48 PENDING “ACCIDENTS”, TRAGEDIES AND DISASTERS IN UGANDA
Before we disturb God with yet another National Prayer Breakfast led by our pretentious leaders to pray for our fellow citizens who died unnecessarily on Saturday, and cast out demons, evil spirits that are causing “accidents”, below is a list of forty-eight national tragedies, “accidents” and disasters waiting to happen even though common sense shows that it is a question of “if” not “when” they will claim more lives.
Maybe our impotent President, useless Ministers and other clueless elected officials will be proactive and respond to these and not wait to issue press statements and empty, annoying condolence messages to grieving families and a hurting nation.
I will not and cannot blame law enforcement—they are doing an incredible job under impossible circumstances. They are underfunded, understaffed and poorly remunerated; the resources that should support their work instead fatten old camels like Moses Ali who should be tending to grandchildren for the few hours he is awake.
The list is based on my personal mostly layman observations and lived experiences as I am not an expert in any field of engineering or other relevant fields.
Some are either known to the authorities, the public has complained before or have previously caused injuries and deaths.
1. Ham Towers, opposite Makerere University: this evidently unplanned, irregular, obtuse and towering eyesore is one you must endure from the buildings at the adjacent School of Law. Given the huge numbers that frequent its boutiques, electronics stores and other facilities, this one will have a record-setting death toll the day it collapses under its own weight and poor workmanship. It is also a major cause of traffic jam at peak hours because a significant amount of its ‘parking lot’ ate into the road reserve. How it has managed to remain standing all these years is a marvel that defies engineering. It belongs to a Brian White species called Hamis “Ham” Kiggundu who dubiously acquired Wankulukuku (Nakivubo) Stadium ostensibly to redevelop it but nothing of significance has taken place since he hid the stadium with iron sheets in much the same way many of his “investments” are shrouded in mystery. From the kind of building he put up in Makerere (the said Ham Towers), you can begin to imagine the kind of stadium he will put up in the place of Wankulukuku.
2. MV Kalangala: Authorities say that the vessel is licensed to carry a load of one hundred passengers and eight crew, forty tonnes rolling cargo, one hundred and twenty tonnes of hold cargo but this payload is often exceeded by far. The day this one capsizes, the toll could potentially triple that of its sister who is currently lying on her side in Lake Victoria. The Ministry of Works and Transport merely issued a warning and that was it. No sanctions. No penalties for its operators.
3. The Hybrid Pothole at the car dealership opposite the LG Electronics outlet in Industrial Area: Anyone who regularly uses this road knows the crater-like pothole that lies in wake just after the American Mission building, before one goes past the entrance to the Toyota car bond. Thanks to muscle memory, many drivers and cyclists know it but the day a speeding motorist carrying passengers, say in a bus or van, either hits it or abruptly tries to avoid it and rams into oncoming traffic en route to Bugolobi, I do not know any medical facility nearby that will contain the resulting carnage. Matatu (‘taxi’) drivers especially view this part of the road like a Grand Prix homestretch and whether they are headed towards Bugolobi or Industrial Area, drive like they are fleeing from a ghost.
4. Blindspot at Windsor Loop, just outside the British High Commission: If you are on the main artery from Mulago and are headed towards Kololo but do not want to use the through junction at City Oil Kamwokya, you’ll most definitely elect to drive through the narrow 200-or-so-metre loop that starts at the entrance of the British High Commission, through AER Lounge and ends up close to the gates of Nkwanzi Courts on Acacia Road. There used to be a huge parabolic mirror that would help one see oncoming traffic but it no longer exists and one wonders what will happen if a herd of cars one day meets another herd at that constricted intersection.
5. Mandela National Stadium, Namboole: The stomping and exhilaration that comes with watching a football match or concert live is a thrilling experience but the floor of our national stadium feels like it is heaving and baulking every time the forty thousand strong attendance jumps up and down. Has the stadium’s structural integrity been assessed to establish whether it needs some repairs or reinforcement?
6. Gas Stations littered all over the Central Business District: No need for elaboration here. Our CBD is replete with one too many filling stations that if just one of them caught fire in the course of a winding traffic jam (which would act as connection points to other filling stations), the resulting conflagration would wreck unfathomable destruction.
7. Ill-fitting Manhole Cover that extends into the road in Naguru: After the rregular speed bumps that have become gaping gullies on the road from the entrance to Naguru Police HQs, just before one joins the road that goes to the China—Uganda Friendship Hospital to the left, or Legends (a popular nightspot) to the right, there is a raised soak-pit whose concrete lid juts out ominously into the road and it often forces motorists to swerve right and thereby force oncoming traffic to squeeze into the pavement on the left. This is a busy sidewalk with school children and pedestrians. One day, motorists and pedestrians might not be lucky enough to simultaneously manoeuvre between that space.
8. In Kumi District is a railway line that passes through the often-busy main road. This same carriage regularly features cattle and other livestock crossing leisurely.
9. The grisly accidents that have been caused by sugarcane-laden trucks in Lugazi along Kampala—Jinja Highway which are usually without lights and in poor mechanical condition are yet to catch the eye of those in charge of transport safety. In the event of an accident, the closest hospital (Kawolo) is a patented death trap.
10. Railway Crossing just after URA Customs Offices in Nakawa at the junction to Mbuya. Either side of the railway line has degenerated into craters that distort the flow of traffic coming from three directions. It is a busy intersection that needs to be redone and maintained to avoid eventualities.
11. Lopei Bridge in Karamoja is flood-prone and becomes impassable when it rains. Visibility is terribly low at this spot which is plied by various categories of vehicular and human traffic, more so buses. The risk of veering off course places lives at risk.
12. Nswanjere to Mityana, along Mubende Road is a poorly inspected section where motorists engage in acts that defy logic. There is little to protect roadside settlements (including at least two schools), pedestrians and cyclists from errant drivers.
13. Intermittent and irregular traffic signals at Kampala—Jinja Road Intersection. This very important set of robots that guides traffic headed towards the Wampewo (‘Airtel’) Roundabout and from Jinja Road towards the CBD, Mukwano, Garden City et al has lately taken to intervals of power outages, leaving road users to their own devices. We pay taxes to ensure that these amenities function; who isn’t remitting payments to keep the lights on?
14. Powerlines and communications masts overhanging schools and residential settlements. This is a self-evident hazard which is apparent in many high-density areas, many of them in Makindye, Mbuya, Naguru and Naalya.
15. On the way to Busia via Iganga is a steep slope right at Iganga Hospital. The junction at Tirinyi Road is similarly deadly and has claimed a number of lives. Please note that far from being a lifeline, Iganga Hospital has suffered years of dereliction and might not be in position to provide ER services if an accident occurred close by.
16. Itojo Town Centre, Ntungamo District is a busy trading centre with speeding traffic and little prudence in terms of vehicular management. Haulage trucks park on shoulders and operate with reckless abandon.
17. Katonga Bridge, a very important passage to and from Masaka is a known blackspot whose improved signage has not helped stem the incidence and frequency of road accidents. Authorities might have to consider expanding it to accommodate better the volumes of traffic that ply it daily.
18. ‘Arcades’ and shopping malls in Downtown Kampala are a lesser replica of Hamis Kiggundu’s eyesore called Ham Towers. Most have no emergency exits, are congested, poorly ventilated, with atrocious plumbing and wiring. They are another pending tragedy.
19. Rallying circuits Festino and Busiika have been in the news for motor rallying related incidents that occur when racecars veer off their courses and ram into fans, injuring and killing some. There are no barriers or enforced reservations to keep fans from harm’s way. Incidents have become all too commonplace and it looks like no one will pay attention until a top gun’s child or relative is injured or killed.
20. The faded zebra crossing between Posta Building and the Boulevard Arcade is a daily threat to pedestrians and a lady traffic police officer told me that casualties and fatalities are commonplace at that spot.
21. Unannounced roadworks on the Northern Bypass. No one gets to know when culverts, pavements or other infrastructure will be laid or built. The same spot you cruised past a day before will be plagued by cones, metallic drums, labourers manning pneumatic drills and a sprinkling of poor signage warning of the works ahead. The risk is elevated at night or during bad weather as one might plunge into a boulder or pile of equipment on what should otherwise be a clear passage.
22. There exists a mother of potholes, located diagonally opposite Froebel Matatu Stage, Ntinda. It is concealed in shrubbery and if you do not violate the rules by crossing your lane for a few seconds, you’ll plunge headlong into the unmarked abyss. Wet conditions exacerbate the situation.
23. Nakaloke Bridge on Mbale—Soroti Road is a narrow passage with a tight corner at Bukedea that endangers users and has indeed been an accident spot on a number of occasions.
24. What contingency measures exist at Kalerwe Market in terms of fire hydrants, access routes for ER vehicles or evacuation equipment? The high-density population there needs to be given adequate protection.
25. On two occasions, I have stopped to savour the sumptuous servings of roast goat at that place called “Ku Mbuzi” (which loosely translates into “At the Goat(s) along Gayaza Road and always think about what would happen if an emergency occurred and the area had to be evacuated. And it’s not just the risk of fire but even in terms of health standards. The young men for example once told me off and said I have kajanja 😊 when I insisted on how my pieces of meat should be roasted yet my concern was hygiene.
26. Kampala Metropolitan Area, according to an Economist, Dr Enoq Twinoburyo, has got 739 (53%) pharmacies out of the country’s 1390; sixty districts have no single pharmacy. In his passionate January 2018 article, Dr Roy William Mayenga notes that an area of half a kilometer radius in Kisasi alone has 11 pharmacies, 28 ‘supermarkets’, and 41 salons. These two statistics provided by reputable scholars in their own disciplines point to maladministration with regard to drugs, medicines and healthcare in general. This is a continuing and ongoing matter that cannot be let to pass unchallenged.
27. Nyendo—Masaka (Kaduggala) Stretch is replete with blackspots arising from visibility issues, road surface quality, sharp bends and heavy-duty trucks that park just about anywhere, endangering moving traffic and pedestrians, especially school children.
28. Child transportation to and from school is a delicate subject that has socioeconomic bearings but should nonetheless be addressed squarely. The sight of infants crammed into a speeding van on the way to school or back home…or worse…little kids stacked like crates of disposable cups on the carrier of a boda boda is spine-chilling and something ought to be done to protect the lives of these innocent souls.
29. Does anyone inspect the swings, bumper cars, merry-go-rounds, trampolines and other fun equipment found at the several amusement parks for mechanical soundness, safety and health? Or are we waiting for a Christmas Day disaster as kids spin around a roller coaster and then begin analyzing risk and mitigation for amusement parks, too? At this point we shall have forgotten the weekend’s Lake Victoria incident.
30. A number of accidents at a blackspot called Kyonyo, on the Kabale-Katuna highway have since 2002 killed a combined total of up to one hundred and ten people. Beyond the usual platitudes, no concrete remedial action has been taken to stop the carnage.
31. Kiteezi Landfill has been the subject of a number of feature stories by media houses. Concerns revolve around pollution in all its forms—placing the quality of the soil, air and water in that area in grave jeopardy. Cases of respiratory complications are rife but that is just a fraction of the problem. What are the long-term effects on children especially who have grown up inhaling sulphur, mercury, lead and other toxic compounds?
32. Blind spot at the road joining the Northern Bypass roundabout from Kiwatule. This point is so steep, curvular and has got a tendency to make cars skid as they navigate either turn.
33. The ‘road’ from International Hospital Kampala to Tankhill Parade has perennially been narrow yet it is a very busy artery. It has a kindergarten, a primary school, a secondary school, two hotels, a hospital, a church and homes…and is often used by pedestrians and cyclists who are already competing with two-lane traffic for space.
34. From the Budo Junior School inferno to the latest catastrophe in Rakai, boarding school dormitories, where parents dump their children without protesting why pupils and students are piled like sardines for export, have become notorious for terrible deaths. School owners and management bodies are so consumed by the profit margin that they won’t invest in emergency exits or comprehensive firefighting equipment.
35. As the real estate market grows in leaps and bounds, the layman in me fears for the carrying capacity of hilly locations like Mbuya, Naguru and Naalya which are popular with lower middle to high middle-income earners; how many housing units can those locations carry without triggering a landslide or other catastrophe? My question is based in part on incidents of collapsing fences that might not entirely be blamed on poor workmanship.
36. There is a blind spot in Muyenga after the Quarry on the way to Heritage International School. It is not possible to see who is coming from the direction of Ggaba and vice versa from Muyenga. The view is obstructed by three apartment buildings and some homes whose premises are dangerously close to the road.
37. If a fire broke out in the various hangouts that dot the place, we call Centenary Park, where would firefighters or ambulances pass? In the alternative, is there space for a staging area from which to command a rescue op?
38. The carriage that joins Acacia Avenue from Yusuf Lule Road is confusing when one goes past the golfers’ crossing point. It is not clear how the three lanes disappear into two, or for those coming from Acacia towards Yusuf Lule, how two lanes graduate into three. This mix-up has led to ‘minor’ incidents that have led to quarrels and brawls between road users but might one day cause a disaster.
39. In comparison to other roads in our country, Munyonyo-Entebbe Expressway is a remarkable piece of engineering but is not lit in a number of sections. Lighting it would greatly enhance safety, aesthetics and the user-experience.
40. The scenic Lake Mburo National Park is replete with wildlife which is not very well protected against vehicular traffic. A collision with, say, a buffalo or elephant, means death or severe injuries for either parties to the impact.
41. From what I have seen at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) next door in terms of a nearby, always alert and well-equipped firefighting facility with a number of modern water cannon, extinguishers, teams of standby firefighters and so on, I am not sure what contingency plans exist at our beloved Entebbe ‘International’ Airport in the event of a fire or other such emergency demanding prompt and formidable response.
42. Several complaints have been raised at warnings made about the giant petroleum tanks that sit next to the huge cluster of slum settlements in Kireka, Banda. No evacuation plan is apparent. It is another question whether hydrants exist at the facility.
43. Kyebando—Mulago Junction (adjacent to a power substation) is a very busy place, more so in the evenings. It is congested. Many settlements there are literally sharing the road with vehicles. With next to no signage to guide users, the numerous kindergartens, schools and nightspots in that location face an ever-present danger to life and limb.
44. The stretch from Seeta to Kayunga Road in Mukono is almost always clogged with vehicular traffic (including haulage trucks) headed in either direction but with no proper exits if a truck—as they often do—failed to ascend or properly descend the steep gradient at Seeta High School. It is narrow and has developed a terribly uneven surface at the lowest point of the gradient.
45. Buganda Bus Park; 46. Arua Bus Park and 47. Old Taxi Park are all pending disasters because of the absence of emergency exits for ambulances, fire engines or other equipment in the event of an emergency. They are high density (in terms of population) locations with little or no security checkpoints worth writing home about. That geographical radius alone has up to five filling stations.
48. Lane Mix-Up at Bukoto/Kabira traffic lights. The four lanes that make up the carriage that starts from Kiira Road Police Station up to the turn off that goes to City Ville in Bukoto disappear after the traffic lights at Kabira Country Club, causing drivers to jostle for space in that fifty-metre-distance. It narrows farther after the traffic lights all the way to Kenjoy Supermarket and beyond. Bukoto-bound traffic flows in three unclear lanes at peak hours.
Throughout this piece, I have deliberately placed the word “accident” in quotes because my primary three Science & Technology teacher, Mr. Moses Katuma, taught me that “an accident is an unexpected occurrence which can lead to injury or death.”
None of the foregoing forty-eight matters I’ve flagged—except perhaps in the eyes of our thoroughly inept ‘government’—is an unexpected occurrence.
Finally, the red flags are listed in no particular order because I listed them as they occurred to me from memory. I take responsibility for all errors and lapses in memory.
Nonetheless, owagaamba akabi…tiw’akareeta.
Don’t shoot the messenger.