BBC BLOGS - Andrew Harding on Africa
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Africa's blue-light brigade

Andrew Harding | 17:44 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

Traffic rules are for the little people, right?

In the good old days in Moscow, Soviet apparatchiks used to scream down their very own lane in the centre of the road. A glorious synthesis of planning and contempt. Then the USSR collapsed and the people reclaimed the lane, so the elites (by then mostly gangsters in my experience) would simply stick a blue light on the roof of their Mercedes and drive a couple of inches behind anyone who dared to obey the speed limit.

In comparison, I don't think South Africa does too badly. The traffic here is nothing like Moscow, or Jakarta, or Manila, or Bangkok a few years back, when the king could barely leave his palace for fear of making the logjam even worse. Nor does President Jacob Zuma's often rather ferocious security detail require a lockdown of the entire city for his convoy. Unlike his counterparts in Harare and Nairobi.

But there is one road - the M1 motorway between Johannesburg and Pretoria - that stands out as a gridlocked, construction-clogged, blue-light-flashing, rage-inducing, revolution-inspiring exception. And it was on this road that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela MP found herself recently being pulled over by some traffic police.

The details of that encounter are still being disputed, but the incident will no doubt become part of the broader soap-opera narrative of abuse of power that seems to fill the papers and airwaves here without ever leading to any real action or reform.

So which African country has the worst blue-light problem on its roads? I think we need an annual ranking system to match the corruption indexes and economic growth figures. Perhaps there's someone with an equation or an algorithm that can settle the matter.


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