Ugandan dream and the nightmare of road accidents

Author, Nicholas Sengoba. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • As long as we are still dreaming of recklessly living the Ugandan dream, no amount of national prayers, widening of the roads, cutting down on the number of trips and suspensions of companies that cause accidents will significantly save the situation.

All societies have cultures and behaviour that determines how they thrive or are deprived economically, socially and politically.

In Uganda the way society appreciates success goes a long way in determining how things play out as stated above. To be successful, one must have a residential house ‘in town.’ The real ‘A class’ will supplement this with a mall or plaza with commercial units plus rentals or apartments from which they project to derive a steady income.

Then there is the home in the village where they will be buried. This one should have a food crop or tree plantation, and animals like cows and goats.

Next, all the other things which make life really good, come in. Children in expensive international schools here or abroad, the big four wheel drive plus other toys.

There must be an accumulation of property to justify the sweat and announce their arrival in the realm of Ugandan success.

Whatever we do or invest in is in fact secondary. The ultimate goal is to ensure that all the above are fulfilled - at least first and fast. Other things come later.

It costs very good money to get here. With good planning many get all these things right. Some, however, struggle with serious consequences.

For instance the initial investment in the bus transport business is really colossal. Yet the return is painstakingly small and slow. One may have to take out a bank loan. Loans are available because banks must lend. That is their business.

After they acquire their fleet they have the burden of servicing the loan and ultimately paying it back. They have to maintain the buses which is a very huge cost if they are to remain road worthy and in service for a long time.

Then one has to hire good managers plus put in place a management system to ensure that the cash business does not suffer at the hands of corrupt managers. The business has to grow and keep replenished to avoid an aging fleet which has high costs of maintenance. Numbers also ensure that the pressure on each bus and driver is not so high to their detriment. All these things require good money, leadership and management.

But then there is the Ugandan dream of success breathing down one’s neck, to be taken care of.
The bus owner embarks on it with gusto. This is his calculation. Of all the activities in front of him, it is only the bus that brings in hard cash on a daily basis. The rest of them are simply consuming. Every coin that comes in goes towards the Uganda dream, first and fast.

The bus business becomes the goose that lays the golden eggs.
If the bus needs brakes, it can wait because there is an urgent need for drugs for the cows that are on the verge of dying. An oil change is postponed because the engineers at the site of the apartments need cement, lest the building collapses.

Before long it is the end of the month and the loan installment at the bank is calling.

The bus owner is now over stretched as a jack of all trades and a master of none. All these trades need financial attention first and foremost. Never mind that with minimal supervision from the owner of the money, the work done out of his sight is shoddy and a waste of his resources. He may bring in the odd relative to supervise. But because of lack of expertise too it may be an added cost that saves little or nothing at all.

He cannot abandon his interests in real estate where he has already sunk in a substantial amount of money but is not yet getting a return.

The same happens to their stake in agriculture where there is constant need for greater investment to keep it going to the point where it starts paying off dividends. The trees require time to mature yet they must be maintained. All these require more and more money.

The buses must be put on the road and kept there to catch up with all these financial pressures. Same goes to the drivers in whichever state they are -lest they lose their jobs.

Because it is not being fed in properly, the golden goose starts dying right in front of the owner. The core responsibility of maintaining the buses and the company can no longer be considered as a primary  function. Even if it was considered, it is no longer viable because money is tight.

The best alternative is to turn the occasional short cut into a norm. If one must speed and pay the traffic officers on the road to look the other way, then so be it. If it takes a rather ridiculous motivational scheme to make the drivers ‘more productive,’ like getting a bonus for completing more trips, faster, then off we go. The dollar sign forces the drivers to press the accelerator pedal much harder and take risks like overtaking in blind corners as if they are drunkards possessed by demons. Remember they are hard pressing an accelerator of a bus that is poorly or hardly maintained and in suspect mechanical condition.

By this time what we have at our disposal is a sure accident waiting to happen.
It is now a fight to remain alive because death of the business and the passengers is imminent. The owner is exposed and at risk of losing all he has worked for to the very banks that help him start off on his dream. He must just keep pushing down the slippery road and hope that all goes well -somehow.

As long as we are still dreaming of recklessly living the Ugandan dream, no amount of national prayers, widening of the roads, cutting down on the number of trips and suspensions of companies that cause accidents will significantly save the situation. It is not funny.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues
Twitter: @nsengoba