The Tanzania highway patrolmen seem to have scored a significant victory over the rampant road carnage we had become so used to, and I believe that this should be hailed.
Those familiar with the New Testament will know the expression, “How can anything good come out of Nazareth?” – a derogatory statement couched in a rhetorical question aimed at discrediting Jesus at a time when the young Palestinian had started to challenge the hypocritical orthodoxy of the Pharisees in their synagogues.
If you happen to think that the police are always there just to disrupt peaceful political gatherings and to generally do the bidding of their bosses in the ruling party, then I suggest you organise an outing on one of our highways, especially during the holiday season, when many people travel upcountry to celebrate Christmas and New Year.
This is the time we witness mass transit involving hundreds of thousands of merrymakers moving from parts of the country to others in a general mood of light-heartedness and insouciance, some of which has proven all too often to be fatal.
People tend to be carefree with their driving and to take too much licence with what they imbibe.
The upshot has been horrendous accidents and needless loss of life and limb that have plunged many a family into untold misery at a time when they should be in good cheer.
Now our road safety police have become decisive. This past end of the year, I was on the road, travelling from Dar es Salaam all the way to the Kenyan border, and what I saw was heartening.
Drivers of all types of vehicles, from saloon cars to buses, seemed to have come to the realisation for the first time that all along the highway there are signs that limit the speed at which you may drive, although these signs have always been there.
The difference is that the traffic police were enforcing the rules, and few were inclined to take a “little something” as an incentive to look the other way.
The fine of Tsh30,000 (roughly $13) every time the speed-gun catches you behaving like you are Lewis Hamilton on the circuit can concentrate your mind, unless, of course, you are Lewis himself and that amount times a billion is not something you would ever worry about.
All along that road we met with no sign of an accident, a far cry from the usual roadside horror of heaps of twisted metal plastered with baked blood.
So, there is every reason to congratulate our traffic policemen and policewomen on a job well done.
There is, however, an observation worth making here.
There are just too many speed-limit signs telling the motorists not to exceed 50 kilometres an hour, which has now just made it possible to cover a distance of just 200 kilometres in all of four hours, when we know it used to take only two, and I think there is a problem there. Economically, it is wasteful.
We are all now fully paid-up members of the rat-race, which makes us instinctively want to be the fastest to get there, ahead of all competition.
Speed is of the essence, alongside creativity, cunning and luck. It is a race in which the laggard and foot-dragger does not even get to the starting blocks; he is eliminated in the pre-competition.
So we have all become speed-merchants, rushing to be the first to know, the first to apply, the first to submit, the first to deliver, the first to collect the pay-cheque.
Anything that slows that rat-race is inimical to progress, and we shall fight it with all our might.
That is why we must redefine our priorities. Obviously, there is no arguing with the priority of life, which is the primordial human right upon which all other rights get predicated. But we must also be allowed to make a living, which is the only way the right to life is nourished.
So, rather than limit our motorists to driving under the unfriendly 50-kilometre limit, which by me is highway crawling, remove all the villages and hamlets currently within the road reserve to about half a kilometre off the road, and allow the traffic to flow.
If we are conscious of the economic loss we incur from the intolerable jams in our cities, we should be able to cut down on the loss on our highways as well.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]