Once again Africa has been in the news as a block thanks to the deadly Ebola virus claiming lives in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. I have argued with friends often that packaging Africa as a unit is quite dangerous than most people realise and Ebola vindicated me with many outsiders assuming everyone on the continent was infected.
Here in East Africa the talk has been about rumoured cases testing negative and citizens calling on their governments to be more careful when it comes to visitors from West Africa. Kenya Airways later budged and cancelled flights to some West African countries and health ministers as well as immigration officials have been e3verywhere explaining how they are ready to deal with the disease in case it showed up.
However, East Africans should not really fear Ebola that much. After all the times it has appeared in Uganda and DRC it has been handled much more effectively than the way the West Africans reacted. Instead we have to fear being on the road more than Ebola. East African roads are simply a death trap that claims lives day and night.
In the recent past I have seen so many pictures of buses in Tanzania that have been involved in accidents. In fact driving at night after 10pm was banned in Tanzania for passenger vehicles after the numerous fatal accidents that often involved trucks that would break down in the middle of the road without reflector triangles to warn other road users.
Kenya also had its spell of nasty road accidents that compelled the government to come down hard on passenger vehicles imposing a ban on night travel between 6pm and 6am. In Rwanda the recent fatal accidents that claimed several lives also got the authorities so concerned that even president himself has talked on the need to curb road carnage.
In Uganda road accidents especially involving buses are no longer that shocking. Anyone who uses a highway will most likely return with a tale about an accident scene he/she drove past. That our roads are dangerous is not news. We have potholes that can dislocate an elephant. We have sharp corners and narrow roads.
We also have numerous drivers with forged driving permits or genuine ones that were acquired after bribing officials. We have drivers who are fatigued and barely trying to stay away on the road. Our penchant for buying second hand cars that we then go ahead to maintain poorly is another danger we face each time we get on a public road.
All this seems fine until there is a fatal accident that involves a big capacity vehicle and several lives are lost. It is then that our traffic officials arise from some kind of slumber and initiate what they often call an operation.
All of a sudden there will be talk of the need for speed governors, re evaluation of driving permits held by bus drivers and strict fines. I really wonder when I read of strict fines. If the fines are legal then that is all the strictness they need. It is after such incidents that bus companies will be asked to ensure that their drivers get enough rest.
Many times nothing is said of the private cars which may actually have been the cause of the accident. Long distance truck drivers are also rarely affected as the focus turns to bus drivers. And as day follows night the so called operations soon fade away and we return to our normal schedule where rogue drivers do as they wish until the next wave of deaths on the road.
These operations and crackdowns achieve very little since anyone who has ever driven a car around here knows that drivers will warn each other of spots that have traffic officers. And with social media it is common to see people warning each other of which spots to avoid especially after taking some drinks.
In other words what kills East Africans on the road is not really bad driving but the seasonal and selective application of the road rules and regulations. Implementation of traffic rules is supposed to be an ongoing process since our officers earn salaries every month.
We need to seriously address the issue of corruption in the police forces. Black spots should be redesigned and everyone concerned should do their job better not having to wait for an operation to pretend to be busy. We need discipline not kneejerk reactions that do not last.