by Lyu Tianran and Apollinaire Niyirora
BUJUMBURA, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) -- At a busy street corner in Burundian capital Bujumbura, cars and pedestrians were waiting for the newly installed traffic lights to turn from red to green, a sight that has been absent in the small African country for a long time.
Traffic lights in Burundi stopped functioning due to a lack of repair mechanism less than one year after being installed in 1999, Burundian traffic police chief Roger Bankibigwira told Xinhua in an interview.
Many pedestrians do not know when to cross the road as traffic lights are a new sight for them, he said.
Funded by the African Development Bank, STECOL Corporation, a Chinese firm focusing on engineering and construction works, started installing traffic lights at 19 street corners across Bujumbura in May. All of the traffic lights, made in China, have been put to use since August.
To minimize the impact on traffic, workers assembled light posts, signal lights and other components of the traffic lights at the company's compound before they started installation at street corners, according to Hu Jianjun, the site manager.
The workers only had to connect the post and the base and then plugged them in at the installation site, which largely reduced installation time on streets, he said.
"Traffic lights restored discipline among drivers. Drivers from the countryside or foreigners freshly coming to Bujumbura were facing challenges to drive in Bujumbura," said minibus driver Gerard Bizabityo.
"Only those who didn't fear anything could easily drive in Bujumbura," he said, adding that many drivers are now enjoying the respect of traffic rules thanks to the traffic lights.
"I am sure that accidents have reduced during these weeks when the traffic lights started working. They also reduce traffic jams and disorders," said, Onesphore Rukere, a 34-year-old motorbike taxi driver.
A campaign of explaining how traffic lights work also started recently to target all users of roads, according to the police chief.
The traffic lights have already shown their ability to reduce traffic jams and accidents, Burundian minister of transport Jean Bosco Ntunzwenimana told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
The government no longer need to deploy police officers at major road junctions thanks to the traffic lights, he said.
"The work done by the Chinese company so far is great. We highly appreciated what has already been achieved," said the minister.
According to him, the government is negotiating with the African Development Bank to allow Burundi to use the remaining fund in the installation of traffic lights at 16 more places in the capital. The traffic lights might be extended to other major towns if the funding is available, he said.
"Burundi and China have strong and traditional relations. Projects carried out by Chinese companies in Burundi are well done," he told Xinhua.