By Isaiah Rwanyekiro
In the last few days, we have seen two key government agencies (Uganda National Roads Authority and Uganda Police Traffic Department) trading accusations and counter accusations in regard to the numerous fatal accidents claiming lives daily on Masaka-Kampala highway and many other highways.
I am not writing as an expert since I am neither a road engineer nor an expert on traffic policing. I am, therefore, writing from my simple observations as a motorist who has used Uganda’s accident prone roads for over 18years as a driver.
In my simple and honest observation, I do not think we have a traffic police department in Uganda to talk about. Our department still belongs to the Stone Age in form and content.
In this day of modern technology, we do not expect traffic police officers wielding whistles as their tools of implement directing and guiding traffic. We expect them to be more sophisticated with number plate reading cameras and speed guns appropriately stationed on all our highways to control reckless driving.
Driving schools nightmare
First and foremost who even regulates, controls and guides the driving schools in Uganda. I have visited some of these driving schools and all they care about is money.
Some of them are blunt enough to tell you that they can get you a driving permit minus going through driving instructions at a certain ‘special fee’ which they are not ashamed to tell you that you see we have to bribe some of the traffic officials.
This is in stark comparison to other organised states. Am told kids in Britain throw parties upon successfully passing their driving lessons.
The three-hour exam you have to sit for as you prepare to get your driving permit is nothing compared to what Ugandan LDC students go through to get their paralegal practicing certificates. So unless this problem is tackled from the source, we do not expect road carnage to reduce anytime soon.
I know a multitude of friends who think am insane for insisting that they show me their driving permits every time they want to borrow my car. Most of them have learnt to drive in their compounds and after a few death-defying tries on the road; they think they are expert drivers.
I can bet that almost 70% of the Ugandan drivers on our roads, especially those driving private cars have never been to a driving school not to mention having properly sourced driving permits.
They do not know the most basic driving etiquette.
In other words they are accidents waiting to happen. I have driven now for almost 15 years consistently and in all these years, I can count the number of times I have been stopped by traffic cops and I am asked to produce my driving permit.
The few times I get flagged down, the cops simply walk around the car, as if inspecting it and then clear their voice and ask for some mineral water. When it is given I am always left to drive off in peace like a VIP. This is irrespective of the fact that my driving permit or my third party insurance maybe expired.
Tackling traffic with bare hands
In this time and era one would expect our traffic police department to have some sense of sophistication. By now we expect them to have car number plate reading cameras and speed guns on all international highways whereby a traffic offender is easily identified even if he chooses to run away from the scene of crime which most Ugandans tend to do.
Often times some of my friends have tested the efficiency of traffic police by deliberately refusing to stop when flagged down well knowing since they operate with stone age implements they have no capacity of following them up.
It is not until the Uganda Traffic Police department headed by the highly educated PhD holder Dr. Steven Kasiima gets its act together and has some semblance of organisation that we shall see a reduction in the current road carnage.
Till then let us resign ourselves to seeing on a daily basis healthy, productive men and women lose their lives. The absence of fear of the law creates impunity and unfortunately when this road impunity is not checked the results are very tragic.
Dr. Kasima, IGP and whoever is in charge of traffic please wake up and get your department in order and stop lamenting about the state of improved Ugandan roads.
There is a complete breakdown in enforcement of traffic regulations and unless something is urgently done we shall continue to pay heavily through loss of precious human lives.
The writer works with Uganda Media Centre