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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Woes of an ordinary road user in Uganda

By Sam Agona
With certainty, if you have ever used an archetypal Ugandan road even for 5 kms, you will somehow have a tale to tell. Every year the parliament apportions a lot of money to the transport sector, some roads have been fixed, other are in a dire state partly explaining the high death toll we have on our roads. Uganda adopted the British road standard which dictates that a road should be 12 meters wide and 100 millimeters, tarmac 75mm while smaller roads are supposed to be 6 meters wide. Besides that, a standard road must have a main lane (overtaking lane, normal lane), rider’s lane, a walking path and designated drainage channels. 
A smooth road stretch away from Soroti towards Dokolo District (Photo by R. Kavuma)
However even our best roads are not anywhere close to that. West Nile and Karamoja regions of Uganda probably have the most untold roads any user would risk using. Between Pabbo ( in Amuru district) and Yumbe, the number of trucks that spend nights on the road just because they cannot move due to road conditions is preposterous. Some of the roads in dire state include Jinja – Kamuli road and seemingly the same contractor who worked on it is working on Mpigi – Kanoni road.
This happens against a backdrop where Ministry of Finance in the last read budget, allocated Ushs 2,395 billion to the roads and works sector for the current financial year, a marked increase from U. Shs. 1,650.75 bn this year. The additional allocation to Roads and Works budget totaled to Shs 744.7 billion over the last year’s provision.
Such a scenario summarizes the quality of material used in building this road

In the last read budget, Minister of Finance stated that 845kms of national roads were completed. She also stressed how much government would scale up external borrowing for infrastructure particularly roads. This makes it worrying to note the state of Kamdini – Gulu road, and roads within Gulu Municipality itself, one of the fastest growing urban centers in Uganda.
Representative road in Gulu town, route from Pece Stadium to Watoto Gulu
The traffic question; there is traffic everywhere in the world; however the level of jam in Uganda and majorly Kampala city is appalling. It underlines the level poor planning and deliberate acts to avoid creating solutions.
Latent traffic in Ntinda, Kampala on an evening 
While in some parts, a vicious circle of poor policing and policy implementation in housing, road construction and maintenance of gazetted areas such as wetlands and forest reserves has been manifested when floods take over roads due to construction in low lying areas deemed to be wetlands.
Flooded road in Bugolobi due to poor drainage and building in wetlands
In the inauguration episode of Turning Around Ugandan a TV show on NTV Uganda, Andrew Mwenda talked of how roads spiraling out of Kampala are “good”, it made me realize that he has probably not used Matugga – Kafu, and probably not seen the size of the roads. A naked fact is roads in Uganda are small and narrow. So many accidents occur in Mabira forest and are not reported. 
This accident was a head-on collision by two speeding vehicles on a 7 meter wide road
Several stretches that are smooth, tend to be narrow, this leaves speeding drivers with no room for error, and in case of erring, they can either go off-road or head-on with the vehicle coming opposite. I strongly believe, if the road between Karuma via Migeera towards Luwero was wider, the accident below that involved MTN workers would not have occurred. We have an alarming road carnage rate as the Observer recently reported that nine people die in road accidents per 100,000 of the population per year in Uganda, compared to 23 per 100,000 in South Africa which is a bigger country. 
                                              The state of Uganda – South Sudan Highway
On roads, there are parts that need bridges and parts that can be ramped and raised, but because our contractors are either not monitored properly or because they spend too much of the contract budget on the bureaucracy, you will find parts which need culverts like in the picture below ramped to form a raised road. These stretches are later on affected by flooding. 
Author helping a charcoal dealer cross overflowing River Aswa
On highways, trailers are the most fragile vehicles; this explains why they don’t seem interested in leaving way for other vehicles using the road. It is because once they lower one side of the vehicle at a bad spot of the road, there is a high chance, it will not return to the main area of the road. 
Two vehicles sharing a road
In such a scenario as above, the trailer would not risk having any of its tires land into the potholes by the roadside lest if trips off, meaning the trailer will stay entirely around the center of the road, this road is barely 7 meters wide, therefore exposing vehicles to head on accidents within such narrow roads.
A “lake” in the middle of a road in Lamwo district
Abrupt notices of broken bridges after driving 45 kms from Kitgum town towards Lamwo town, you find a notice of this kind leaving you with one option. Making a U- turn and using another road.
An abrupt notice of a broken bridge 
Uganda has some untamable drivers on its roads. On high ways, bigger vehicles are never willing to pay way for smaller vehicles (ceteris paribus). On urban and peri-urban roads, commuter vehicles have their own rules; they stop where they want, when they want and how they want.
It is important to promote private sector in a capitalistic economy like Uganda’s but some social services and amenities cannot be left entirely in the hands of private sector. Activities such as planning, developing and regulating transport system should be a function of a government.

A typical warning of what they do often! Stopping unexpectedly
Some roads are simply impassable, anything short of a 4 wheel drive will not be of help.
This is the road to Lwala Hospital in Teso region (Photo by Joseph Angole)
We claim to be promoting the tourism sector but if a tourist will have to go through this to access a tourism site then I am not sure we are planning the right way. Neither am I sure we have prioritized tourism in this case.
This is the road to Kidepo National Park on a rainy occasion
Still on promotion of private sector, for factors of production to move, they need to arrive where they are needed not only on time but also in good shape. I am not sure such a road can deliver as desired.
This is Gulu – Kitgum Road (Photo by Alex J. Otto)
Below is a road in Apac district. Local government cannot have such a road and yet central government claims to be heightening private sector and at the same time pumping money into infrastructure specifically roads, PSVs cannot use such roads. A vehicle that uses such a road breaks down in record time thus disheartening investors.  
This is a road in Apac district
At some point of every year, some personalities are awarded medals for one reason or the other. I am not very keen on the beneficiaries but if asked, I would front that every driver who goes to Nimule and or uses Moyo road and does not lay down his truck deserves a medal without question. Those are the patriots.
This is how an improved area on Moyo Adjumani road looks when it has rained
One interesting thing is that citizens in some of these places have resigned to living this way and they think this is the best they can have. I describe that as well-crafted poverty of the mind.
Recent photo of Kamuli residents demonstrating over bad roads
More time and effort is spent clumping down political rallies but if we used these resources in fixing our social economic infrastructure to desirable levels, we would not experience demonstrations like the above.  Ugandans need to demand for accountability from the respective authorities. 

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