On rainy days, the lush green vegetation, oozing with streams alongside dark rocks paints a rosy picture of Towei hill. During the dry season, the green turns white; again giving a spectacular view against black rocks. Beautiful, it is.
Yet the story from the hill in Kongowo Village, Kongowo Parish, Kapsinda Sub-county, Kapchorwa District, contrasts its beauty in parallels planets apart. Beneath its good looks is a death trap that has left many families and the nation grieving – not once, not twice.
Tuesday’s accident that killed 21 staff members of National Cooperative Business Association and two local guides and left others critically injured was just ‘one in a million.’
Statistics on the stretch that is less than a kilometre are not good for the eye, let alone the ear and heart. An average of 10 accidents in as many years, according to police, have happened here.
The guardrails, beaten to pulp by the heavy machines that often roll downhill, have a better testimony, were they to speak. Kapchorwa lies about 1,775m above sea level.
Kapchorwa loosely means a friend’s place. However, the hill, as Sipi region police spokesperson Rogers Taitika said last evening, has been harsher and unfriendly to motorists who are new to the hilly and treacherous terrain. It did not spare the road constructors themselves. In early 2000, a truck belonging to Put Sarajevo – the contractor of the Mbale-Kapchorwa road – killed seven people after the driver lost control of the lorry loaded with earth and plunged downhill at break-neck speed.
This has got authorities concerned. Mr Joseph Bukose Musobo, alias Waya, the Kapchorwa District engineer, says they cannot sit around comatose as people die. He suggests that the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) should put up a bigger signpost in Sipi and another on the border between Kapchorwa and Bulambuli, alerting motorists of the black spots and guiding on what gear to engage.
He also thinks that the road should be redesigned.
“The road is narrow and motorists that lose control of their vehicles have no room to maneuver. The guardrails have also been weakened and completely destroyed on other parts because of the several accidents over the years; so we need new ones but which are higher,” Mr Musobo says.
For Mr Taitika, he prays that Unra works with police to create humps on the road, which will keep drivers alert. He also thinks that new motorists should hire drivers from Sebei Sub-region while in the area.
For many residents and travellers, the conversation on what needs to be done about the road won’t stop – for now. It is a story of several times bitten, several times wailing.
2004: A saloon car was involved in an accident, killing two and severely injuring others.
2010: A bus carrying students from Masaka who had gone to visit Sebei was unable to make the return journey after it rolled several times, taking with it the lives of 15 students.
2015: A lorry belonging to coffee dealers Kawacom also rolled off the hill, killing two.
2016: Two people died when a cesspool emptier overturned in the same area.
July 2017: The driver of a truck that was carrying construction materials lost control of his machine and roared downhill, killing the driver, his two turn men and a child on spot. The truck had gone to deliver a consignment of construction materials to VS HYDRO construction company in Kaserem, about 30 kilometers to Kapchorwa Town, but lost their way because they were not familiar with the geography of the place.
A month later: Police Constable Michael Gona, a driver attached to Police Flying Squad, died at the same spot after the braking system of his vehicle malfunctioned.