With the decline of public transportation system in many African countries, many people are left with no choice but the commercial motorcycles to travel long or short distances. Once considered as luxury in many part of Africa and owned by the few people wealthy enough to afford it, motorcycles have today, become the only transportation option for many Africans, especially for the last decade, fuelled by its massive importation from HONDA, SUZUKI AND YAMAHA motorcycles in Japan. These motorcycles come as a blessing for some, and a curse for others.
Motorcycle transportation is a source of livelihood for thousands of Africans, young and old. The rate of unemployment in Africa is alarming, and with the “man-know-man” system of employing in many countries, many youths; from illiterates, school dropouts to degree holders turn to Okada riders in order to make ends meet. It is also good business for those who import, assemble and sell these motorcycles.
If you have ever been stuck in a serious traffic jam before, in a city like Douala with its hot and humid climate, you will realize the Okada is the best means of transport. These motorcycle are very practicable and easy to manoeuvre between cars during a traffic jam, a guarantee that you will reach your destination in time. Coupled with bad or unavailable roads, motorcycles remain the best transportation option for many, as it can go to places cars cannot access.
Ride safe so you can ride again. Many motorcycle riders leave their homes and never go back. Some end up in the hospital and others in the morgue. This is as a result of the countless number of Okada accidents that occur every day, especially on the high way. Motorcycle related accidents are the worst because the riders are exposed to a lot of dangers. Pedestrians also suffer from Okada related accidents, as most riders, especially the youths, ride recklessly, and at top speed. Some have no training and do not master road and traffic signs, so they end up hitting many pedestrians struggling to cross or just standing by the road. Children are most affected, because they are usually not very vigilant. Other people put their live on the line by overloading the bikes. It is very common to see a whole family of more than 4 people traveling on the same Okada. This is very dangerous, because the rider is not comfortable enough to anticipate any fall or collision.
“Teach your kids the love of motorcycles and they will never have money for drugs” (anonymous). This is not the case with African bike riders, as they are among the highest drug and alcohol consumers. Most Okada riders take Tramadol and drink crude and cheap sachet spirits like “fighter”, “Lion D’or” and “champion” to name a few. They claim it keeps them alert, and give them courage to face the dangers of the Okada business. Unfortunately, this is the cause of most accidents, because they ride under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
The rise of the Okada business in Africa, also encouraged the rise of crime. Most Okada riders are thieves, especially those in the urban areas. Some carry passengers and change destinations at some point, taking them to secluded areas where they are robbed, raped or kill. Most of them line up in front of banks and ATM machines waiting to carry those who come to collect money. This is most common late at night, or in the early hours of the morning.
Though the Okada business has helped many African governments in providing a means of earning for their citizens, the government is still to do a lot to help the riders, especially when it comes to their safety. They need to impose or restrict the number of people allowed to ride on a bike and make helmets compulsory. This will lower the number of bike accidents and deaths. There should also be an age limit for riders, and some sort of training centres or schools were licences are given to Okada riders after completion of training. This will regularise the commercial motorcycle sector, increase the country’s economy, and reduce the rate of accidents and deaths.
Article of the AFRIC editorial