August 26, 2011 ·27 Comments
Hargeisa (Somalilandpress) To drive in the capital you have to have both the attitude and the unruly skills of a stock car racer. Everyone crosses the road at the same time, usually when there are cars coming towards them, no one seems to be aware of the danger they are putting themselves into. You will see donkeys, goats and people side by side walking very slowly and although the animals might not say anything they have no intention of moving any faster, regardless of the situation. The people are worse as they often shout profanities and rude words at braking cars.
Every day drivers put up with confrontations and name calling. What is worse is the fact that the rules of the road are non-existent. I once asked a young boy if he would mind moving away from the road as we could not pass you unless he moved, I was shocked by the comeback that was given to me. Then again children learn from adults with the same attitude.
It is evident that the traffic police are trying hard, however this trip to Hargeisa made me think it is time they put traffic lights back on the streets. I am also surprised that the more affluent residents are not contributing to improve the roads, but are building huge buildings in the middle of the capital. Their customers and staff do not have parking spaces which again contributes to the traffic, road rage and accidents.
Everyone who can afford to buy a car is driving wildly in the middle of the road, no signals used, it seems to me most people, even those who learn to drive abroad with very strict rules, are not even using any indication of what they are about to do whilst on the road. Before coming I never imagined that there would be road rage here, but in Hargeisa, everyone seems to ready to fight, drivers are not just frustrated with the pedestrians but with each other as well.
I have seen ‘almost’ accidents every minute we have been on these roads, the mirrors of many cars are missing so there is no knowing where the car behind is going or even if they are turning or going straight. You might ask why the mirrors are missing? To my amazement I found out that thieves remove them and sell them on.
Somaliland is growing and developing faster than we thought it would and my annual visits reveal something new each time. I would hope to see the ever so tired traffic police dealing with road accidents instead of standing in the middle of those busy and dangerous roads.
Although the increase in road traffic in Hargeisa suggests an ever increasing level of affluence amongst its population, the infrastructure and rules of the road must improve at a far greater rate if Somalilanders are to avoid total chaos on the roads of their expanding cities.
What makes Hargeisa main streets more crowed with cars is the lack of public and commercial parking. There are no parking zones in Hargeisa main market in the center of the city. Cars pull on the sidewalks blocking pedestrian traffic and commercial space. I bet the city can create revenue stream from creating public parking system in busy areas and that can cover the city traffic expenses. It is very oblivious that Hargeisa needs better urban planning strategy. It is important to evaluate the extent and quality of the road network, access to parks, schools and shopping area in relation to population concentration.
Boom in real estate development also add to the problem of urban sprawl. The city of Hargeisa has been booming but there is central strategy to guide this boom. Large villas are built in outskirt of the city without access to roads or water treatment. Living in Hargeisa reminds me of American settlements in the Wild West. The lack of regulation and safety inspection make it easy for Hargeisa to become another overcrowded, hot, disorganized, dirty city in third world country. What worries me the most is building houses in flood zones. During high rain seasons, flood downstream from Hargeisa hills into center of the city, flooding busy area of the city.
The country is at the early development stage. From urban planning perspective, this stage is very critical moment in planning for the long-term outlook of the city and emphasizing better roads and comfortable living standards for the population and businesses. The city can benefit more of having public parks, bicycle roads and playground for children for Hargeisa major neighborhoods.
We live in age of climate change and high energy prices. It is important to plan for sustainable living and embracing our challenging and limiting environment. The government and ministry of Interior need to take more active role in planning and enforcing more sustainable and effective infrastructure for the country. A city should preserve the green space needed for the healthy physical and mental development of its residents
We live in age of information and access to wealth of knowledge of what works and what does not. Cabinet position like ministry of interior and strategic planning, health and environment should not be associated or linked to any political calculations or political affiliation, but they should be a civic function, an operational positions. They should work closely with large and small business in creating platform of business opportunities and path of social mobility for the young population. They should work closely with the country universities in studying and measuring what works and what does not in the country. Our young country has come a long way and we are on the right path. But it is important for us to highlight where our government policies are coming short.
By Mohamed Gulaid and Kaltum BandayFollow @somalilandpress