What you need to know:
The most baffling thing about road accidents is that according to the Police, they are avoidable. Apparently, 90 percent of them are due to human error and down to things such as speeding, overtaking in bends, overloading, unroadworthy vehicles, and driving while drunk
I don’t think you guys have that many road accidents here, yeah?” I asked Conrad, the jovial good-natured guy who was driving us into Kigali. We were sitting in the back of his clean car just before my friend, Rayner, showed me the horrific video in which the driver of a black Mercedes had rammed into the barriers at City-Oil Kisementi, killing and injuring several innocents.
It hadn’t escaped my mind that this was the week leading to a year since my cousin, Creaven Rubanza, had succumbed to injuries after he was hit by an army truck. He had held on for a few days but failed to make it past the June 3, 20222.
That video is partly why I was asking. Knowing Uganda, you probably wouldn’t be wrong to surmise that the killer driver – even in Creaven’s case – was culpable of some traffic violation; and that he had literally gotten away with murder.
Last year’s Police Annual Crime Report revealed that there had been a 17 percent increase in road accidents, to 20,394. According to the Police, 4534 people were killed during these crashes. Creaven was one of them and so were thousands of others, whose families will live with the pain and realities of the needless loss of life, forever.
The most baffling thing about road accidents is that according to the Police, they are avoidable. Apparently, 90 percent of them are due to human error and down to things such as speeding, overtaking in bends, overloading, unroadworthy vehicles, and driving while drunk. I would also add, inconsiderate and irresponsible drivers – and their bosses.
Also, it is not impossible to negate the impact of human error and preserve the lives of thousands of Ugandans every year. But it takes a lot more than Uganda Police’s empty statements to “enforce traffic laws and regulations”, or the usual random and reactionary spot-checks and operations which are no more than extortionate rings.
Down the road in Rwanda, their national police force reported 687 deaths from road accidents in 2022. You can certainly tell why, even without following any news. Most of their highways require that you drive no faster than 60 kilometers per hour. There are sections where you are allowed to hit 80 kilometers per hour but that extra 20km/h is just about it.
The likelihood that many drivers are going to make fatal errors at those sorts of speeds can’t be that high – even in a country like Uganda where the licensing system is flawed. But what happens in rural off-the-grid areas where one doesn’t have to worry about the police?
Well, Sophia happens. Rwanda has basically gotten traffic officers off the roads and replaced them with speed cameras – popularly known as “Sophia”. Nobody needs to hide in bends with speed cameras waiting to pounce and threaten you with a speeding ticket so you can cajole and negotiate them down to a Shs20,000 bribe.
Instead, there is a Sophia waiting every few kilometers; and if she detects that you are over the limit, she simply flashes and automatically sends a corresponding ticket to your fine. Other traffic violations attract more severe punishments. This is before you even get into how enforcement that places a premium on the lives of ordinary citizens has ensured that all road users are safe from errant drivers and boda riders. One can only imagine how much Sophia makes for the Rwandan government in fines. One can only imagine how much an automated system such as that would make for Uganda’s government.
But then again, Uganda doesn’t exactly work like that so a system like Sophia wouldn’t take off here. You see, our systems are designed to have backdoors and loopholes that allow for everyone along the line to eat something – even if it is at the expense of quality (of service) and efficiency. Sophia only feeds the government.
In essence, rudimentary (or is it Luwero?) methods might not rake in as much as automated systems. However, they guarantee that everyone along the chain will have a Kaveera to take home at the end of the day. They also take away the pressure to perform and look good because you can show that there isn’t much coming into the collective trough. Creaven and everyone else whose life gets stolen is the ultimate price we pay for it though. We should never forgive ourselves!
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds.