One of the things that the NRM undertook to do in the manifesto that it released ahead of the 2011 General Election was to take steps to improve safety on Uganda’s roads if it was handed a fresh mandate.
“The road safety situation needs improvement in order to save lives of Ugandans,” the manifesto read in part.
Pursuant to that, the party listed three interventions that it said were to be made in order to reduce the road carnage.
Among them was a proposal to establish an autonomous agency that would be charged with the responsibility of overseeing road safety matters.
“The strategic interventions that will be implemented over the next five years to reduce road carnage will include… (to) establish and operationalise a National Road Safety Agency (NRSA) that will be responsible for coordinating the implementation of a Comprehensive Road Safety Action Plan; improve road safety management capacity in the road sector agencies and mainstream road safety activities in their annual programmes,” the manifesto stated.
This promise came after a decade in which the police Directorate of Traffic and Road Safety had been annually releasing reports that signified an increase in both the number of cars and fatal accidents on the roads.
The number of vehicles on Uganda’s roads had risen from 189,105 in 2000 to 522,654 in 2009. During the same period a total of 178,723 accidents occurred leaving 21,807 people dead and 120,121 injured.
The worst years were 2008 and 2009. In 2008 the traffic department registered 20,522 accidents that left 2,488 people dead and 13,753 injured.
2009 saw a rise in both the number of accidents and deaths recorded, but not so for the injuries. There were 22,699 accidents, 2,734 deaths and 13,392 people suffered injuries.
Some of the most grisly accidents include that of December 2000 when a bus plunged into the River Nile at Karuma bridge, leaving 10 people dead and about 60 injured; the August 18, 2003 accident that claimed the lives of 12 UPDF soldiers and left scores more injured when a taxi ran over them while they were on a routine fitness exercise at Karangibati near Hima Town in Kasese District.
Others included the July 30, 2003 accident in Pakwach Town where a lorry plunged into River Nile, leaving 18 dead and the and September 2003 accident that left about 50 people dead at Katuna on the common border with Rwanda when a UN trailer collided with a Kampala bound bus.
Among the worst accidents that occurred were that of June 7, 2005 that left more than 45 burnt to death in Lwankima on the Kampala Jinja highway when a Suzuki car, a fuel tanker and a minibus collided.
The Commissioner for Transport Regulation in the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication, Mr Patrick Sanya, had in his paper, “Road Safety in Uganda”, attributed 80 per cent of the accidents to human error, 10 per cent to defective vehicles and 5 per cent to road conditions and environmental factors.
Giving a breakdown of the causes, Mr Sanya pointed out that some accidents had occurred due to either the absence of basic safety regulations or failure to enforce existing guidelines. Others had been due to safety lapses in the areas of testing, licensing and regulation of drivers and motor vehicles. Some vehicles which were not road worthy, he noted, were ending up on the roads thus posing a danger to road users.
Against such a background, it was believed that an autonomous regulatory agency would be the panacea to Uganda’s road safety problems.
It had been planned that the National Road Safety Council would be disbanded once the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA), which was meant to be in charge of among others, advocacy, sensitisation, awareness campaigns and lobbying for more funding, was in place.
On November 26, 2014, Cabinet, in what was thought to be the first step towards the formation of the NRSA, endorsed the National Road Safety Policy, which required the Ministry of Works to, among others, establish the NRSA.
However, now more than eight years after the NRM promised to establish the NRSA and more than three years since the policy was formed, it is increasingly looking like the NRSA will never be established.
Failure to form and operationalise NRSA suggests, at least for now, that the country does not have an autonomous body, backed up by a legal platform to handle the carnage on the roads.
Right now Uganda registers an average of 61 accidents and nine deaths per day, which places it among the top ranking countries for road traffic accidents around the world.
Other countries in that category include South Africa, Nigeria, Iran, Thailand and the Dominican Republic.
Figures from the report, “Road traffic incidents in Ugandan: A systematic review of a five year trend”, which was published in the Journal of Injury and Violence Research in January 2017 show that road accidents deaths account for 28.9 per 100,000 deaths, which is far higher the African average of 24.1 per 100,000 deaths and the global average of 18.0 per 100,000 deaths.
The only African countries that beat Uganda are South Africa with 31.9 accident deaths per every 100,000 deaths and Nigeria which has 33.7 deaths per 100,000 deaths.
“This has cost Uganda dearly, particularly in terms of the loss of a significant proportion of its economically active population, which in turn retards its economic growth and development,” the report reads in parts.
However, Nigeria has since moved to tackle the problem by forming the Federal Road Safety Commission. The commission, which was formed in February 1988, helped to reduce the number of accidents from 25,000 in 2008 to 6,250 in 2012.
Following the death in 2004 of former Attorney General Francis Ayume, in a road accident at Kyankonwa bend on the Kampala Gulu highway, government has announced several interventions, including mandatory installation of speed governors in passenger service vehicles, limiting the number of routes drivers of buses can make on a single day, introduction of route charts and routine inspection of vehicles. However, sustained enforcement has always proved a problem.
Most recently following the May 25 accident involving a Gaagaa bus and a truck that occurred in Kalule Village, Luweero District, claiming the lives of 30 people, government announced a raft of new measures, including the installation of digital speed limiters in commercial vehicles, subjecting cargo vehicles to routine inspection for road worthiness and subjecting drivers of commercial and cargo vehicles to routine tests and refresher courses. It is highly doubtable that they will be implemented any better than previous regulations were.
The spokesperson of the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication, Ms Susan Kataike, told Daily Monitor that the process of formation of the NRSA had run into a wall because Members of Parliament (MPs) had declined to give it their backing.
“Parliament had already pronounced itself on the number of mushrooming authorities and agencies and it is in the process of reviewing existing ones with a view of merging some of them. It, therefore, could not support the formation of a new authority,” Ms Kataike said.
She added that the ministry will now channel its energies towards strengthening the Roads Safety Council and the Transport Licensing Board with a view of ensuring that they take up the functions that had been lined for the NRSA to execute.
MPs taking cue from President Museveni’s July 2017 letter to Vice President Edward Ssekandi, and Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, in which he called for a review of public agencies with a view of scrapping some and merging others to stop wastage of public funds, embarked on a process through which they came up with a proposal on how the mergers could be conducted.
The proposal to form the NRSA could, therefore, not have come at a worse time.
While we agree with the President and indeed Members of Parliament that there are so many government agencies and departments, some with overlapping mandates which usually results into a duplication of roles and functions, it will do both the Executive and the Legislature well to assess the agencies and their roles on a case by case basis.
For now, there is no justification for Parliament not to support the operationalisation of the NRSA. First of all, it had been planned that the National Road Safety Council would be disbanded the minute NRSA became operational. Fears about duplication of roles would, therefore, not arise.
Secondly, the World Bank had undertaken to fund the running of NRSA for the first two years. So the issue of funding should not arise, at least not for now.
Lastly, and most important, is that this was Uganda’s biggest opportunity to create a single point at which, the Police’s Directorate of Traffic and Road Safety, the ministries of Works, Transport and Communication and that of Health, the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) and civil society can come together to discuss road safety matters and work out a comprehensive strategy of dealing with the carnage on Uganda’s roads. It is an opportunity that should not be lost.