Accepted paper:

L'autre écoute of road danger in Africa: the occult as public health's other


Mark Lamont (The Open University)

Paper short abstract:

A key theme that has been systematically ignored in most public health approaches to mitigating road danger in Africa is listening seriously to competing perspectives, including the occult, that may reveal insights into the multiple ontology of ‘safety’

Paper long abstract:

This paper proposes a radical idea: the problem with the so-called 'epidemiological turn' in road safety policy throughout Africa is not that it is institutionally weak, but rather that its political robustness threatens to overcome, silence and occlude other ways of understanding road danger. What other possibilities exist? The answer to this question is to allow for a multitude of seemingly disparate, even contradictory perspectives to come into dialogue. According to Tony Bliss, director of the World Bank's Road Safety Facility, one of the main challenges in curbing road danger globally is the classic problem of people talking past one another. In the African context, it becomes clear that the power of a public health perspective on road danger lies in the historical legacy of external medical intervention, in part, exemplified in histories of HIV/AIDS intervention. The relatively sparse successes of this approach over a quarter-century should make social and medical researchers take stock of proposals to apply this model to road danger, particularly considering the accelerated pace to which neo-liberal states are building roads. As such, this paper encourages a new kind of 'listening', in particular, to the popular etiological responses to rising road danger in the language of the occult, a listening without setting into place a hierarchy of understandings that admonish such perspectives as irrational and out of context. This paper argues, instead, that the success of public health in achieving its goals towards safer and healthier transport systems in Africa depends upon such listening.

panel P095
The road to perdition: road danger and predatory transport policies in Africa