in exchange for contracts. As such, the job is poorly done in order to maximize profit.
“Talking of contactors not doing/executing their work well, I believe it’s the conditions under which most of these contracts are given. The contractors have to spend a lot of money as kickbacks. The government is also unable to pay contractors on time,” an expert familiar with the road contracts award system says.
The situation of roads in the country is a reflection of what bad governance can do to a country. Needless to say that this government has seen a retrogression particularly in the provision of basic amenities like roads, water, and electricity.
Despite spending colossal sums in the name of “grand ambition” projects, little is there to show for it.
Hawking of driving licenses
Although the country’s roads are to blame for the increasing number of accidents, road users also play their own role.
There is an ongoing trade in driving licenses. It is only in Cameroon that people who cannot drive and have never learned how to drive can be in possession of authentic driving licenses.
Despite measures taken to stem the tides, many are those who drive on the country’s highways without taking the pains of mastering the Highway Code. Owners of driving schools in complicity with officials of the Ministry of Transport are making huge financial gains from this illegality.
And on the highway, the error of one can lead to the death of hundreds.
The poor nature of the cars and the mental state of some drivers is also an issue of concern. Drunk drivers, especially truck drivers ply the roads in violation of speed limits. Drivers of 70-seater buses are no exception.
Given that the causes of road accidents are countless, it is therefore urgent for Cameroon to redouble its efforts to improve the road safety situation. All hands must be put on deck now if the country wants to bend the road accident curve. The organization of ineffective road safety campaigns must be reviewed.