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Thirty years of unhealed wounds: A plea for road safety

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Herbert Kamoga

Today marks three decades since my father, Edward Sebyala, tragically passed away in a road accident.

On a seemingly ordinary morning in June 1994, he left his home in Ndibuluungi, Luwero District, to trade milk in Kampala. The routine goodbye he bid to his family carried no hint that it would be his last. This time, my dad did not return; his life was claimed by a road crash, a peril that has become all too common on Uganda's roads. His death marked the beginning of a harrowing chapter for our family, especially for me, his eldest son, who was just three years old at the time.

My dad was the cornerstone of our family, supporting not only our mother, Prossy Nakimbugwe, and us, his children, but also his elderly parents, Vincent Mulindwa and Ruth Nankosi. His untimely demise left behind myself, my younger brother Philemon Kasozi, who was only one and half years old, and a wife pregnant with their third child. The dreams he harbored for our education and well-being seemed to shatter in an instant.

More than three decades later, the repercussions of that fateful day are still palpable. I, now an adult, and my siblings have navigated life with a void that our father's absence left, a void filled with unmet dreams and the stark reality of growing up without a father's love. The psychological impact lingers, manifesting in our difficulties in forming paternal bonds with other figures. I have found it difficult to call any other man dad because the word sounds foreign.

Our story is a microcosm of a larger trend in Uganda, where road crashes frequently devastate families, leaving children without a parent's love, guidance, and economic support.

The socio-economic implications are stark. Many children, like me, end up in less favorable educational environments, diminishing their future prospects. The emotional toll is equally significant; the trauma of losing a parent or a loved one in such sudden and violent circumstances can lead to long-term psychological issues.

According to the World Health Organization, Uganda is among the countries with the highest rates of road traffic deaths in Africa. The Uganda Police Force reports that road crashes claim over 3,000 lives annually. Each of these statistics represents a family plunged into despair and economic uncertainty.

For many children left behind, the future becomes daunting. The financial impact of losing a breadwinner often forces them into lower-quality education and diminishes their prospects. However, there's a glimmer of hope in the darkness for some, like me and my siblings, who received support from NGOs such as Amref. These organizations provide essential assistance, including educational support, which can alter the trajectory of lives derailed by tragedy.

Despite such support, the systemic issues that contribute to road carnage: poor road infrastructure, inadequate enforcement of traffic laws, indiscipline of the drivers and limited public awareness about road safety, remain unaddressed. Stakeholders from various sectors must intensify their efforts. The government needs to prioritize road safety by investing in better infrastructure, stringent enforcement of laws, and comprehensive public safety campaigns.

Moreover, NGOs continue to play a crucial role in not only supporting the victims but also in advocacy and educating the public about road safety. Their work in filling the gaps left by public services is invaluable, yet the need for sustainable solutions from policy-makers remains critical.

Corporations and private entities can also contribute by promoting responsible driving within their ranks and supporting road safety initiatives. Community leaders can facilitate grassroots movements to hold drivers accountable and educate local populations about safe driving practices.

Road safety is not just a matter of policy; it is a matter of life and death. It affects all levels of society and requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. Every effort counts, from obeying traffic laws to designing safer roads, from educating young drivers to providing timely assistance to crash victims and their families.

As Uganda continues to develop, its approach to road safety must evolve. Implementing rigorous safety standards and ensuring their enforcement can save not only lives but also prevent thousands of families from experiencing the heartbreak of losing loved ones.

In remembering my dad Edward Sebyala and countless others lost to road crashes, we must commit to a future where road travel does not mean risking life. It’s time for stakeholders to turn their attention to the roads that connect us, ensuring they are not only pathways to our destinations but also safe passages that preserve life and foster hope for future generations.

As for me and my family, our lives have been irrevocably changed. While nothing can bring back my dad Edward Sebyala, ensuring that fewer families have to endure such losses can be a fitting tribute to my memory. Let the call for action sound loud: roads should be connectors, not dividers; they should lead to opportunities, not take them away. It’s not just about the roads, it’s about the lives that traverse them.

The author is a journalist at NMG-U