Brian’s Column: Could The Donkey Pave Way For A New Era In Road Safety Prehospital Care Agenda of Somalia

Wednesday, 16 January 2013 , Brian Bilal Mwebaze

Brian's Column: Road safety back to basics - donkeys in Somalia

In the high income countries, road crashes have been decreasing over the years although it remains a big cause of death across the world. In Africa, road crashes are still disproportionately high with neglected infrastructure, road safety law and enforcement and safe vehicles. In Somalia, our regular columnist Brian talks about the efforts to make the rudimentary form of transport safer; donkey carts.


Welcome to the New Year road safety ambassadors. January 2013 is here, it has been here, in fact, we are midway through it. I hope everyone had a very tasty Christmas (for the Christians). For the Muslims, hold up, Eid-el-Fitri is coming sooner. Greetings from Africa! Its still not too late for you to make your Road Safety New Year’s Resolutions, that is If you haven’t made them! Just do it! Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that same hour where we get an update on road safety situation in Africa.

africa cup of nations 2013

First, before I forget, the hotly anticipated African Cup of Nations (2013) will be happening exactly 3 days from today in South Africa and the good news is that our African Soccer Road Safety Superstars Samuel Eto’O and Didier Drogba have not hidden the idea of creating some road safety awareness in Africa. They and Nelson Mandela Initiative on Road Safety are planning bigger (Stay tuned for an update on that one). A little outside, Africa, those fans of Manchester City Football Club may have a chance to see Carlos Tevez walking on foot because, he’s been banned from driving for six months after failing to respond to police letters about speeding. You can read more about that here. It is also my pleasure to re-echo the report of Tom Bishop who is the Africa director for Amend on Road Safety Situation in Tanzania. Please read his post here.
On 16th January 2012, we held a Skype call for a number of youth leaders in road safety from the African English Speaking Countries with the Regional Coordinator, Miss Sheila Athieno (don’t tell her I said this, but she will be changing her Facebook ‘single’ status soon ha-ha). The objective was to motivate, share and ensure strategic direction of the region in the next 1 year. Much respects to those who participated; Sheila will share feedback soon.

Now, back to the point….

Animals have been an integral part of the ideal African family for thousands of years! In fact, history states that the dog was the first animal to be tamed by man, with cattle and goats etc coming into the mix thereafter. But there is this animal called a Donkey! You have not heard about it, no? Very prominent in Somalia, donkeys have been part of Somalia’s history for thousands of years having existed as wild Asses before being domesticated.

donkey cart
The typical donkey cart transportation in Somalia.

Relating the donkey to road safety, there are no researched data on official figures for the number of donkeys and other animals killed or injured in road traffic crashes (sounds like a good research topic, yes?). Donkey carts are a common sight on Somali roads (there is no railway in Somalia) – unfortunately, all too often they are not seen by car and lorry drivers until it’s too late. Many of the people using donkey carts travel at night, without lights or reflectors. While the owners of horse-drawn carts have to pay a yearly fee to be licensed by the Municipality, and display a number plate, donkey carts don’t need licenses. This makes it hard to keep track of the carts and owners, and enforce the rule that no drivers should be under 16 years of age. Namibia has some interesting statistics; donkeys are involved in 25% of all road crashes in Namibia. Many of these crashes occur at night when the donkeys lie down on the warmer tarmac and are not seen by approaching vehicles.

donkey tags
Donkey reflector tags in the ears of the animal help them to be seen at night.

Donkeys among the Somalis do not belong to any clan, can be ridden by both males and females, easy to maintain, readily available throughout the season -a reason why they have apparently been embraced to address the pillar of road safety in the UN Decade of Action about Post Crash Response. Apparently, these animals are used as ambulances to quickly evacuate road traffic crash victims to hospitals. You should not be surprised to know that Somalia has been hit with civil conflicts that have hit the country’s educational, health and economic stand.

Somalia’s road safety agenda has been tailored to its cultural context of embracing the horse in road safety sensitization as well as quick referral of victims. Donkey Health of Somalia has developed special reflective ear tags (almost similar to those of Donkey Welfare in Namibia) which enable the donkeys to be seen from a far greater distance. The tags are picked up by the vehicles headlights and allow time for the driver to take avoiding action. To make the carts more visible at night, the Somali Road Safety Department designed, produced and distributed reflective plates to 192 donkey carts had been fitted with a set of these reflectors. The 2012 report however doesn’t capture how many of the owners had been trained in basic first aid response, how to load carts properly, how to balance the load better, and how to prevent harness wounds.

While the Somali road transport authority is still struggling to tackle the problem of irresponsible under-age donkey-carts drivers (16 to be precise) as well as scaling down this programme, this approach may turn around the road traffic fortunes of a country that is hungry for Ambulances and Human resources for health. We just have to hope that the Country’s Road Safety Department keeps an eagle-eye on road safety statistics and indicators.

donkey ambulance
A real use of donkeys as ambulance carts has improved post crash care in Somalia.

Interestingly, when we approach road safety in a high-income country, as is the sharing of good practice in forums around the world, in Somalia, we go back to basics with road infrastructure whereby donkey safety is road safety. It shows that even in ‘underdeveloped’ places where cars are not necessarily widespread, efforts to increase basic forms of transportation is important to save lives, secure economic goals and provide care such as post-crash care in the case of ‘donkey-ambulances’ in Somalia.

This same article appears at the UN Youth Wing on Road Safety


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