Why Do Road Safety Interventions in Africa Fail? Using Historical and Cultural Perspectives to Solve a Public Health Dilemma

June 2022

Rebekah Lee, Harvard Radcliffe Institute

This exploratory seminar is designed to explore, and critically interrogate, the ‘epidemiological turn’ evident in contemporary sub-Saharan African road safety interventions. Historical and cultural approaches emblematic of the recent turn to 'medical humanities' can transform our understanding of the road accident ‘epidemic’ in sub-Saharan Africa, and of the limitations of current public health campaigns to address it. The seminar would consider the broader historical background of how Africans have used, and related to, ‘the road’ from the early 20th century to the present day. It would examine Africans’ evolving automobility across the 20th century, and consider how the formation of distinctly African car cultures may have influenced perceptions of, and responses to, road danger. The seminar would also explore popular and localized forms of road safety, including the use of rumor, social media, and music, asking how far these may differ from public health initiatives on the same subject. The exploratory seminar would enable a multi-disciplinary enquiry into available archives and lines of research, test out experimental methodology which includes a consideration of cultural, media and artistic practices, and locate Africa-based researchers, to further refine the conceptual and empirical outlines of this topic. Research outcomes include the formation of a robust research network and the creation of an interdisciplinary, multi-sited project proposal for major grant funding.