Statistics from the Uganda Police 2021 Annual Crime Report indicate that the number of crashes on Ugandan roads increased by 42 percent from 12,249 in 2020 to 17,443 in 2021. From those crashes, at least 4,159 people were killed compared to the 3,663 deaths registered in 2020.
And more recently, data from the Police Directorate of Traffic and Road Safety revealed that, within just one week, from May 29 to June 4, a total of 378 accidents were registered. These involved 423 victims, of whom 84 died, while 339 sustained serious injuries.
Time and time again, motorists, government authorities and other stakeholders, have expressed different views regarding the cause of these numerous accidents. But I think the most bizarre narrative is the one attributed to evil spirits or forces.
I have heard and read many accounts of motorists and residents who are persuaded that evil spirits exist in the areas which are usually labelled as accident black spots. Some argue that these evil spirits disguise as beautiful women or animals that appear to be crossing the road. Others say that the evil forces are the property of occultist rich men who are on a mission to kill people.
Similar narratives have been shared in Kenya where truck drivers and people neighbouring the black spots have admitted to having set eyes on the killer ‘women’. A one-time bus driver plying the Nairobi-Mombasa highway told the Nation Newspaper in 2016 that, “As late as last year, a beautiful woman flagged me down twice at the bridge of Miseke River. I became suspicious and accelerated instead.”
He would have chosen to ignore the phenomenon, he said, but then the same ‘woman’, dressed in white flagged him down at the same spot a week later and a day afterwards, a terrible accident occurred at the bridge.
In South Africa, a Cultural expert was once quoted saying, “When a person dies in a road accident…, the relatives, especially elders, must collect the spirit because it has to go somewhere, but in some cases, it lingers around and disturbs motorists, which causes accidents, especially at night, when drivers see strange objects in front of them”.
“We now live a Western lifestyle yet culturally, when a person dies on the road or in a veld, his spirit is recalled to its ancestral origins by the family through certain rituals. In the current circumstances, the spirits of those who die on the roads are not recalled and they loiter all over the place, hence the many accidents that keep on occurring,” he added.
Well, I wouldn’t want to completely dispel the above arguments but in my considered view, if there are any real evil spirits involved in our road accidents, these must surely be embedded in human and road factors.
With the reckless driving, drunk-driving, disobedience of traffic regulations, lack of consideration for other road users, as well as the poor mechanical condition of most vehicles, it may not be easy to convince an outsider that Ugandan drivers are not possessed by some strong evil forces.
But if this is the case, then the evil spirits possessed by Boda boda motorcyclists must be the strongest in the land. Of the 4,159 road accident fatalities reported in 2021, 1,390 were motorcyclists while 528 were passengers on motorcycles. This was the first time in the history of traffic in Uganda where motorcyclists killed in road accidents topped annual fatalities statistics.
Imagine, a recent survey conducted by the Uganda Road Fund showed that only 46 percent of motorists interviewed learnt the art of driving either at a licensed driving school or with a certified instructor. And for Boda Boda motorcyclists, only one in every 10 riders received riding training from a professional instructor. This could imply that most of our cool motorists must have used some supernatural powers to master of the art of driving.
In the same vein, I believe that our traffic officers also need some serious ‘cleansing’. it’s mind-boggling that many offenders are committing the same traffic offences nearly on a weekly-basis even after receiving the Electronic Express Penalties Scheme (EPS) tickets. Police has now promised to start detaining and charging the culprits but I am wondering whether the spirit of corruption and complacency among our officers will let this happen!
Also, the traffic police spokesperson was recently quoted saying, “We are relaunching the Fika Salama checkpoints with reinforced manpower…we have identified those black spots and we are going to deploy officers to operate there 24 hours a day”. But how shall we have 24-hour deployment when majority of the traffic officers spend much of their working time directing traffic, even in spots with functioning traffic lights.
Our road carnage can also be attributed to factors such as narrow roads, potholes, poor signage and poor physical planning. There are roads in Uganda, especially in Kampala and other urban areas, that are close to resembling graveyards. Perhaps this is why they are being associated with evil spirits.
In the end, the undisputable truth is that our country is currently at a critical juncture, where moral bankruptcy is at an all-time high. But we, I mean all citizens, have an opportunity to make amends. The choices we make today, not only on the roads, but in all spheres of life, are key determinants in the type of Uganda we want to have. I strongly believe that we have the power to reverse this unfortunate course!
Mr. Mukalazi is a Ugandan Executive and a Socio-Economic Thinker