Highly indebted countries are accidents waiting to happen

Author, Nicholas Sengoba. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • We have to pay special attention to the indebtedness of a country because debt cripples a country, suffocates and kills the state.

Titled, Burden of Road Injuries in sub-Saharan Africa, is a 2014 report by the Global Road Safety Facility and Harvard School of Public Health; Department of Global Health and population.
It makes a very comprehensive and insightful reading on road carnage in sub-Saharan Africa. The statistics taken from about 2010 are sobering as recorded in the executive summary in 2014. A few are dropped here.

Western, Central and Eastern sub-Saharan Africa have the highest road injury death rates of any global region. The death rate in Western sub-Saharan Africa is more than four times the rate in Western Europe.
Deaths due to road injuries (by 2010) had grown by 84 percent in sub-Saharan Africa since 1990, almost twice the global increase. The Western and Southern regions of sub-Saharan Africa had the highest growth in road deaths of any region in the world, more than doubling over this period.
Road injury deaths are severely underreported in most sub-Saharan countries. The authors of the report give estimates that are often more than six times those of official government statistics. In Nigeria, they are 14 times the official statistics of the national road death toll.

Road injuries killed 231,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa in 2010, accounting for almost one-fifth of the global road injury death toll. In addition, there were over 8 million non-fatal injuries, of which 885,000 were severe enough to warrant hospital admission if adequate access to medical care were available.  The combined burden of non-fatal road injuries in sub-Saharan Africa exceeded 14 million healthy life years lost, compared with 26th and 23rd globally. Healthy Life Years (HYL) are the number of years a person is expected to continue to live in a healthy condition. Road injuries are the 7th leading cause of death in males in sub-Saharan Africa. They are the 13th leading cause of death in females, compared with 18th globally. The road injury death rate for females in Western sub-Saharan Africa is more than twice the global average and almost five times the rate in Western Europe.
Pedestrians comprise 44 percent of road deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, substantially more than the global average of 35 percent. The rate of pedestrian deaths in Western sub-Saharan Africa is 8 times the rate in Western Europe.

Nigeria has the highest road injury death rate (52.4 per 100,000 people) of any country globally. Mozambique has the third highest death rate (46.7 per 100,000). These rates are more than 15 times the death rates in Sweden, UK, and the Netherlands, which have among the lowest death rates globally.
It is not an accident (no pun intended) that Sub Saharan Africa fares badly.
One of the cardinal functions of a state, in the protection and prosperity of its people, is to enjoy their lives with minimum burden.

Where the state is strong, it can afford to build good and safe roads. In addition there is an abundance of investment in diverse modes of transport like road, rail, pipeline and air. This expensive operation decreases the number of vehicles and people competing on the road. There are isolated and safe pedestrian lanes and crossings to limit interaction with vehicular transport. An ambulance and evacuation plan is in place to cut down on the numbers of fatalities. Well manned and equipped hospitals handle injuries to ensure a semblance of healthy living after accidents. Secondly there is money set aside for both human policing and technology to ensure that there is discipline on the road. There are cameras to catch speeding offenders.  Drivers receive training and competence tests to minimize poor and highway code ignorant drivers. Comprehensive insurance schemes help protect and punish those that cause accidents. The law breakers face the risk of carrying the weight of the law with minimal options for cheating their way out through a viable court system. The major characteristic of most sub-Saharan Africa is that the state is either weak or totally absent where it matters.

Look at Nigeria and Mozambique for instance. These two countries are battling the so-called Islamists within their territories. These wars have cut off entire parts of the country and taken a lot of resources, yet they are not ending. Mozambique even has the ignominy of asking countries like Rwanda and now Uganda to help them out militarily. Sub Saharan countries are highly corrupt which means that there are rarely enough resources to go into what appears like ‘non productive’ activities like road safety. By being non productive we compare road safety to generation of electricity. When a government builds a dam the users of the energy pay for it. There is an immediate ‘tangible return’ which may be re-invested or used to maintain the infrastructure and process of generation. 

On the other hand, paying a traffic policeman better may help them do a good job and cut down on losses like the death of highly trained manpower. This is not visible to the naked eye.
But perhaps what is most important of all is that Sub Saharan countries are highly indebted. The aggregate external debt of sub-Saharan countries excluding arrears grew from an estimated $6 billion in 1970 to more than $ 126 billion at the end of 1987.  

Currently the debt of low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa has increased to a record $702 billion in 2020, according to a World Bank report released on October 11, 2021. The problem is servicing, interest payment and debt repayment of these debts creams off a huge amount of the resources of a country that would go into strengthening the state to attend to its core functions including safeguarding the lives and property of citizens.

 In many cases these countries have to borrow to pay interest on money already borrowed and thus increase the burden of interest payment. This debt cycle is a never ending worrying one. The accidents on the road are more than reckless drivers. We have to pay special attention to the indebtedness of a country because debt cripples a country, suffocates and kills the state.  From then on it is every man to himself and only the fittest will survive.

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