At a recent cabinet meeting, the President of the Republic of Somaliland HE Muse Bihi Abdi and his cabinet discussed transportation and road safety, and issued a number of directives intended to curb the high traffic mortality rates and road congestion in Somaliland.
According to the statement issued by the Presidential spokesperson, one of the items debated at Thursday’s cabinet meeting was banning the import of all right-hand drive vehicles, and the subcompact Toyota car known as Vitz into Somaliland.
The statement goes on to describe the importance of the Somaliland Roads and Traffic law passed by Parliament and signed by President Ahmed Mohamamoud Silanyo on April 6th, 2013, and the fact that it needs to be updated and amended.
The statement did not describe what specific parts of the law need amending.
Although there are no official statistics available on the number and the type of vehicles, the majority of vehicles on Somaliland’s road network are right-hand vehicles while the roads remain left-hand drive nationwide.
Somaliland is therefore the only country in the world where the road and the automobiles on it are mismatched.
The statement from the cabinet meeting describes a report from a committee previously assigned to advise the cabinet on ways to resolve issues related to right-hand vehicles and what the statement described as “small vehicles that do not have much benefit to the community” and that out of 8,628 vehicles imported into the country in 2020, most fall into this category.
One of the main outcomes of this weekly meeting was the decision to completely ban left-hand vehicles to have automobiles on Somaliland’s roads conform to the standard lanes in which they should be driven.
In addition, the cabinet has decided on a total ban of subcompact vehicles known as Vitz, describing it once again as a “useless vehicle”.
While banning left-hand drive vehicles from Somaliland roads would contribute to road safety, it is unclear why the cabinet decided to ban small subcompact vehicles which have gained popularity as taxis in Somaliland since the introduction of Somaliland’s Uber-like taxi service known as Dhaweeye.
The decision to ban the Vitz vehicles by the Somaliland government met a swift public backlash and some have questioned if the government considered the thousands who make a living as taxi drivers as part of the Dhaweeye service.
Some even went as far as comparing the Somaliland government’s decision to ban Vitz in Somaliland with the Tanzanian President John Magufuli who ordered his cabinet to switch from gas-guzzling Toyota Land Cruisers to supposedly economical subcompact vehicles.
In an interview with the press, the Minister of Transportation and Road Development Hon. Abdillahi Abokor Osman, the retracted the previously released statement from the Presidency following the cabinet meeting and stated that it is not a total ban but a limited moratorium intended to address complaints related to congestion and road traffic accidents.
“We have received a lot of complaints about the vehicles known as Vitz, these complaints came from mayors around the country in the last six months,” said Minister Abokor.
Although the statement from the Presidency stated that most of the 8,628 vehicles imported in 2020 were Vitz, in his interview with the media, the Minister of Transportation and Road Safety Hon. Abdillahi Abokor stated that only 2,701 or 31.5% are Vitz and Probox – another vehicle widely used as a taxi in Somaliland.
This is not the first time the government of Somaliland and particularly the Ministry of Transportation and Road Development, often reacting to horrific traffic accidents that cause multiple casualties has issued reactionary policies as a response to complaints with little to no follow-up or enforcement.
Buses with entrances on the wrong side
The Ministry of Transportation and Road Development has banned the import of left-hand drive buses with the passenger doors facing oncoming traffic as well as the immediate reconfiguration of existing bus doors to avoid dropping passengers in front of oncoming traffic.
In the same month, the Ministry unveiled the new license place, 2 years later, most of the existing automobiles in circulation still had the old license plate.
The Ministry has ordered all busses that transport students to reconfigure the doors to be on the correct side of the bus.
The Ministry unveiled a program to mandate the use of speed governors for buses that ferry passengers between regions.
While backtracking and contradicting the government’s decision to ban Vitz and characterizing it as a limited moratorium, the minister of Transportation and Road Development Hon. Omar acknowledged the potential economic impact of such an action and that many otherwise ‘would-be unemployed youths’ depend on it, but added that there is a market saturation that is also not helpful to the existing drivers who depend on it, and that a limited moratorium would be to their benefits.
It is unclear if the cabinet discussed enforcement measures or even instituted time-tested methods such as traffic signs in its efforts to make roads safer and reduce traffic fatalities.
Although solar operated traffic lights without a central command have been implemented in some parts of Hargeisa in the past, most have been broken for years, and the entirety of the traffic police are being deployed to direct traffic – albeit with minimal enforcement of traffic laws.
While it is commendable that the Somaliland government may be getting around to taking action its unclear how much of an impact the ban would have on traffic accidents and fatalities since the majority of automobiles on Somaliland roads including trucks are currently left-hand drive vehicles which are exempt from the current orders.
One of the main reasons for the government’s abject failure to institute any semblance of order to curb the high mortality rate and relieve congestion on Somaliland’s public roads is its inability to take a holistic approach and implement a meaningful road development agenda that includes traffic signs, and consistent enforcement of existing traffic laws.
Unfortunately, it has been busy issuing one ill-conceived order after another, perhaps for the sake of appearances.
Efforts to reach the Minister of Transportation and Road Development Hon. Abdillahi Abokor and the Director-General Mr. Omar Sayid have been unsuccessful.
This article first appeared in the Somaliland Chronicle and is republished with permission.