I am a stressed road user who roads agency didn’t interview

Sunday November 10 2019

Bernard Tabaire

Bernard Tabaire 

By Bernard Tabaire

I would avoid Ugandan roads if I had a choice. Sanity and safety remain precious things.
Pedestrian and motorist that I am, depending on the need, I am a daily user of Uganda’s public roads, mostly Kampala roads.
Using these roads is traumatic. You are always a second away from some grisly incident. You could be on the receiving end, or you could be the deliverer. As an upstanding citizen, you want to avoid trouble either way. That means a lot of hard work as you go from point A to B to Z.

I walk largely for exercise. To avoid a broken leg or rib or cracked skull, I never wear earphones to listen to accompanying music. I must hear every single sound all around me.
I also walk on the opposite side of the road. I don’t keep left. I keep right. That way I can see every crazy motorist and boda fellow coming my way — I will be facing on-coming traffic. I can see the car or boda and, I hope, the driver or cyclist can see me too and even then I am at the ready to dash to safety at a moment’s notice. That won’t necessarily save you, but it reduces the chances of getting run over.

The chances of getting run over or getting involved in some sort of incident even as a motorist on just about every road in Uganda are immense. Some highways are not worth the name. So the dangers there are clear and present. Even on the nicely paved ones, there will always be that pothole at an unexpected spot. Or there will be no climbing lane where one should be. Or there will be no sign to indicate a sharp bend where one should be. Sometimes it is because someone stole the signage.

By the way, why does Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) keep using road furniture that is the target for unscrupulous dealers in metal scrap? I thought UNRA now has research, development, and innovation capabilities. With so much vandalism in Uganda, largely driven by poverty and absence of a sense of the commons, I would think there should be no more metal or related material that one can strip from the road to sell. Are there no materials that can be used for road furniture that are unattractive to metal scrap hustlers?

Speaking of crazy management, why do authorities in Kampala keep installing streetlights without a plan to protect them from vandals? Or why do they not create streetlights that are not “stealable”? Why go through the motions of doing something, blowing public money in the process, and hoping for miracles?
This is as crazy as installing street name signs at baby height. No one can see the road name if a wheelbarrow is “parked” in front of such signage.
I am such a pissed off user of Ugandan roads. If not potholed (the current little rain has created craters), the sides are eaten away. The roads flood because the word drainage is a problem. If not muddy, the roads are dusty because no one seems to care about paving side roads and generally planting grass and trees on the sides.

In Kampala the manholes are forever gaping because of using covers made of “stealable” materials. The streets are dark. Pools of filthy stagnant water are common. Roads are built with virtually no care for pedestrians and cyclists, let alone people with disability. Add into the mix reckless driving and cycling and lack of enforcement of road-use standards and you know why I get stressed at the very thought of hitting the road — driving, running, or walking.
Findings from the 2019 Road User Satisfaction Survey released recently by the Uganda Road Fund (URF) show that the “major reasons for dissatisfaction with Uganda’s roads in 2019 were the same from previous years, namely: narrow road widths, potholes, inadequate road maintenance, poor drainage and dust”.


Narrowness? To this enraged road user that is not an issue at all. Everything else is the issue. Starting with poor (more like absent) maintenance of the perceived narrow roads.
The survey by URF, the “agency mandated to finance routine and periodic maintenance of all public roads” (really!) also found that “57% of road users were satisfied with the road network in 2019 compared to 27% in the last survey two years ago. The year 2019 had the highest percentage of satisfied road users since the survey started in 2012.”
Satisfied road users almost touching 60 per cent? Miracle! Who are these people with very low expectations? Why was I not interviewed?

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.