We must address culture of lawlessness

Author: Augustine Bahemuka. PHOTO/COURTESY 

What you need to know:

  • It is no secret that we are a non-compliant society when it comes to fastening our seat-belts while driving. Seatbelts reduce the likelihood of death among drivers and passengers in the front seat by 45 percent and alleviate the risk of serious injury by 50 percent (Centre for Disease Control, 2011).

Mid last week, a sombre mood covered the country, following two grisly accidents on the Fort Portal-Kyenjojo and Mbale-Tirinyi highways, with a combined death toll of 26 lives, according to media reports.

The problem of road accidents has become a predominant unfortunate reality in Uganda, and the evidence provided by statistics is appalling. According to Ministry of Works and Transport reports, the number of road accident-related fatalities has increased from 3,194 to 3,407 and 3, 633 in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.

This grim picture is even worse if weekly statistics are considered.  Daily Monitor newspaper reported a death toll of 23 people from 119 road accidents countrywide that occurred during the recent Eid and Labour Day long weekend!

As a concerned citizenry, we ought to ponder on the most effective ways to downsize occurrences of fatal road accidents. In recent months, road safety has featured in mainstream media on account of rising awareness. In March, Joseph Beyanga, alias Joe Walker, launched a road safety campaign by trekking 320 km from Kampala to Bushenyi with the theme “Stay in Your Lane. Safe Roads Save lives”.

Only last week, there was discussion initiated by Ministry of Works and Transport appealing to Parliament to reduce the speed limit within urban centres to 30 km/hr.  Over and above this discourse, it seems to me that the root cause of road accidents in our good country is the “culture of lawlessness” that has steadily developed overtime, exacerbated by impunity of the perpetrators. How and why?

Leadership and exemplariness are intertwined, aren’t they? We have probably all observed the unfortunate driving behaviour of senior government and military officials on our roads, characterised by loud sirens and shoving other “equally important” road users into water-ways on the sides.

In some instances, innocent citizens have lost their lives during such fiascos; and in others, traffic officers on duty have been humiliated and violated by soldiers. What further complicates this puzzle in such a civilized society is that there is no much evidence of culprits brought to book.

Boda boda cyclists have been socialised over time to think that they are excluded from observing traffic lights and other road signs. The appalling and yet pseudo-accepted impunity and road behaviour among public officials has somewhat contributed to the lawlessness demonstrated by boda boda cyclists. Unfortunately, efforts to reorganise and bring them to order have been ineffective and many a times politicised by political populists.

The culture of lawlessness is also evident among drivers in private cars who disregard road signs and even simple road safety measures. For instance, folks drive with their children, including toddlers, in the co-driver’s seat. This poses a great risk to their own lives; and even more, children pose a risk of distraction.

It is no secret that we are a non-compliant society when it comes to fastening our seat-belts while driving. Seatbelts reduce the likelihood of death among drivers and passengers in the front seat by 45 percent and alleviate the risk of serious injury by 50 percent (Centre for Disease Control, 2011).

In other words, seat belts can reduce the rate of fatal accidents, and yet many defy this safety practice. Bribery of traffic officers is one of the major drivers of lawlessness on our roads: folks intentionally violate road safety rules because they have been pseudo-socialised to solve their “issues with traffic officers” by simply paying kitu kidogo. Unfortunately, this many a times comes at the expense of innocent lives.

The cases highlighted above have one common denominator.   How then can we address this awful culture, which more likely than not trickles down to other social injustices, such as torture, forced disappearances, environmental degradation and noise pollution, etc? I believe that mindset change is very critical for our society to appreciate and adopt a culture of law-abidance.  It is certainly a process, which may take quite a long time. It also comes at a cost of patience as we have to be gentle while driving. However, one person can inspire five other people. Above all is the consciousness of human life. We ought to be mindful that any mistakes or disregard of road safety measures can cost lives.

Mr Augustine Bahemuka is a

commentator on issues of peace and society

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