On July 17 2016, a Ugandan traffic police officer joined a long list of those who died on the Kampala-Masaka highway in Mukoko village, Uganda.
The officer on this ill fated Sunday morning had been clearing an accident scene shortly before speeding vehicles knocked him and other bystanders. Six vehicles were involved in the crash, including a Jaguar bus that was driving from Kampala to Kigali and a volcano bus that was heading in the opposite direction.
Fifty people are known to have survived this horror with minor injuries while nine got critical injuries that day. Those who died included a young man, who was recently laid to rest in Mutara, Rwanda’s Eastern Province. While many speculations and reports have been raised about this highway, the concurrence of road accidents on this route continues to raise eyebrows among travelers who regularly move between Kigali and Kampala.
People like Kenneth Okullo, an accountant with Gary WhiteKnight partners in Kigali fear to make frequent travels because the road is now a death trap.
“Obviously hearing about people dying on this road scares everyone. You just count yourself lucky for not being on that bus. Our relatives are dying and it should be a concern for everyone,” said Okullo.
Some feel that engineers did not do a good job since the road surface becomes slippery during heavy rains.
Traders like Claudine Umutoniwase, from Nyabugogo claim that accidents are happening in the same spots especially at night and not much can be done without investigating the quality of construction that was done.
“At sharp corners when it is very dark surfaces tend to become wet due to fog. While constructing this road, these are things that should have been considered to ensure that vehicles don’t just skid on breaking,” she explains.
Although findings are inconclusive about this route, driver errors have been cited in all incidences.
For instance, on June 30, 2016 at Kyazanga Trading Center, an accident claimed lives of two people because the jaguar bus driver had fallen asleep and rammed into an oncoming lorry transporting bananas.
“There is even the possibility that when he woke up, he was driving on the wrong side of the road,” says Maxwell Ogwal, the Regional Police Commander for Greater Masaka, citing a probability that since drivers are constantly changing borders, confusion cannot be ruled out over which side to drive on when in a different country.
To make matters worse, he explains that bus drivers once on the highway over speed unnecessarily while others have a habit of holding discussions in the middle of the road when by-passing each other.
“Our drivers are not serious, sometimes they forget that they are on the road. How do you start a conversation in the middle of road when you see there is fog and the area is too dark?” poises Ogwal.
In the latest incident, The Sunday Times also learnt that survivors from the first accident and rescuers remained standing on the scene of the first accident in a dark corner. Unfortunately, the speeding vehicle knocked some.
Such gatherings according to the police commander are increasing the death toll from accidents on this deadly route.
“A few of those knocked were standing on the side. It is always a problem when survivors remain at the accident scene when it is dark,” he adds.
Fury of speeding drivers and negligence in the black spots
A bus operator who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity blames the traffic controllers and Ugandan government for failing to improve safety along the black spots.
“Much as they claim drivers are over speeding, there is a limit. We already have speed governors installed. Why is it that accidents are happening in the same areas? Instead of these excuses, government should focus on working with engineers and police to find a solution to this problem. You never know, the road surfaces could have construction defects,” he said.
Surprisingly, most accidents in Uganda occur on the flat surface unlike the hilly Rwanda where busses have to negotiate sharp corners at high altitudes.
It is the same reason, Superintendent Jean Marie Ndushabandi, the traffic police spokesperson reiterated that the major cause is over speeding. From the jaguar Volcano incident, he says that: “The driver of the jaguar bus was trying to overtake a volcano bus before he saw another vehicle in front. Because he wanted to give way to the one coming ahead, he ended up dragging the other into the swamp. That is how other vehicles got involved”.
According to Uganda Police; more than 200 people have been killed on Masaka road and nearly 400 injured in road accidents. The figure includes voyagers heading to either Rwanda or Uganda.
Some people alleged that the road is slippery because thieves pour oil on the road surfaces, to take advantage and rob the belongings of the passengers. However, the Greater Masaka regional police commander rubbished that notion.
“There is no such thing; who has time to pour oil on the road surface? These are statements issued by drivers after discovering that they have made a mistake. They find all possible ways to escape responsibility by making people believe that,” added Ogwal.