Burkina’s stuntman biker, 72, reignites road safety debateWed, 28 Feb 2024 11:55:36 GMT

Burkina’s celebrity stuntman, 72 years young, sped down the dusty road lying back on his moped seat, feet draped over the handlebars — and no protective gear.In the central town of Koudougou, Rasmane “Rastafou” Ouedraogo drew admiring gazes as his moped, adorned with Burkina Faso’s red-and-green flags, went by.”Rastafou” is one of many Burkinabes who has ridden without protective gear since childhood.”It is not wise to do as I do,” the veteran daredevil conceded. “But it’s my passion and I have a lot of experience.”He has had a lot of experience in hospital too, even if his nerves seem to be intact.”When you watch him do his tricks you are afraid he’s going to fall off, but he always holds on,” said one onlooker, Bruno Ilboudo.But in a country plagued by road accidents, some people were irritated by his high-risk stunts.One television report showing Rastafou doing moped stunts without any protective gear sparked a row that reopened the debate on wearing helmets, which while already officially compulsory are rarely worn.Half of Burkina’s road accident victims in the first half of 2023 were not wearing protective helmets, according to a report by the National Road Safety Office (ONASER).Official statistics put the number of deaths at around a thousand a year, but that is thought to be an underestimate in what is one of the world’s poorest countries.According to the World Health Organization, 92 percent of road deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though they only have around 60 percent of the world’s vehicle fleet.- Helmet backlash -After the television footage of Rastafou’s latest stunt provoked a backlash, national television presented him with head-to-toe protective gear in front of cameras.But the stuntman was quick to stow the equipment away, donning more fashionable combat trousers instead.”The big helmet was not my size so I traded it for a smaller one, but it prevents me from seeing during my journeys,” Rastafou said.Many other Burkinabe riders are reluctant to wear helmets. A 2006 operation to regulate drivers caused a riot in the capital city of Ouagadougou, home to thousands of two-wheel riders.Yet the lack of a helmet remains the leading cause of head injuries reported in hospital, said Severine Kere a doctor at the capital’s Saint Desire clinic.”If you compare the price of a helmet with that of a scanner, you will realise that not paying for or wearing a helmet is more expensive,” Kere argued. In Ouagadougou, where swarms of two-wheelers speed down the dedicated lanes at rush hour, associations conduct awareness campaigns in public spaces and schools to drive home the importance of wearing helmets — and of wearing them properly.”Very often, even when a helmet is worn, it is not fastened at all, or not (fastened) properly, which makes it useless during a collision,” said Sakinatou Segda, a member of the “Helmets of Faso” association.The aim is to train “safety conscious citizens” in the long term, added Youssouf Noba, a member of the “Zero drops of blood on the road” association.- Safety crackdown -Despite the changes to the law and the awareness campaigns, the accident rate remains stubbornly high, with most of the casualties aged between 15 and 30, says ONASER.In December 2023 authorities updated a law forcing sellers of two-wheeled vehicles to include a helmet in the transaction.This adds between 20,000 and 35,000 FCFA ($33 to $58) to each sale, according to a motorbike sales company manager, Henri Joel Kabore.”Often customers refuse the helmet, hoping to reduce the cost of the motorbike,” Kabore added.”But we’re obliged to explain the measure to them, especially as it’s not possible to have the documents drawn up without receipts showing that the helmet is included in the sale.”In December 2023, Transport Minister Roland Somda promised a government crackdown to enforce helmet-wearing in 2024.But Rastafou, for one, seems unmoved.”For now, I’m continuing with my stunts, trusting in God.”