The gloom, crushed dreams on our roads

An accident at Nakawa traffic lights on Jinja Road in 2019. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • A report suggests implementing well-managed mass transport, improving road infrastructure, and addressing issues such as unlicensed vehicles.

Ms Hilda Twongirwe, a businesswoman and mother of four, was one of the victims in a catastrophic motor vehicle accident on the Masaka-Mbarara highway which saw her lose her right arm, shattering her dreams.
The single mother, who lives with her relatives in Senge Kayunga, Wakiso District, says: “[I am] trying to survive with my four children.”

“On October 3, 2019, I set out for a business trip to deliver goods from Kampala to Mbarara in the western part of Uganda. I was travelling in a Goods truck with the driver and the turn boy,” she narrates.
The journey started at about 10pm and as they approached Kyazzanga in Lwengo, at around 5am, Ms Twongirwe recalls: “We got involved in a head-on collision with a passenger bus and a truck.”

“The passenger bus was on very high speed and as it tried to overtake the truck, the driver had no seat belt on, he sustained several injuries. Unfortunately, I was badly crushed by the truck and lost my right limb. The boda boda riders helped us reach the nearest police post and later rushed to Masaka Hospital emergency unit,” she narrates.
Ms Twongirwe also sustained head and several facial injuries. Her left arm, especially the fingers, were numb. She was later referred to Mulago hospital after a day in Masaka Hospital, where she got additional care, using her own money.

“I was devastated being informed [at Masaka hospital] I was to lose my right arm. I was transferred to Mulago Hospital in Kampala in an ambulance that I personally fuelled. I spent a day and I was further referred to Kiruddu Hospital, where I stayed for three months hospitalised at no cost. During [that time], I had an operation on the thigh to get a piece to add to the amputated limb,” she added.

The report
Ms Twongirwe represents at least 74,977 people, which Auditor General John Muwanga, in a new audit of road safety regulation and analysis of the country’s yearly crime reports, said were victims of road accidents between the five financial years stretching from 2017 to 2022. 

The report titled: “A value for money audit report on the regulation and promotion of safe and reliable public road transport system by the Ministry of Works and Transport.”
“There were 18,861 fatalities (25.1 percent), 50,553 serious injuries (67.4 percent), and 5,563 minor injuries (7.4 percent) among those affected. The majority of these incidents (83.2 percent) were caused by careless and reckless driving (79 percent) and vehicles in dangerous mechanical conditions (4 percent) according to the reports of the Uganda Traffic Police,” the audit report reads.

Road transport is the dominant mode of transportation in Uganda, accounting for more than 90 percent of passenger transit and cargo freight, according to government statistics.
Even though public road transport is the most popular method of transportation and substantial money, around “Shs3.5 billion” is channelled by the government annually to the Ministry of Works and Transport (MoWT) to regulate and promote safety.

The Auditor General notes that the ministry should be blamed for poor regulation which causes the accidents. A total of Shs17.2 billion was channeled by Finance Ministry to the Transport ministry for the regulation and promotion of road safety.

“The public transport industry has a number of obstacles: only buses are fully regulated, public service vehicles (PSVs) services are not timetabled or integrated, and PSVs are typically in dangerous mechanical conditions,” Mr Muwanga said in the report.
This report comes amid a fresh wave of road accidents which, last week alone, claimed 90 lives. Among the most fatal was one on July 16, at Muzizi Forest on Kagadi-Kyenjojo road in Kagadi District where 15 people died. 

Police on Monday blamed the accident factors, including speeding, careless overtaking.
Some of the causes police cited presented corroborated the issues raised by the Auditor General in the new report and what road safety specialists told Daily Monitor.  
Mr Muwanga questioned the competence of drivers and cited irregularities in vehicle inspection and issuance of licences.

He said he discovered inadequate PSV registration records at the Ministry of Works and Transport, failure to licence PSVs, serious gaps in frequency and quality of inspection of PSVs, and unlicensed driving schools operating.

“Although the data records at the Ministry show that they have licensed, on average, 28,000 PSVs per annum during the last five years, data obtained from the PSV owners’ associations indicate that as of November 2022, the registered member PSVs were 749,600,” he wrote in the report.

Furthermore, the Auditor General noted that the Ministry’s register lacked essential information such as “licensed stages, licensed routes of operation, and time schedules, which may have contributed to the efficient operation of public transportation”.
Other issues included use of unapproved learner training materials in licensed driving schools and inadequate monitoring and supervision of driver testing centres by the Transport ministry.

Mr Muwanga said in the report that 34 percent (77 of 226) of the inspected driving schools were operating without valid licences.
“I noted that the majority of driving school owners did not possess and were not using the approved driver learner training materials issued by the ministry. Many used self-developed materials while others used class B training materials to train drivers for other classes like CI, DI, CE and others,” the report reads.

The Auditor General noted: “Driving schools in Uganda continue to utilise non-standardised training materials, resulting in non-standardised competence of drivers on the road, which is one of the contributors to the country’s high rate of road accidents”.

Shs29b lost
The report also indicates that the country last year lost around Shs29.5 billion in potential revenue because of the failure of the Ministry to get non-tax revenue from the issuance of licences because non-licensed passenger service vehicles (PSVs) and motorcycles are being allowed to operate in the country.
“Ministry of Works and Transport needs to enhance its PSV licensing efforts since more than 69.5 percent of the PSVs that were checked were not licensed by the MoWT,” Mr Muwanga emphasised in the report.

“This [unlicensed vehicles and boda bodas] puts commuters’ lives at risk and potential loss of government revenue. It’s also bad for the country’s security because unlicensed PSVs could be used to help criminals,” he added.
Mr Muwanga also cited that there was issuance of driving licenses without following procedures, amid inadequate advocacy and sensitisation about road safety.

Ministry of Works and Transport says
The Ministry of Works and Transport in their official response said although they have increased efforts to reduce cases of road accidents, they equally face challenges in regulation.
On unlicensed boda bodas, the Ministry said political interference is complicating their work.

“Regulation of boda boda operations has presented many challenges to both the Ministry and UPF. This is due to the individual nature of their operations and the perceived political patronage which in most cases interferes with the implementation of interventions by the ministry,” the ministry said.

The ministry also said in collaboration with Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Ministry of Local Government and Uganda Police Force, have commenced the process of streamlining boda bodas in Kampala.
The ministry said this intervention includes designating stages of operation, requiring all operators to belong to Public transport entities in order to improve self-compliance and ease monitoring.

“The ministry, in conjunction with KCCA and the UPF have embarked on a mass training programme of boda boda riders to create their awareness on safe riding practices and their tax obligations. The process of streamlining will then be replicated in other parts of the country,” the response reads.
Regarding non-compliance by other categories of PSVs to acquire operational licences, the ministry said they would take measures to address the identified gaps.

“The ministry has been sharing information on licensed vehicles and providing responses on queried vehicles as and when required. The ITMS project which is in the final stages of implementation involves creating interfaces between government agencies which will enable information sharing in real time,” the ministry promised.
The ministry also said they regularly hold public hearings with bus operators where they are educated about their responsibilities.

“A notification module has also been developed to serve as a reminder to the PSV operators to renew the licences. This will increase compliance. The period cited, included a national lockdown period and operators were required upon opening to operate at half capacity until January 2022,” the ministry responded.

The ministry added: “Most of the operators reduced their operating fleet during this period. The sector has not fully recovered from the effects of Covid-19.  The Minister of Works and Transport [Gen Katumba Wamala] has written to Inspector General of Police Martins Okoth-Ochola directing him to enforce on vehicles that are operating without statutory requirements”.

Road safety experts present solutions
Ms Esther Bayiga Zziwa, a road safety researcher at the Trauma, Injuries and Disability Unit of the Makerere University School of Public Health, said well-managed mass transportation, having well-planned and maintained roads, elimination of boda bodas are the most effective interventions to reduce accidents.

“We have realised from research that human behaviour is harder to change so interventions focusing on that are becoming of lesser interest. We need to have systems and infrastructure that make it difficult for people to die even if they don’t know how to use the road,” the researcher says.

“We need to make sure vehicles are in good mechanical condition and the roads are constructed to accommodate all road users. If I put a flyover, even if a road user is drunk, no car will find them there. People don’t need to die because of one mistake, we have to move away from blaming Ugandans that they are not serious,” she added.

The researcher said the government also needs to look at these cases of accidents in isolation, and not lump them up together for effective intervention.  
“One of the biggest things, which if the government did, would see a big reduction in cases of accidents is improvement in mass transportation, improvements in how people travel,” she said.

Ms Zziwa said mass transportation would reduce speeding, curb the rising cost of transport, and address issues of fatigue among drivers. 
She said this is possible because PSVs would have clear time to set off, particular routes of travel and drivers would not be paid based on the number of people they carry per day.

“For trucks, our roads are very dark, narrow and we have stationary trucks. We should have cameras planted along the roads so they a lit and monitored. The roads should have lanes for buses and motorcycles. In some countries trucks are not allowed to move at night,” she added.  
The researcher also said one of the biggest reasons drivers and cyclists are speeding is the tight requirement from the owners.

“The boda boda [rider] has to pay around Shs60,000 to the owner of the motorcycle every week and so the boda boda has to work hard to get some money over and above so that he gives the owner and he also makes profit. How is that person going to ride at slow speed?” she asked.

“If people have an organised mass rapid transport, [you would not need the boda bodas] and taxis cannot offer that. Those big mass transit buses are safer than taxis. They are heavy, so even if you knocked them, they wouldn’t just go off the road, it is steady, and have room for the disabled and the old people. But these taxis are fabricated things you only find in low-income countries like Uganda. They don’t meet the international safety standards but they are here on our roads,” she added.  

The researcher also said the solutions for rampant cases of road accidents are clearly known to the government but officials lack dedication and determination to implement them.
She said the officials are adamant to take action because the vehicles and motorcycles are owned by influential rich men.

Mr Sam Bambanza, the executive director of Hope for Victims of Traffic Accidents, a civil society organisation, said there is also a need to strengthen rehabilitation and provide justice for victims of road accidents.

Mr Bambanza said the ministry needs to call meetings with transport operators to find quick solutions. He said the solutions would only be effective if the companies ensure the drivers are in a good mental state and the vehicle is in good mechanical condition.
Mr Bambanza said some companies such as gas transporters have almost not reported cases of accidents because they have improved their internal control systems.

“These drivers are monitored, paid well and they know what they are transporting. Their speed limits are always 60-80 kilometres per hour. If someone can value gas like that, how about you transporting human beings that don’t have spares and you want to drive at 100 kilometres per hour?” he asked.

“Road safety is a shared responsibility, you can’t only blame the police or the government but also, they individually as passengers should also do their part. When the driver is speeding you are quiet or sleeping, you need to take control of the driver [as a passenger] because you have paid him/her. We also need to increase road safety campaign –a national year-round campaign,” he added.

Residents look at the wreckage of the truck and taxi in the aftermath of a deadly road crash that claimed 17 lives on the night of July 16, 2023- about two kilometres from River Muzizi, near the border of Kyenjojo and Kagadi districts. The accident was in one of the sharp corners of Nyanseke Village in Muhorro Town Council, Kagadi District. PHOTO/ALEX ASHABA

Mr Michael Kananura, the public relations officer of UPF directorate of traffic, on Monday listed adherence to speed limits on all roads and exercising caution and patience when overtaking other vehicles as mitigation measures for road accidents.

He also said placing rectangular reflectors both in front and behind broken-down vehicles to alert other road users, reporting broken-down vehicles to the nearest police station or to toll free line 0800199099 as measures that we promote proper traffic control.

“Efforts are currently underway to promote self-regulation and discipline among road users through sensitisation programmes conducted by the traffic police. This includes engagement with motorcycle taxi operators, and bus operators, as well as conducting radio and TV programmes,” Mr Kananura said.

lCareless and reckless driving contributed 79 percent of accidents.
 l Vehicles in dangerous mechanical conditions contributed 4 percent
Licensing and regulation gaps
l 77 of 226 of the inspected driving schools operating without valid operating licences.
l More than 69.5 percent of the PSVs that were checked were not licensed by the Transport ministry.
 l 95 percent of the 700,000 boda bodas in the country are unlicensed 
 l 70 percent of 40,000 taxis didn’t have licences
l 20 percent of 1,600 buses also operate without licences
l 17 percent of the 8,000 coasters also lack licences.
l Shs29.5 billion in potential revenue lost because of the failure of the Ministry to get non-tax revenue from the issuance of licences.
 l Average of Shs3.5b given to MoWT annually for regulation of road transport system and promotion of safety. 
l Total of Shs17.2b given to the Ministry for the same in the five financial year’s from 2017-2022