Senegal vows stricter driving laws after 50 pilgrimage deaths

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Driving. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
Driving. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Saint Louis - Senegal vowed on Monday it would introduce a long-delayed points system for its drivers after more than 50 people died on the roads during a week of Muslim pilgrimage to a holy Sufi site.

Transport Minister Abdoulaye Daouda Diallo told journalists in northwestern city Saint-Louis that the application of the law was "irreversible" and would be enforced from 2018, though it had initially been announced to start this year.

Diallo was attending a memorial for 25 victims of a single accident in northern Senegal after a minibus packed with pilgrims heading to the central city of Touba collided with a bus on November 6.

The Mourides, a Sufi Muslim brotherhood, gather annually in Touba for the Magal ceremony.

Many Senegalese are members of highly influential brotherhoods in a country that has a 90 percent Muslim population.

"There is no negotiating and no way back," Diallo said about the points system, adding that he had told unions a planned strike by bus drivers and motorists against the measures on November 15 would be delayed.

Senegal's roads are used by battered taxis and packed minibuses often in a state of advanced disrepair, while road conditions are poor and street lighting minimal outside the capital Dakar.

The new point-based licences were delayed due to the use of biometric technology, which has not rolled out as fast as expected.

Road accidents on the pilgrimage to Touba are common but this year was particularly deadly, with more than 50 killed, according to firefighters.

"Drivers of public transport vehicles should be aware that they are in charge of people, not goods for sale," Diallo said.

The Mourides are one of four important Sufi brotherhoods followed by Senegal's Muslims, who overwhelmingly practise a moderate version of Islam while following the teachings of local spiritual guides.

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