Rethink this!

After indicating, the large bus swings to the left, right in front of the taxi but the driver’s having none of it. He works his car horn incessantly until we, the passengers, tell him to “take care and slow down”. The mid and tail section of the bus fly past the taxi bonnet with less than an inch to spare. “Plus de peur que du mal”, as they’re fond of saying here but this blog could have just as easily ended halfway the motorway between Patte d’Oie and Dakar Centre. Smashed between an unyielding bus, the crash barrier and the bloody mindedness of a taxi driver.

Here’s the thing. It’s frequently said that a country’s character can be gleaned from the way people drive but this needs a re-think.

Dakar’s roads are murder. Complete and dangerous anarchy. One reason I am not frequently going to Le Plateau is precisely because I don’t want to subject myself to yet another kamikaze driver who thinks nothing of overtaking an overloaded “car rapide” with a lorry ahead, then veers manically to another lane to avoid said lorry while answering a phonecall.

But go into any shop and politeness reigns supreme. You’d get on the wrong side of folks for not greeting them in the morning. However: once a Dakarois gets behind the wheel, he becomes a full-blooded anarchist with one message to the other road users: your job is to get the hell out of my way. And before you start: yes, the women are just as bad.

Monrovia, Liberia. In this massively overcrowded city the most common greeting in a shop is not the delightful “Asalaamu aleikoum”, as is the case in Dakar. You’re either met with compete stony indifference or with a “Whaddayawant?” barked at you. People are, in the main, pretty damn rude in Monrovia. But Tubman Boulevard, the main drag through a large part of the city is as busy as Dakar’s thoroughfares and a masterclass in decent driving. People don’t rush, give way and – something utterly unthinkable in Dakar – stop for crossing pedestrians.

So here it is: driving seems to be the exact opposite of a country’s (or, let’s be fair: a city’s) character. Surely, this cannot possibly be a reflection of residual foreign influence?

[Huge generalization alert!] America – Liberia’s creator – is brash, loud and crass but drives impeccably. France – Senegal’s former colonial power – indulges in the good life and good manners but drives appallingly badly.

But Liberia turns 163 this year and Senegal will be 50 this weekend. Surely these influences fall away at some point?

Well: there you have it. Just a few thoughts after another murderous morning on a Dakar highway.

Oh and by the way: there are decent taxi drivers around. I have his number.

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