By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
If you want to cringe, start with counting the number of those dying or getting injured from motorcycle accidents. If you want to be frustrated, as a driver, keep complaining about motorcyclists.
It has been a boom, in a short time. In a way, it has been a nightmare. It is as if one were sleeping and they have been forced to wake up in a new world. Just yesterday, only a few people had motorcycles. Just a few hours ago, there were few motorcyclists on our roads.
In one moment of waking up, things had completely changed. The nation had become one of motorcyclists. Untrained, callous and violent – both in their manner of driving and in their reactions to shocking events.
When there have been interventions from the government to control or regulate them, motorcyclists have thrown tantrums. They have organised ad hoc demonstrations. They have fought. Or, if you want, they have stood up for their rights.
On Facebook, a friend lamented: Something needs to be done about motorcyclists; they are not being careful on the road.
In the comments section came an outpour of support. Each person, obviously car drivers, had their own reports of motorcyclists. One said he was hit by one yet this careless motorcyclist still demanded some form of compensation.
The other said he nearly hit another just that very morning. Another talked of a hospitalised relation who fell off a carelessly ridden motorcycle. There hardly was anyone who had nothing against motorcyclists. Everyone had something, bad, to say about motorcyclists. And, it was not just hate.
I have stopped counting the numbers when I had to throw hands in exasperation having seen a motorcyclist slice through busy traffic with due disregard to all the rules of the road. About two days ago, in the birthing of the night, one nearly hit me. He had two passengers yet was still trying to slice through traffic in a flamboyant – if not just careless – manner.
“Motorcyclists,” came the hiss from a colleague.
My immediate reaction was that from Facebook: “Why don’t they just ban them?”
Then, we went into a chatter. Thoughts and arguments, polished from the towers of privilege. In the end, the conclusion was obvious: There should be action on motorcyclists lest our nation degenerates into some lawless jungle where men and women go to the road to commit suicide – slow death – or be murderers unwillingly.
That action which the Lilongwe City Council promised to take on motorcyclists – banning them from plying in the central business district – had its support among us before one interrupted:
“But, after banning them, what will they be doing then?”
A rude careless response was that they will get back to whatever they used to do. Because, it is not that they were born driving a motorcycle. Two years ago, apparently, they were not even a fixture on our streets. They had a life, let them return back to it.
Yet, such a response is only fitting for a tired autocratic leadership. A compassionate one would not even think of that, even a realistic one.
These days, the obvious call to complaints of unemployment and underemployment is entrepreneurship. Yet, ours is a space in which there are fewer opportunities for that.
Across the years, politicians and some organisations have pretended to support entrepreneurship ventures. However, the world of entrepreneurship remains unkind here. For starters, it is due to the fact that our economy is nervous. Not many people have expendable money.
When one wants to venture into entrepreneurship, the options are few. The result is that there is duplication of ventures. Motorcycle business is one of them.
Few motorcyclists own the motorcycles. Lots are owned by others. Like minibuses. If there is a boom of motorcycles, it is because there is a boom of people resorting to motorcycle business.
Some of the owners, if not most, are themselves products of our nervous economy. Jobs, these days, are not guaranteed. You go to bed employed, you wake up unemployed.
The only other way of staying secure is to venture into business. And, taking risks is only safe when there are options of surviving when things fully collapse. That is a luxury in a country with the systems that we have.
People are preferring to play it safe; they are venturing into businesses that are known. And trusted.
Unfortunately, such businesses are increasingly becoming dangerous. They might be good on a person’s financial standing, in that they carry with them less risk financially, but they are dangerous in any other way. The motorcycle business is one of such.
Its thriving, of course, rests on the structure of our population. Another thing we acknowledge yet are too terrified to confront. We have a population demographic that we are not capable of supporting. On whatever definition of youth, Malawi ends up having a youthful population. Yet, at the same time, we have structures and societies unsure of the youth.
Those who have gotten an education are still struggling to make use of it while those with little of it are also in the throes of lack. It is a dangerous situation.
Our roads have become a perfect symbolism of our society. We have privileged people who are cautious and careful yet are having to rub shoulders with underprivileged people who are considered callous.
This duality, any other day, would be a cause for celebration. You know, that thing about beauty in diversity? But it is the violence of this diversity. It is the risks it poses. It is the inherent dilemma it brings to the table.
Again, to the issue of motorcyclists. This is not a situation that decrees or threats would address. It is fragile, and nervous; demanding careful thought.