A Christmas Road Safety Message From Africa – Brian’s Column


(This article also appears at http://www.youthforroadsafety.org/activities/news/news_item/t/a_christmas_road_safety_message_from_africa_brian_s_column ) 😀
Our regular columnist, Mr Brian Bilal Mwebaze publishes his first article with YOURS with a message from Africa on keeping safe on the road during this holiday season. A time to be festive and merry for many, Christmas is a massive deal in Africa and Brian offers us a candid expression of the importance of safety during this time.

As you may have heard, I (Public Health Freak, Brian) will, starting from now, officially be sharing the African road safety cake from a youth and technical perspective thanks to YOURS. In other words, for my fellow youths whose first kiss was to miss road safety, I suggest you start sending me your addresses so I can quench your thirst (read hunger) from all corners of the incredible Africa! #MuchRespect!

Pretending to be a priest (which I should have been if only I had not been expelled from seminary on grounds that I was asking ‘a lot of questions’), Christmas is celebrated throughout the African continent by Christian communities large and small and people enjoy the holiday season. It is arguably, the most celebrated day in Africa! There are approximately 350 million Christians in Africa, and of course that includes myself, but with Muslim roots, I also celebrate the Muslims’ all time day ‘Ramadan’. Back to the point, on Christmas day carols are sung from Ghana on down to South Africa, from Equatorial Guinea to Kenya. Meats are roasted at Christmas dinner, Christmas decorations and carols are held, gifts are exchanged, family visits made and needless to mention, God has a chance to see unfamiliar faces in His churches on this special period. The Coptic Christians in Ethiopia and Egypt celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December in their calendar, which is the 7th of January for most of the rest of us. Even in some of Africa’s predominantly Muslim countries, Christmas is still marked for celebration. I am reliably informed that in Dakar and Niamey (where we were this year, October) for the first African Youth Assembly on road safety, street-sellers are happy to sell plastic trees and inflatable Santas.

During this Christmas period, there is a lot of excitement and as many of you will agree with me, this is for many the right time to taste a few drinks (winks), it’s a time to meet new faces, it’s a time to catch a new movie that is sending your fight or flight hormone to abnormal heights, this is the same time that we stay out late…you know, trying out new things. It is practically the end of the year, and you want to leave a mark and start the next year on your right foot!

However, and rather interesting, to do so and participate fully in this period, one has to be alive. To remind you of the figures, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.3 million people are killed annually and up to 50 million people are injured annually due to road traffic crashes. 90% of all of the world’s road fatalities (which can be preventable) take place in low and middle income countries. However, the low and middle income countries do not even own half of the world’s vehicles – this fact alone is very intriguing and telling and I am not being political here! This is a human being issue. To make it worse, road traffic injuries (RTI)Is are the leading cause of deaths among the people aged under 29! Now, if someone calculates what the technocrats call ‘Dalys & Qalys´, that shouldn’t scare you: they mean the amount of money that road traffic injuries are costing our society (loss of productive years, health care, etc.) . The global losses due to RTIs are estimated to be US$ 513 billion and cost governments between 1 and 3 % of their gross national product – more than the total amount that these countries receive in development assistance!

So, as we prepare for Christmas, how about putting safety shopping on the agenda. On parties, you can expect some common emergencies as chocking, unconsciousness, drowning etc (so make sure you put to use your first aid skills) and try to prevent these tragedies. While on the road, you will need some visible clothes with reflectors so you can easily be seen from a distance by dreaded drunk drivers, for those that use motorbikes don’t for any excuse abandon a helmet! (there is more than enough proof to justify the effectiveness of helmets), When in the car, remember, there was a point why seat belts were put in the car. In addition, please never drink and drive! Make safety your number 1 priority because you are very much expected home alive!

On such arenas, I have not heard someone proposing a toast to driving safely and observing pedestrian safety. On the religious angle, in the villages of the Central African Republic, like in other strong African cultures, the first drink is poured into the soil as part of paying homage to the Gods: -so that the Gods can bless them and the party….but how about also adding that the Gods should also help us to stay safe?

While I was in Denmark in 2009, I had a ‘quick’ conversation with one of the students at Frisenborg, and he told me that, ‘In Africa, you dudes care about one another. Here, it´s different, we call it respect and every one is on his own’. This later became one of my best change phrases as far as social life and solidarity is concerned. If you relate this to safety in general, then, by caring for each other, the taxi driver being aware of his safety and the safety of his passengers and pedestrians. Also the passengers are being mindful and reminding their fellow passengers to buckle up their seat belts…every one playing their role, wouldn’t we reduce road carnage in our lands?

I have heard about the always polio-infested excuse of ‘We are poor’…but are we really that poor? How much shillings, Kwachas, Dollars would be raised on a Christmas fundraising dinner in your home district? Come on now, I personally have visited our local TV and they have given us, free time to run a safety campaign during this Christmas! Young people, it´s our time, we are the people very much affected by the mess that our forefathers created, but IT IS part of our responsibility to solve this mess. The good news is, the grounds are fertile, let us make Youth Safety our concern and do something nw with all traits of the Haddon Matrix! Oh, and I will be looking forward to what you did in reference to road safety during the Christmas season ;).

I was watching some cartoons on our local TV in Uganda when one of the cartoons asked: -Question: When does a person decide to become a Safety Manager?

Answer: When he realizes he doesn’t have the charisma to be an undertaker. Me and you know this very well, technocrats call it ‘peer group influence’, but for us (youths) we call it ‘Blending in the Hood’. Be wise enough to make safety decisions when such matters arise! Did I also say, procure a first aid kit and make a bandage and razor blade key items in your kit?

Stay Safe because road fatalities are more dangerous than malaria and HIV/AIDS. I am going to say merry Christmas in quite a number of African Languages!

In Runyankole (Uganda) Mugire Kurisimaasi y’eihorere
In Luganda (Uganda) Mbagariiza Kurisimaasi enungyi
In Amharic (Ethiopia) Melkam Yelidet Beaal
In Egyptian (Egypt) Colo sana wintom tiebeen
In Yoruba (Nigeria) E ku odun, e hu iye’ dun!
In French (Congo& Rwanda) Joyeux Noel
In Akan (Ghana) Afishapa
In Zimbabwe Merry Kisimusi
In Afrikaans (South Africa) Geseënde Kersfees
In Zulu (South Africa) Sinifisela Ukhisimusi Omuhle
In Swazi (Swaziland) Sinifisela Khisimusi Lomuhle
In Sotho (Lesthoto) Matswalo a Morena a Mabotse
In Swahili (Tanzania, Kenya) Kuwa na Krismasi njema

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