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Highway hell as city ignores cops

2014-02-20 08:07

STOP: A police officer stands in front of traffic in Mogadishu. Image: AP

  Video

A traffic stop in China turned into a potentially deadly scenario as a driver attempted to flee from police. Watch as a dedicated police officer holds onto the windscreen of a fleeing car for 3km!

ABDI GULED

MOGADISHU, Somalia - "Stop!" yells a police officer in Somalia's capital as a traffic light flashes red. Most vehicles keep right on going. Angered, he steps into the middle of the road and gridlock follows.

Mogadishu recently began installing road signs for the first time, trying to end a culture of "anything goes" on the streets.

"We use sticks to stop cars, but they only listen to gun-totin' soldiers," the officer says.

Large parts of the country's residents are unfamiliar with traffic laws, increasing the pressure on traffic police struggling to impose order in the streets in a dangerous and chaotic city with a population estimated to be as large as three-million. Gen. Ali Hersi Barre, the city's traffic police chief, says: "They haven't seen law and order for two decades. It feels like we are starting from scratch."

'LACK OF THE BASICS'

Somalia's traffic police, re-launched in 2011,  lack basic equipment - such as cars. They also lack modern laws to enforce. Authorities are working on adopting new traffic laws to replace an outdated law passed by Somalia's parliament in 1962 that calls for fines in a currency no longer in use.

Despite the lack of codified law, police still issue fines, revoke licences and send offending drivers to jail. Along one street in the capital authorities tied a driver's hands behind his back and towed away his Mercedes, which had been improperly parked.

Old, over-loaded trucks crawl through Mogadishu, snarling traffic. Troops from the African Union, who often fear being the target of suicide attackers, do not stop for traffic signals or accidents in which the might be involved. Instead they speed away from traffic police who are powerless to stop them.

Barre said: "They don't stop for accidents they cause. Even worse, they don't have a reference office to deal with such matters. That's a key obstacle to us,."

POLICE IN DANGER

Traffic police face another danger beyond bad drivers. Car-bomb attacks are still fairly frequent though Mogadishu does seems to be moving beyond all-out war, . A car bomb blast aimed at a UN convoy on Thursday 21 2014 killed six Somali passers-by.

Militants have also used gunfire to attack and kill traffic cops - four of them in 2013.

However, despite the challenges, Mogadishu's traffic police say they expect new traffic laws to help reduce the number of collisions, and they remind themselves that only three years ago the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab controlled most of Mogadishu - meaning no traffic police worked at all.

Mogadishu resident Hassan Ahmed, 48, said the reappearance of traffic cops signalled a return to normalcy. "It's really a good progress we hoped for, it reminds us of Mogadishu's peak era."


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