In one month alone, that’s August, Uganda press reported 5 bus accidents and 15 deaths. This has been followed up in September by another grisly crash in which a Ugandan bus rammed into a truck, leaving more than 30 dead and many critically injured. It is now predictable that there is going to be a fatal bus crash, and we can always tell which bus company is likely to be culpable for the crash as a select pool of bus companies is taking over the headlines for being involved in fatal crashes.
The crashes themselves are not a surprise in a country known for ranking 5th on the African continent whose roads have been described as the “deadliest in the world”. What is appalling is the dismal nature with which we seem to be ok with it. Despite the now so common ‘accidents’ on Ugandan roads, the carnage elicits no concrete response from the relevant authorities, both the politicians and the technocrats. But for how long should we tolerate this? The past attempts have been anything but feeble, turning out unsuccessful in the long run, and that goes to the previous attempts to introduce speed governors (the bus crashes are all being attributed to reckless driving and speeding), enforcement of seat-belts, threats to withdraw the operational licenses of the bus companies (incidentally, these licenses are reinstated a few weeks later and the same bus companies go on to register another fatal crash).
We can’t blame the bus passengers; as a landlocked country, road transport is the dominant and most viable means of transport in these parts of the world and buses are the number option for long distance travelers, to an extent that some routes have no other option but the bus for ferrying passengers and goods consignments alike. What then can we do to make sure that every passenger boarding a bus is not taking a chance with fate?
The government exists to ensure the safety of its citizenry and that extends to their safety on the road, regardless of the stature of the citizen. The vast majority of Ugandans heading upcountry and out of the country as well primarily use buses to traverse the long miles to the village or to the borders and out of the country, be it to Kigali, Juba or Nairobi. Where is the government in all this? Leaving the bus companies to themselves will only serve the interests of a few business men at the expense of the lives of the majority bus-users.
It is time the government acknowledges its role of enforcing order and discipline on the roads by reining in the greedy bus owners, poorly trained drivers and the underperforming traffic police who have all failed to regulate the bus-transport business. The explanations coming out of the Police spokesperson’s offices are always the same after every fatal crash; tired and fatigued drivers, over speeding, reckless driving, drunk drivers manning the buses, same old explanation all the time. We do not need to re-invent the wheel to discover what needs to be done, and it is not rocket science to know that stringent enforcement from the Police will get the errant bus companies to toe the safety-first line of thought. It is only a matter of due diligence required from all the relevant authorities with a stake here; the bus owners, the traffic police, the transport licensing board. There is a need to stop the reactive measures of temporarily suspending bus licenses, re-inspecting the buses and retesting the drivers (measures that have proven to be ineffective) and shift to being proactive. Let us not wait for the next prominent politician to die on the road before we introduce another set of guidelines to promote road safety. The current lives lost are just as important to their bereaved families.