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The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety visits East Africa (29 May-8 June) to support new mobility initiatives

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety visits East Africa (29 May-8 June) to support new mobility initiatives

Ethiopia traffic

After a mission earlier this month to West Africa (Senegal and Ivory Coast), Special Envoy Jean Todt will visit Ethiopia (May 29-31), Kenya (June 1-5) and Zimbabwe (June 6-8) to meet with ministers and representatives of the public and private sector, and NGOs, to advocate for the effective implementation of the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030, which aims to halve the number of victims on the road by 2030. 

The purpose of the mission is also to assess progress after the United Nations Road Safety Performance Reviews (RSPR) of Ethiopia (2020) and Zimbabwe (2022).  

These reviews, which are strongly supported by the Special Envoy are an initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) to assist governments in identifying the most fundamental road safety priority needs and to offer recommendations to strengthen road safety management capacities.

In Nairobi, on 6th of June, the Special Envoy will participate with H.E. Ms. Rachel Ruto, First Lady of the Republic of Kenya and with Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat to the High-Level Bicycle Ride in Nairobi on the occasion of the 2nd UN-Habitat Assembly, in partnership with the Government of Kenya, Mama Doing Good Initiative, Mama Cycling, supported by the United Nations Road Safety Fund. The event will aim at inspiring the officials to recognize cycling as an adequate mode of mobility for the capital city as well as equipping them with an understanding of the challenges and opportunities for cyclists. 

This visit of the Special Envoy will be also an opportunity to look at the results of UN Road Safety Fund (UNRSF) projects in the region.  The UNRSF-funded project, 'Safer Streets for Road Users in Africa', is improving road safety for pedestrians and cyclists in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique and Guinea led by UN-HABITAT, UNEP, UNECA and UNICEF.   To date, in Ethiopia, bike share trainings were held for transport authorities, and the Mayor of Hawassa requested local authorities to research car-free days and zones. Meanwhile in Kenya, a Minecraft workshop – digital lego for urban design – was conducted, followed by tactical urbanism interventions to test the designs developed by vulnerable road users, and showcased at last year’s Africities Summit in Kisumu.


“The majority of road traffic deaths occur in Africa and the first victims are young people. As

projections say that by 2050, at least one in every three births will be in Africa, accelerated and strategic action by stakeholders and governments is essential», highlights the Special Envoy.

Road crashes affect principally the most vulnerable

Road crash accidents are the leading cause of youth mortality in Africa. Globally, Africa accounts for about 25% of the number of road crash victims, while the continent has barely 2% of the world's vehicle fleet. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region most affected, with a fatality rate of 27/100,000 inhabitants, three times higher than the European average of 9/100,000. The world average is 18/100,000.

According to the World Bank, the mortality rate in Ethiopia is 28 per 100,000 inhabitants. Car occupants are the most vulnerable road users in the country and accounted for nearly 52% of road deaths in 2018.  Pedestrians constituted the second most vulnerable road user group in the country, with up to 33 percent of fatalities, and with the largest share of road traffic deaths occurring in towns and cities.  Buses and commercial vehicles (trucks) were involved in a disproportionately high number of road traffic deaths, representing nearly 65% of fatal crashes in the country in 2018.


According to the World Bank, the mortality rate in Kenya is 28 per 100,000 inhabitants. Monthly fatalities in the country increased by 26% from January 2015 to January 2020, while injuries increased by 46.5% over the same period. Pedestrians make up the majority of road deaths (37%). The other vulnerable road users are pillion passengers and motorcyclists (boda-boda).

In Zimbabwe, the mortality rate is one of the worst in the world with the dramatic  figure of  41 per 100,000 inhabitants. Unlicensed or improperly qualified drivers averaged 25% of the 2016 crash deaths. 94% of road crash accidents and deaths and injuries are due to human error rather than to vehicle defects (5%) or road environment (1%).

Address the whole system and rethink mobility

Drunk driving, speeding, drowsiness, negligence, non-use of seat belts and helmets, negligence and non-compliance with traffic regulations are the main cause of road crashes in Africa. The ageing of the vehicle fleet and public transport, false licenses, lack of enforcement of penalties and the lack of seriousness of technical inspections are also major causes of road crashes.

The core solutions to address road safety at the country level fall under the safe systems approach, which considers improved management, safer roads, vehicles and road users, as well as better post-crash response. With African cities undergoing rapid population growth, urban transport infrastructure services are essential to improve mobility and enhance access to opportunities. The management of road safety data is also key to better design mobility policies.

Among the solutions to be implemented include the need to strengthen health services for the injured, adherence to the African Road Safety Charter, the United Nations Basic Conventions on Road Safety, and the need to strengthen public awareness campaigns.

It is also necessary to protect the most vulnerable road users, namely pedestrians and cyclists, who are often also the poorest and youngest. Africa has the highest proportion of cyclist and pedestrian fatalities, accounting for 44% of the total number of road deaths. Walking remains the dominant mode of transport in Ethiopia, including Addis Ababa where walking accounts for 54% of all travel. But like many African countries, many streets lack continuous walkways and safe facilities for cycling. As we have just come out of the UN Global Road Safety Week, with the theme - #RethinkMobility, it is time for Africa to seize the opportunity to invest in safe and sustainable mobility solutions for all.

In addition to the human tragedy, road crashes trap countries into a vicious circle of poverty. According to the World Bank, the cost of road crashes represents 8,8% of Ethiopia's annual GDP , 9,1% of Kenya's and 13,3% of Zimbabwe’s.  Another reason to rethink mobility and to invest in road safety.

The last RSPR in Zimbabwe, identified four priority interventions: (a) Road Safety Management strengthening; (b) Increase capacity of the National Road Safety Lead Agency; (c) Road Crash Database, improving statistical indicators and disaggregated data, and (d) Post-Crash Care Response and Coordination System (establishment of lead coordinating agency). Finally, on the way forward 2021–2030, a 10-Year national road safety strategy and action plan was recommended to improve road safety in Zimbabwe. The visit of the Special Envoy will be the occasion to assess progress in these areas.

One recommendation of the RSPR in Ethiopia was for the Government to prioritize efforts to address capacity deficiencies of the institutions involved in road safety in the country, including greater sustainable financing for road safety. It also recommended strengthening road traffic legislation and other related regulations, such as the driving licensing directives. The establishment of a crash data management system was also targeted as critical to introducing evidence-based interventions in the country.


New mobility initiatives in Ethiopia


The government of Ethiopia has demonstrated commitment to adopting a more equitable approach that addresses the mobility needs of all citizens. In June 2020, the Ministry of Transport, with the support of UNEP, UN Habitat, UNRSF and ITDP, launched the Non-Motorized Transport Strategy 2020-2029, a national policy designed to promote walking and cycling as a key mode of transport. Ethiopian communities, with government support, have also started an Open Streets Movement called Menged Le Sew, meaning, “Streets for the People.”  This is a monthly initiative that aims to tackle some of the consequences of rapid urbanization by focusing on the importance of healthy active living, sustainable mobility, social cohesion and safe streets. Car-free days play an important role in shifting the mindsets of citizens and policy makers.


The obsolescence of the vehicle fleet requires special attention

Used cars constitute over 85% of the vehicle fleet in Ethiopia, many of which are not equipped with basic safety features.  According to Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and the central vehicle registry (CVR), between 2011 and 2019 the number of imported second-hand public and private vehicles increased from 800,000 to 1,500,000                                              

The United Nations Road Safety Fund is investing in a project for importing safer and environmentally friendly vehicles in Africa.  In partnership with government ministries, the private sector, and civil society, the initiative supports the regulation of the export and import of used vehicles in Africa, particularly vehicle regulations and technical inspections or anti-lock braking systems. In 2021, the project contributed to the European Commission's proposal, adopted in 2023, to improve regulations on waste shipments.

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