THE city of Dar es Salaam looks as if it suddenly has transformed into a motorbike race track. Young motorcyclists dart along the road like a getaway gangster on a two wheeler, giving the city a resemblance to some race field, but one free for all.
Motorcycles have not only made the city's roads more crowded. Roads have become noisier and more risky because of them. If a car misses you, some motorcycle might get you for almost always some of them prefer the pedestrian path or, for their-no-rule apply attitude, they run on the wrong part of the road. More often, the comfortable presence and peace of the day will be disturbed by a loud blast of some motorcycle flying past.
However, the city's centre, rather lethargic on account of its being pregnant with heavy traffic, appears to have been spared of such sonic madness. That part of the urban population in Dar es Salaam is perhaps the quietest because, according to reports reaching Reporter at Large, motorcycles are forbidden there. But Dar's periphery and indeed its highways of Mandela, Nyerere Road and Bagamoyo Road, do experience the dare-devil riders as a common sight.
More familiar with the flying motorcyclists is their traffic misfortunes, a fate that has earned them an exclusive and sole ward at the Muhimbili National Hospital. "They have a ward of their own, where you will see them lying prone, their leg either cut off or suspended," says a city's resident, one Joseph Mmari.
Just recently Reporter at Large learned that despite the horror the dare devil riders scare the urban society with, they are otherwise regarded as an economic safety valve of an explosion that would have blown the people into a big social terror if the boys did not have something to vent their pent up furry on. And the bikes are just victims they are punishing to feel well.
"If China did not bring these bikes, this chaos on the road would be terror on the streets," one passenger tells me as we ride along Nyerere Highway down town. "We would be having just as many muggers." Just recently, these boys were lazybones or, more precisely lay abouts, who would pounce upon an unsuspecting passerby to earn some shillings for a meal. But now they have some job to do, to either break their own legs or take a passenger to some destination for a couple of shillings.
As one of them enjoys a meal at some joint, a soul or two has been saved of a stab wound he would have inflicted them with a knife, had he been some dark alley robber. The bikes they ride are mostly Chinese made. Take, for instance one of the SANLAG make not much different from the T-BETTER breed.
They both are cheap two-wheelers, embellished with a huge headlamp flanked by other two smaller lamps, indicator lights notwithstanding. The machines look precious and pretty. To give the audacious young men a dominant, more emboldening, but enjoyable feel, the motorbikes have a stereo radio with two speakers conspicuously displayed on them. Remaining eagle-eyed at business spot by the roadside or riding, the boys have the radio always on full blast with the most entertaining piece of the day, nodding at the musical tempo.
But why would they be riding so fast in a city with such heavy traffic and narrow roads with other equally reckless motorists whose licence's authenticity is suspect? The answer given by those who watch them display their irresponsible riding is that they were the society's troublemakers. Since the advent of Chinese motorcycles hardly a decade ago more traffic deaths involving motorized two-wheelers have increased.
"That shows what type of people these boys are," my seatmate says. "They were unruly at home. They are unruly on the road. It is not easy for a bad boy to be good anywhere." Maybe he is right. The riders love to show off.
Some will go fast and then let go of the handlebar in a vainglorious demonstration of his mastery of the bike in high speed. They are well aware of the cardinal rule to ride a motorcycle with a helmet on, but they do it with the helmet off.
Some dangle the helmet on the handlebar. Others have it strapped on the carrier behind them while they dash along in what is similar to a joyride. But these mad motorbike riders, who often enough do paint the road with their blood, many do agree, are enjoying job opportunities China has created in the country by its motorcycles.