The dysfunction on our roads and police impunity

Moses Khisa

What you need to know:

  • The police officer is the same person accusing you of a traffic offence, it is him/her that argues the case against you before himself/herself, and determines that you deserve a hefty financial penalty. 

Last week, I drove to Bubulo, Manafwa District to visit my old woman. It is a trip I relish. There is something precious and special about visiting mum. But it is also a journey I have come to dread.

Driving on the Kampala-Jinja highway, especially the stretch from Mukono, Lugazi, Jinja up to Iganga, is scary and draining. There is always a deep feeling and premonition of an impending tragic accident lurking and beckoning. In the past five years, I have lost two close family members between Jinja and Iganga along the same highway.

This eastern highway, anything but a highway, to be sure, is our most important road as it provides the gateway to the sea through which much of our import and export trade activity takes place.

In fact this sole road serves not just Uganda but four other countries: Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda and South Sudan. Yet Jinja road is the narrowest of highways you can find anywhere in the world, handling huge traffic, especially heavy long distance trucks servicing five different countries.

Worse, it is not just that the Kampala-Jinja highway is a lousy narrow road, it is also that it has fallen in a deep state of despair, potholed, lacking basic signage and lane-markings. Driving on this road at night is a nightmare and is decidedly dangerous. That is not all.

There is the matter of boda bodas that just compound the mess and chaos on an already convoluted road. Then the undisciplined motorists, the most culpable category being the passenger minibus taxis that drive so dangerously you hold your breath.

With all the annoying and scary set of problems on this sorry highway, you still have to keep up with traffic police lined-up at different corners and random places.

They stop you aimlessly and needlessly, often on the phone, casually taking their time walking around your vehicle before finally coming around to asking for your driver’s licence.

There is something utterly annoying about their cavalier attitude. After pulling you over and totally wasting your time, the male or female officer will wave you to go.

Sometimes, having taken your driver’s licence they conjure up a supposed traffic violation for which they immediately conclude you deserve an express penalty ticket. It is a unilateral decision.

The police officer is the same person accusing you of a traffic offence, it is him/her that argues the case against you before himself/herself, and determines that you deserve a hefty financial penalty.

You are not supposed to exercise your right to question their determination and decision, yet if you elected to go defend yourself in court, an option a motorist has by rejecting an express penalty ticket, the police officer will scarcely have any compelling evidence to adduce in court to prove that indeed you committed a traffic violation. At best, it will be their word against yours.

Somehow, Uganda’s traffic police personnel believe they have absolute powers to convict and punish a motorist by way of an express penalty ticket.

It is one of the most blatant abuses of power that has reigned unchallenged for years, especially when it was ramped up under Gen Kale Kayihura who, as Inspector General of Police, was singularly focused on building up a financial war chest for partisan activities in police uniform.

Dishing out express penalty tickets was Kayihura’s cash cow.

The impunity of traffic police in stopping a driver needlessly, unilaterally punishing you playing both prosecutor and judge with an immediate guilty verdict, and the blatant extortion while failing to actually deal with errant activities on the roads that endanger people is all part of a sad decay of Uganda governmental apparatus.

Worse, as citizens, we fold out hands and let the people supposed to ensure observance of the law instead abuse it.

As I drove back to Kampala last week, I was stopped twice. On one of the stops, the cop accused me of wrongful overtaking. I pushed back saying I had actually done so in the right place. As far as I was concerned, I had done nothing wrong. He was adamant, he had a different view. I too held firm.

If anything, without lane-markings and signage, how had he determined I overtook from the wrong area, I challenged him. His response was that as a ‘senior driver’, I should know where to and not overtake.

To which I said, exactly! I used my judgment and figured it was the right place.  If he took me to court he would have had no case against me.

Yet if I didn’t vigorously challenge him, he was hell-bent on issuing an express penalty ticket. Even then, in the end, he had held me there for quite a while, wasting my time in a frivolous stop.


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