Over ten passengers who chose to travel to Kampala in the Jaguar bus ended up becoming participants in an impromptu rally as the only option to reach Kampala.
Drama started unfolding when the bus conductor, Mr Isa Matovu, ordered the bus driver to take off while the poor passengers were still in the queue waiting to be cleared.
They were travelling in the Kigali-Kampala bound bus, reg No. UAJ-655m that left Nyabugogo at 5:30am on Dec 23, 2007.
At Katuna, where the fate ‘hatched’, the traffic was visibly too heavy between 10-11am.
When we were there the queues were un usually the longest this writer had ever seen at Rwanda/Uganda common border of Katuna post for obviously reasons – Christmas feastive season and the high volume of trade.
While this writer was in the queue on the Uganda side, he recalls, a young man broke the upseting news that the bus had left. This was the beginning of Punic.
The fate of these passengers suddenly turned into a fortune for the Katuna based taxi operators. They were now hovering all over the place like grasshoppers disturbed by the mid-day scorching sun.
They pretended to be sympathisers and a stream of encouraging words flew from their mouths.
“You will catch up with the bus at Kabale; just enter and you’ll soon prove right,” the driver said.
This writer did not give the statement a second thought. On impulse, five passengers ducked into the waiting taxi voiture and within a blink of an eye it had been started.
As if it were an organised race, the other passengers had made a similar decision.
Three special hire taxis (cabs) were now following each other at a horrifying speed. The residents of the trading centres between Katuna and kabale were treated to drama.
It will be a lie in black and white to tell with accuracy the time it took the taxi on which he was aboard spent.
The anxiety was too much to bear.
My fellow passengers identified themselves as Uwamahoro Nancy and Kayinamura Harriet of Kanombe and Kicukiro respectively.
A man, who seemed to be a taxi broker in Kabale town, suddenly sounded as a prophet of doom.
Immediately, he said the Jaguar bus had left for Kampala and he expressed doubt as to whether we could catch up with it.
A statement he contradicted after uttering it.
“You drive; you’ll certainly catch it before it reaches a certain town located within a few kilometres after Kabale,” he said.
Before he finished saying the last words, the car had started cruising.
Thank God, the car was in excellent mechanical condition and for the driver’s experience and expertise at the job. And perhaps, God’s protection!
He negotiated all those bends offered by the hilly and mountainous terrain common in south western Uganda. After an estimate of about 20 Kms, he saw the Jaguar in serious bargain with a steep hill less than 2Kms away.
This meant a new episode. The driver, in his late twenties, acted like an athlete in Olympics struggling to win the first position in the 100-metre race. This was the time I peeped into the world of the dead.
Indeed, thinking of catching up with the Jaguar was fantasy itself. When the Jaguar overcame the resistance of the hill, it appeared as if all the occupants in this taxi voiture were in a dream.
Could we see it again? It turned into a whirlstorm race only compared to one that involved Kenya’s Raila and Kibaki or South Africa’s Zuma and Mbeki.
The writer says he ordered the driver to stop at the next trading centre in vain. Luck only came when some passenger was disembarking that we managed to see the bus that had stopped.
He (our driver) now worked hard on the accelerator to catch up with it before it pulled out.
This good and bad managed to ‘arrest’ the jaguar. Good in the sense that he successfully seized the bus. And, bad in the sense that he was ready to force us join our ancestral fathers before many of us had achieved a lot in this earthly world. At forty I feel I’m still in the sunrise of my life.
To worsen matters, I was in company of my children, 9 and 12. What a terrible moment we experienced. None of us was ready for ugliest event, death.
He started yelling at us demanding for UGshs 50, 000 or else he does not stop. A charming girl who was seated in a co-drivers seat, who identified herself as Uwamahoro Nancy pleaded with this man to accept UGshs 40, 000 for his services. Could he listen! Now, the jaguar was pulling out when this writer pulled out UGshs 30, 000 from his wallet and the other passengers contributed the balance.
Then, he stopped and parked infront of the jaguar.
After about 15 kilometres after it had pulled out, we realised that we were not alone.
A speeding car overtook the bus and suddenly signalled the bus driver to stop. A temptation for some passengers to suspect they were high way robbers was evident in their words.
“Don’t stop,” one man yelled. But, the driver stopped and a Muslim man, clad in a sharia dress, in the company of four passengers emerged out of the cab with their receipts in the hands and they quickly boarded panting heavily.
The bus started and the speed was, really, horrifying. When we reached Ntungamo the bus stopped to let some passengers get off. And, hardly two minutes elapsed before another taxi voiture stopped. Some passengers came out of it, of who were two students.
I now realised it’s a good story. One of them, who identified himself as Ndorimana Olivier Pass port No. 022025/ sat just in the seat behind me.
This gave me a chance to talk to him. One of them I recalled was the young man who broke the news that the bus had left the Katuna border post.
He started narrating their ordeal. They paid, according to this boy, UGShs 50, 000, which was part of school fees for the next academic year after bargaining to near tears. The other boy was identified as Dusabe Vicent, Pass Port No.
C021310/C. Ndorimana told this reporter he is a student at Groupe scolaire Consulaire, Gikondo.
The writer asks them how the bus came to leave them.
Bus ya dusize turi doda turi guteresha kashe tura yi garirika irakomeza; iyindi yali isigaye inyuma yanga kudu twara – bara tu bwira ngo tu yikurikire (loosely translated as; the bus left us when we were trying to access a stamp on our documents and the bus officials in the bus that was remaining refused to take us; but they told us to try to catch up with the one we travelled in).
Among the victims I talked to and I travelled with in the taxi voiture is Kayinamura Harriet of Kicukiro who said had spent all the money that she was supposed to use to take her to her last destination which is beyond Kampala city.
There was this elderly lady who spoke to me in the Kenyan English, judging from her accent - she told me that she tried hard to convince the bus conductor to wait for people who were not done with the clearing in vain.
What surprised this reporter is the fact that the bus conductor allowed the bus to stop at Ndija, a small trading centre, located a few kilometres after Ntungamo simply to buy matoke. The only human feature that can be seen with minimum attention is the Pan Africa Motel.
When this writer asked Isa Matovu (JEB-043) why he left them at the border he rudely and arrogantly replied that passengers are always careless and spend most of the time eating; a habit they cannot tolerate.
“You people; actually I saw that girl (referring to Uwamahoro), are fond of loitering at the border and you expect us to wait for you…” he said.
When we reached Kampala at around 3pm Uganda time, Ndorimana stormed the Head Office of the manager of the Jaguar bus company. He came after him to testify. The seemingly responsible manager, Mr Emmanuel Gisa, immediately called Matovu to report to the office.
We gave our side of the story, which Matovu accepted. But, he (Matovu) blamed the incident to what he called the ‘confusion’ and heavy traffic that was at the border when we reached there.
After listening to our disappointment, Gisa promised this scribe a free return ticket and requested him not to write the story when he learnt that he was a reporter with The New Times. He kept the promise to the letter.
He also promised the students the same and ordered Matovu to give them UGShs 5,000 for their fare to Nsambya Kevina.
Gisa, however, expressed sympathy and promised that a similar situation will not happen. “It will not happen again, forgive the Jaguar Bus Company; I’m going to discipline them in my own way,” the soft spoken Gisa said.
The Jaguar bus I boarded on my return on December 25, 2007 was moving at an average speed. It set off from Kampala at 9:05am Uganda time and reached Nyabugogo Taxi Park at 5:49pm Rwanda time. The driver who was only identified as Haji was very careful to the extent that he barked at his fellow staff who had tried to tell him to over take a lorry.
“You’re not my co-driver, the bus has only one driver; I know what I’m doing; shut your mouth please,” Haji bellowed.
This time no single passenger was left at the border.