“If other nations have punctual trains, we should not demand less” – a statement made by a Dutch friend complaining that the departure of their trains is often delayed by a few minutes. As my friend criticizes the Dutch railway’s lack of punctuality, we in Egypt pray that we will reach our destinations safely, no matter the delay. Living in a country that has one of the highest road and railway accident rates worldwide lowers the level of our expectations – rather than wish for a comfortable, punctual and affordable commuting network, we hope to arrive home in one piece.
News of train collisions, highway bus accidents caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel or boats sinking due to passenger overload is no longer shocking in Egypt. The Egyptian state tends to brag about its success in expanding road networks and building bridges and infrastructure, complaining that the high population growth rate and citizens’ ignorance are the main reasons behind the deterioration of facilities. Meanwhile, living in a nation where human lives are less valued than infrastructure expansion results in building more roads on which people can be easily killed!
Human beings are the most crucial and advanced component of any country’s modernization effort; however, when the government doesn’t truly value the life of its citizens, it is very difficult for less educated drivers to do so. Unfortunately, the Egyptian government tends to believe that human development is all about the ability to digest technical knowledge and eventually pass various exams, overlooking the fact that human development generally should aim at having well-educated, responsible citizens, who know how to properly and effectively react to a crisis.
Declining to admit to the failure of its policies, the government often attributes these kinds of accidents to “human error” (as if the citizens committing the error weren’t government employees). Nevertheless, seeing videos on social media showing public transport busses that are speeding or train conductors allegedly smoking hashish at work should not only prompt us to fire both perpetrators, but to think about advancing the entire system to prevent their colleagues from indulging in the same type of behavior.
Neglecting genuine human development and rejecting the use of technology are the real reasons behind our high rate of road and railway accidents. A small device can be placed on any commuting vehicle to prevent it from speeding and determine its location. The state should use its substantially inflated workforce to avoid employee misconduct by reducing working hours, while maintaining strict discipline and productivity. In addition to expressing sympathy for the innocent citizens killed in train accidents, President Al Sisi should call upon his government to come up with a better system that would save citizens’ lives and obtain the public’s endorsement of the new mechanism.
The government regularly advances the argument that it is working under strict “budget constraints”; however, the fact that Egypt has plans for building a peaceful nuclear energy plant refutes this argument. A nation that has not been able to prevent continuous road accidents caused by the misconduct of drivers should not even dream of such a project. The nuclear energy plan should be abandoned completely and immediately – even if international experts will be managing the plant. We need to prove that we can crawl before insisting that we can run a marathon. Prior to envisaging this complex project, let’s invest the money in reducing our road accident rate.
Empowering human beings at large would enable them to go beyond their normal capacities, walking the extra mile to prove that they are responsible citizens. We need to create a harmonious relation between our people and the engines they operate. Egyptian government employees need to understand that driving a vehicle or a train carrying a few hundred people requires an exceptionally responsible and conscientious citizen. They will not realize this on their own; we desperately need Good Governance to be able to apply this vision.
New roads can’t produce professional employees – but educated citizens could easily build and develop solid roads, and much more. We have been using our resources to expand concrete structures that won’t function properly unless they are managed by the right people, whom we don’t assign to the task. The Egyptian government needs to work on better developing its citizens who will be the true assets of Egyptian modernization. By limiting our ambitions to simple safety, we have ended up with a miserable commuting system lacking all forms of comfort and safety standards.