Welcome to the second and final piece in our Gridlock series. Congestion is a very dry topic, and one that we have all encountered. However by looking at both Indonesia and Somaliland we can see that it is a both a symptom and a cause of all manner of other problems in the developing world.
Hargeisa – The City of Congested Streets
By Ahmed M. Elmi (Shawky)
Hargeisa is a home to about a million people. The dusty streets are overcrowded with pedestrians, cars of all kinds, animals – including donkeys carrying water, dogs, and goats, roadside cottages and people carting wheel barrows. Walking alone on these streets creates a feeling of dread – and a knowledge that should you hesitate after one lucky escape, you will probably not be so lucky the next time.
And driving a car is not that much better – with your way eternally blocked by people, vehicles, and a vast coterie of animals – should your brakes not be in the best condition, you will be in big trouble.
During the summer, the immense diaspora return – and can be seen in every nook and cranny of this bustling city. Therein lies the problem – it is a city of all too many corners, nooks and crannies. Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, is in desperate of a new, workable urban plan to allow it move beyond its narrow, crowded streets. The problems are legion. To name but a few, the planning action taken by the local government is dismal. The local administration and police usually try to expand the thoroughfares by removing stall holders and small properties from the highway. This works for as long as the police remain – as soon as they move on, the entrepreneurs return, ever more vigilant for the next time. These petty merchants, hawkers and grocers are a burden to the city streets – but they are a symptom of a larger problem, a lack of an effective market. The city municipality routinely state that there are markets nearer the outskirts of town, but these merchants retort that these are little-attended, it will inevitably cut into their already razor-thin profit margins.
The administration also has a deeper issue to deal with – the Somali stubbornness and resistance to rules and regulations. The administration has taken a stubborn position and has refused to work with the very people they are legislating against. The municipality needs to do more to support the organisation of into self-policing committees or unions, or to provide options for alternative livelihoods. There must also be a greater cooperation between the merchants and the police to develop plans that prevent the worsening of the congested streets, whilst still allowing opportunities to build their livelihoods.
Another key problem is the sheer bad condition of the roads – which vary from the inconvenient to the downright hazardous. Roads are dusty, narrow and often with deep potholes – not to mention a lack of drainage, signs and traffic lights. A great lack of appropriate parking makes the problem far worse. With malls and shopping centres lacking in parking spaces, their clientele are forced to park haphazardly on the already narrow roads. This situation is then compounded further by the rapid increase in the numbers of cars on the road. Cars no longer considered a luxury in Hargeisa, indeed “if you can’t buy, you can borrow” is now the new motto for the city’s car-driving masses. It is possible now to rent a car for just $20-30 per day, depending on model and marque. Lastly, the curse of all nations – from developing to developed – the nature of the driving of the youth is highly suspect. Intolerant of long traffic jams, young Hargeisans often make fast, zig-zagging and highly dangerous movements to try to advance just that little bit quicker.
Finally, corruption again raises its leering head. Hargeisa has a large number of traffic police, but their capability is limited. They mostly chase after opportunities for bribery or illegal “commission.”Even when driving with the correct license, with the right road tax and in a safe car with seat belts, you may yet be pulled over and asked for money. Such is the issue that drivers in Hargeisa routinely refer to the traffic police as “hunters.” The “hunters” seem always on the move, chasing cars and lorries – ignoring the traffic congestion and avoiding controlling the vast crush of cars, people and animals.
It is hard to shake the feeling that if only people were to take just a little more responsibility for themselves, the situation would be so much better for everyone.
Click here to read the first in our Gridlock series: Gridlock – Part One : A Jakarta Love Story