Our collective national psyche on roads

Author: Moses Khisa. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The boda-man is not just a menace, he is dictating and driving our collective psyche as a people, to do all wrong and get away with it, to disregard basic rules, to even drop any pretence to common decency. 

If there is anything like a Ugandan national psyche, the totality of our attitudes and moods, it is on full display on our roads. 
A road is arguably the most important public space, the one public good we all need every day to be productive and mobile. How we behave in such a critical public space is reflective of the ethos and values that govern our thinking and conduct.

It has been a steady decay and degeneration. We are now nearly in a state of lawlessness. Uganda’s roads are death traps precisely because we have grown to totally disregard the basic rules that govern road use, the simplest of courtesy, and appreciation that a public space is a shared good where one has to be considerate and recognise the presence of other users.

As I have argued in these pages many times, the biggest drivers of decay and lawlessness on our roads are our compatriots riding the passenger motorcycle – boda-bodas. But they are scarcely the sole culprits. 
If bodas were the only offenders of the rules, perhaps it would be possible to rein them in although given how mainstream they have become and their sheer numbers, it’s unlikely any meaningful reform and regulation is possible. After all ours is a country where a mob determines what is right and wrong. With their numbers, bodas can now decide that their conduct is right however perverted.

With boda bodas in the driving seat, the rest of us road users are following closely, emulating the ways and conduct of the two-wheeled drivers. There is no longer strict adherence to an otherwise inviolable rule that we must keep left at all times while driving. 
The mostly male-drivers of government vehicles, including the police and the military, follow bodas closely at the top of the list of sheer bad manners and misconduct on the roads. This is where matters get out of hand. 

The police is the most important law enforcement institution, charged with the everyday task of ensuring order and proper conduct. But Uganda Police vehicles are among the biggest culprits in driving on the wrong side of the road, driving on shoulders, riding the red light, creating lanes that cause confusion and overtaking where it is wrong to do so. Name it.
If the police fully participate in all the wrongdoing on the road, how are they to ensure that those wrongs are prevented and punished?
It has become a licence to violate traffic rules if you drive a UG number plate (government) vehicle, especially if this is a big SUV. Private Ugandans with equally big SUVs have found that the size and power of their car grants them the latitude to disregard basic rules on the road. The demonstration effect has trickled down and ensnared everyone regardless of the class, size and calibre of their car. It is now full circle. 

Oh, and the guys driving the passenger mini-buses long decided that their trade means they have the freedom to stop anywhere, drive on the shoulder, slowdown in the middle of a busy road as they call-out for potential passengers far away from the road, overtake from anywhere and speed at will. It’s driving by doing all the wrong things.

The sum of all this is that we have become a country of impunity, gross misconduct and sheer lack of accountability for our actions or inactions. This is on full display in the most important public space – the road. From here, the impunity goes on in other realms of life.
The carnage on our roads is now a full blown national epidemic. Passenger mini-buses are killing people almost every day. Broken legs and limbs of boda boda accidents are an everyday issue. Over Easter weekend in my village in Bubulo, I learnt of at least three recent victims of boda accidents. My mum survived a fatal boda accident last year. 

Across the country, in perhaps every corner and village, you will likely encounter an army of young men cruising motorbikes in the most daring and dangerous ways and you have to wonder what it is that drives them. 
The physical harm is horrific, but the long-term damage is likely to be worse. We are on a stead path to social and cultural self-destruction. A society that cannot live by a set of rules and laws that apply to everyone is a candidate for lawlessness and disorder. 

The boda-man is not just a menace, he is dictating and driving our collective psyche as a people, to do all wrong and get away with it, to disregard basic rules, to even drop any pretence to common decency. 
In the end though, the buck stops with the rulers, with those in charge of the state. The primary raison d’etre for an entity called a government is to precisely set rules for all and enforce them rigorously.