In Uganda over 3,000 lives are lost to road accidents annually. Over 90% of deaths are youth below the age of 25. To compound this even further, that the number is an equivalent of three (3) classrooms each full of 75 young people perishing each month. However, police and media blame this on the irresponsibility of the “reckless” passengers, the majority of whom are our youth. Despite having some of the most dangerous roads in the world, riddled by poor public infrastructure and planning, leaders go on about their business as usual without any efforts to address this epidemic. Recently, I saw an article in the New Vision, the daily newspaper praising the police for their training campaigns about safety precautions for motorcyclist, passengers, and school children. I could not help but wonder how this campaign would help “half road accidents by 2020” as suggested. To me, this was one of those band aid solutions once again prescribed to our public that deserves better than charitable campaigns. Our tax-paying public deserve a public health infrastructure that works for them, not ‘sensitizing” them about things that they already know. When I saw the above-mentioned article, I could not help but scream within me of how our leadership still belittles our public as uneducated and an informed populace even about their own safety. Which parent does not teach their children about how to cross roads safely? Or which adult doesn’t look right, left and front before they cross these dangerous roads?
If there was a disease outbreak that was killing as many people as road accidents are doing may be our government and policy makers would pay attention especially if it was killing the wealthier Ugandans. It’s quite shocking that you can find well manicured pavements and walkways in the porche surbs of Kampala such as Kololo where you can hardly see a passenger on the road, yet downtown where a million people go about their business daily there is none. About 98 % of our cities and highways lack pavements and walk ways (zebra crossing). I am appalled by the complacency of city planners who are ignoring this important public health necessity. Lack of pavements and walk ways for pedestrian is a public health hazard, not mentioning poor or no lighting on these roads which cause more preventable accidents. Had pedestrians had an option of walking without competing for the same space with motor vehicles, I believe we would lose fewer citizens than 3,400 per month. In just two months, I have lost two friends, an uncle and a cousin to road accidents. This has nothing to do with my friends and family members being reckless it has more to do with our dangerous and broken public roads systems that need a major overhaul.
I am an avid runner. Everyday I go out to run, I am afraid of losing my life on these narrow and unsafe roads. Without a place for walking or running, walk-ways, pedestrians here live on the edge, yet each month my paycheck is less 1 million Uganda shillings to a government and to city leaders that do nothing to protect my public safety and my right to live in a safe and healthy environment.
My message to Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA), Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), the Ministry Works and Transportation officials, and the police is simple. Ugandans do not need your public safety campaigns and are not stupid, we probably know more about public safety than you do because our lives are in danger daily. What we need are roads that are safe with walkways, pavements to walk and run, covered potholes, gutters and enough lighting for safety at night. In case you need a lesson, please visit Rwanda next door, and if you need an international context from more developed nations visit Greece.
Uganda city leaders could also learn an important lesson from the Mayor of Bogota, Colombia as he is famously quoted,“a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It is where the rich use public transportation.” -Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogotá.
Without a safe public health infrastructure, Ugandans especially our youth will continue to perish on a massive scale due to this preventable epidemic, and more and more will become diabetic and suffer from cardiovascular diseases due to not having safe public places to exercise.