The boy excitedly told me he'd never owned a pair of shoes in his life and his family would be ecstaticthat he'd acquired some sturdy footwear from a visitor to the area. He didn't ask for or expect anything from anyone. And neither did any of the other people I met there.
What's all this got to do with motoring? Plenty. If I'm willing and able to do a tiny bit of good by donating an ageing but still decent pair of boots to a hugely grateful African, who will exploit them for years to come, why can't Africa receive some of the cars we inexplicably send to the scrap yard when they've still got years of life left in them?
I'm not suggesting that every shattered, rusting, F-reg bucket-of-bolts abandoned at the roadside in Britain should be scooped up and dumped in Africa, but I am advocating that some perfectly safe, high-quality cars going to unnecessarily early graves here be given a new lease of life in another, less privileged part of the world.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders says it's near impossible to accurately estimate the age at which the typical motor on British roads ishanded a death sentence. The organisation believes that the "average" age of a car here is 6.8 years and that the vast majority of cars are taken off our roads when they're little more than a decade old, if not sooner. At this point, they become - for a variety of complicated political, environmental, economic and image reasons - just about useless and worthless to us. There is no market for them. But to desperately poor African nations, they could become valuable, desirable assets. These days, engines are often only nicely run-in when they reach 100,000 miles. Go to Cuba and you'll see cars slowly but productively going about their business on a daily basis, despite the fact they are half a century old with millions of miles on the clock.
Why on earth wouldn't poor African towns and villages be extremely grateful to be sent our discarded but far from deceased quality, pre-owned cars? They could be used by health workers, teachers, emergency services and others in jobs designed to help the needy. The vehicles could be looked after by skill-seeking Africans keen to learn the art of car maintenance, repair and safety. And before you pour cold water on my idea by reminding me that much of the region's harsh terrain is difficult, if not impossible, to drive across, surprisingly large sectors of Africa have fine, paved, straight roads or dry, flat, dirt tracks, which even the simplest two-wheel-drive cars (the simpler, the better) could safely and efficiently negotiate. The recent shenanigans at Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Goodyear and Michelin, for example, have left these companies red-faced and in much need of some positive PR. This they can achieve by donating spares, tyres and equipment, as well as giving lessons on tyre safety, longevity and repairs.
Passing on second-hand radios, books and even footwear to the poorer parts of Africa is all well and good. But it's just the start. What about car aid? Can you imagine how many books and pens a rural, travelling teacher could squeeze into the boot of a Toyota Corolla or the sheer volume of syringes and pills a visiting health professional could lug around in a Nissan Micra?Reuse content