Like most developing countries, Uganda has few cars but more accidents as motorists disregard traffic guidelines. Boda bodas continues to be the most available “fast” means of transport because they easily manoeuvre through the thick traffic jam, but also the most offenders.
It is 10:20am. Way past the rush hour, school going children make their way in the crazy Kampala traffic. Save for those who have the right of way, the impatience by some motorists is visible as they defy traffic lights.
“If other people are not following the law, why should I when the lights go green, the motorists will continue flowing in?” a pedestrian says as he hurries off towards Mukwano Road.
He is one of those errant people who are responsible for the chaos on city roads, causing deaths.
The Police Crime and Traffic/Road Safety report of 2018 indicates there has been a reduction in the number of road accidents but nevertheless the carnage has increased.
“There was a 3.0 per cent reduction in the number of crashes reported in 2018. Fatal crashes, however, increased by 4.7 per cent and serious crashes reduced by 6.8 per cent. The major causes of accidents were identified as speeding, drunk driving and incompetent drivers,” says the report.
According to police, most accident victims are children.
When Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) started installing traffic lights at major city junctions and on Entebbe expressway in 2018, it was intended to reduce accidents and carnage on black spots. However, due to motorists’ indiscipline, defiance and recklessness, the traffic lights have not delivered the desired outcome.
Jinja Road junction
Jinja Road junction traffic lights are some of the most abused installations by motorists.
On the day of the field study, the traffic lights went red for motorists coming from Wampewo roundabout, but a boda-boda rider from the same direction insisted on proceeding ahead on Jinja Road. He knocks another boda-boda rider heading towards Mukwano Road whom the lights had cleared. At this junction, it is utter traffic chaos. A swarm of boda bodas simply make zig zag crosses at the traffic junction regardless of whether the signal is red, green or yellow.
Often, this results in crashes. A traffic police officer stands helplessly in the middle of the mess with his left palm raised up. More than a hundred motorists and pedestrians surround him from all corners of the junction. His only tool to bring sanity to this situation is a whistle and his white traffic uniform.
The officer instantly turns and grabs the boda boda who had just thrown down a passenger and is trying to rush off to escape arrest. The traffic offender is arrested.
Two offenders are bundled to a police booth by the roadside. The officer-in-charge of the police post declines to speak to Daily Monitor, but it is visible they have difficulty handling boda boda traffic offenders. It is now apparent most of them try to escape and in the process cause more accidents.
Reckless driving under the Traffic and Road Safety law attracts a fine of between Shs1.2m and Shs1.8m or imprisonment of up to three years.
Mr Mugisha Bazita, the acting director of Traffic and Road Safety, says city roads have become a death trap.
“These days, you are more likely to die in town than in the village because of boda boda riders yet those days, it was in the village highways that reckless driving took place,” he says.
He says some traffic offenders are hostile as they try to evade arrest after a traffic offence.
“You cannot get boda bodas by chasing them. You will be knocked down. Many of our officers have been knocked. The more the city develops, the more boda boda riders enter the Central Business Area to do business,” he says.
Mr Mugisha added: “We cannot completely do away with boda bodas. We have to legislate on how they operate. Register them as individuals, pick their fingerprints, and give them uniforms.”
Nkumba university junction
Another notorious spot for breach of traffic rules is Nkumba University Road Junction in Katabi Town Council on Entebbe Road. The speed limit here is 40Km/hr but reckless drivers, especially at night drive at their own discretion. This junction has become prone to accidents because of defiant drivers.
A 40-year-old Joseph Lubega has been a boda boda rider at Nkumba University Stage. He claims to have witnessed about 30 fatal accidents in 2019.
“There was a big signpost for Nkumba University at that spot (points at the junction). But one day, I was here at the stage. A speeding truck loaded with cement came through the expressway from Kampala side and knocked a car which overturned. Nkumba University sign post was destroyed,” Mr Lubega recounts.
Another place is Katabi Road Junction on the Entebbe expressway.
According to Magara Metrand, who has been operating as a boda boda rider at Katabi Junction Stage for 12 years, the traffic lights that were installed about eight months ago have controlled traffic but many motorists abuse the signals.
“It has helped so much though there are people who do not know how to use it. Some people come riding recklessly and it can be scaring when they miss hitting a pedestrian and ride away,” he says.
Daily Monitor did not find any traffic officer to police errant motorists.
In 2018, President Museveni directed that Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras be installed in more than 1,248 major highways and roads for security reasons and to manage traffic.
The cameras at the traffic lights were to provide police with footages of traffic breaches to enable them arrest errant drivers. It is not clear why motorists have continued to breach the traffic rules at these junctions with impunity.
Mr Mugisha insists CCTVs have helped police track traffic offenders and eight to 10 grave traffic crashes are tracked on daily basis.
“The advantage of the camera is that they work day and night. We can detect those who jump traffic lights. We monitor. The moment we pick you, we put your number in the system as a wanted offender. We blacklist the vehicle using the camera system.
Immediately, it passes where a camera is, there is an alarm raised in the control room that this vehicle has passed this point. Then the officer in the control room alerts the officers in that area that such and such vehicle with this number and colour is heading towards your area. Intercept it,” Mr Mugisha says.
However, he also noted that some traffic lights like the ones at Nateete Road Junction simply confuse road users.
“If you pass Nateete junction when the traffic lights are not working, you will not get any jam. But when they are working, there can be a total mess. They are not well timed,” he said.
In East Africa, Kenya has a distinct uniform for taxi touts. Uganda has only safe boda riders who have numbered helmets and riding jackets with their name tags for easy identification.
Mr Anderson Mwesigwa, a boda boda rider at Wandegeya, says some motorists do not know how to use the traffic lights.
“At least one accident happens here every day. Some boda boda men ride badly. Police should teach people how to use traffic lights because there are those who do not stop when the lights are reading. They just see if the vehicle is still far and they cross,” he said.
Regulation in other East African countries
Kenya. A report released by the National Crime Research Centre (NCRC) this year, a product of a survey conducted in 24 counties in 2019, proposes mandatory formal motorcycle training for all operators. The operators will be required to acquire rider’s licence, certificate of good conduct, helmet, and reflector jackets before being allowed on the Kenyan roads. The proposals are expected to be approved by MPs soon before they are implemented into policy.
Rwanda. The government of Rwanda in July last year directed all commercial transport motorcyclists (Moto Taxis) and boda bodas across the country to adopt cashless payment systems. Mr Jean de Dieu Uwihanganye, the State Minister in charge of Transport, said the strategy would monitor the discipline of riders and eliminate wrangling between motorcyclists and passengers over transport fares.
Tanzania. A city-based insurance company, Acclavia Insurance Brokers, last year reached out to boda boda riders in Dar-es-Salaam in its Boda Salama campaign. Through Boda Salama project, a bodaboda rider, who gets a permanent disability by losing any of the body organs through the business, would be compensated with two motorcycles and TzShs500,000 in cash. To be covered under the project, a member is required to contribute TzShs56,000 per year, equivalent to only TzShs4,000 per month. Many have already joined the campaign that mandates riders to have helmets and reflector jackets.