In April, 2020, President Museveni was heading to Kampala after inspecting some works along Owen falls Dam. Accidentally his convoy knocked a wandering goat. Within the same week, he announced how he had mistakenly knocked a goat and instructed that the owners be compensated with haste. Such is the hazard of roads in developing countries like Uganda, that speeding vehicles can not only put animals lives in danger but also walking pedestrians.
In most Ugandan roads, often you find road users trying to dodge the potholes to drive on the nicely patched road which remains undisturbed. The motorists believe that if they dodge the potholes most likely the chances of going to a repair garage will be reduced or none at all but unforeseen dangers like theft, a puncture and wear and tear can only lie ahead.
However, paved roads can drastically reduce such inconveniences by simply attracting investors who improve security in the community which in turn increases both motorists’ life expectancy and the vehicle lifespan on the road without worrying about a possible depreciating asset. According to the Uganda police, an estimated 3,757 people died in road accidents between January 2021 and December 2021. This number is too high!
Most recently, a headteacher of Nile High school was instantly killed in a road accident. A moving motorcycle and the life of the 42-year-old rider was neither spared. Having unpaved roads can only worsen the accident victim statistics and instantly push the number of accident victims much higher. Unpaved roads lack humps to regulate speeding and sometimes sign posts to guide elite drivers while on a road.
The chances of not finding traffic police officers on unpaved roads or murram roads is much higher than the chances of finding police officers on paved roads. The convenience of working on paved roads is more comfortable for traffic police officers, due to how organised and neat they are. The lack of police officers only enables traffic breaches which result in accidents that claim lives.
An example is the Najjanakumbi- Busabala road funded by the government of Uganda but whose contract was given to China state construction engineering corporation on 10th September 2020 to upgrade the over 20km roads to improve pedestrian and community safety. While traffic police officers are visible on the Entebbe Kampala road, a tour of the Najjanakumbi road up to Kalidubi past Massaja, one will hardly witness any officers monitoring road usage. One can assume that this trend and habit will change once this road is fully upgraded. Traffic officers will appear on the road to monitor high speed and most likely not only save motorists but the life of pedestrians.
A short brief of the design and build of the upgrading of the Najjankumbi-busabala road, munyonyo spur interchange and service roads implemented under the National roads development and maintenance programme indicates that “two pedestrian bridges,” will be constructed to ease the movement of pedestrians. The brief describes how the community found in the south east business and residential area is in a “high population density” society. This implies that the population in the city of Kampala is growing and upgrading roads is crucial.
The official Uganda National Roads Authority twitter handle also confirms that two pedestrian bridges will be constructed to ease pedestrian movement along the road. To improve the walking experience along the Najjanakumbi-Busabala road, the China state construction engineering corporation intends to construct ‘walkways. The excitement within the community to have the road paved is visible. Many stands on the road side watching how the Chinese construction company are progressing.
While Ugandans use vehicles to move from one place to another, majority use walking as a means to reach their destinations. The city clock tower intersection is one good example that exposes the practice of walking as a method of transport. Streams of Ugandans can be witnessed from 7am to 11am and in the evening from 5pm to 8pm.
Busy centers along the Najjanakumbi -Busabala road will get the opportunity to have one of the two pedestrian bridges for safety. Along the road, women arrange saucepans to prepare quick eateries’ that fend for families. The women prepare and serve chips with a mixture of raw tomatoes, cabbages and tomato sauce. In other shops women dressed in overalls plait clients with all sorts of African hairstyles. Other women are selling charcoal with a mixture of green bananas. Amidst the women working to make ends meet, their own children, often wander off into the road.
Infants and schooling children are a common occurrence in the Ugandan communities as they have to go seek an education to manage life when they are adults. At any one point they cross the road. The delicate lives of such young souls from school and young children of women working along busy roads will always find the pedestrian bridges a relief and a safe path for usage.
The completed Hoima-Butiaba-Wanseko (111km) critical oil road also put into consideration pedestrians. The contractor, Chongqing International Construction Corporation constructed concrete boulders around the escarpments incase motorists knock the barriers. Placing the pedestrian at the center of the road construction is key as it saves both drivers and local community members walking along the road.
Pedestrian lives are critical during road construction. A group of researchers lead by Osuret Jimmy conducted a research paper in Uganda titled ‘State of pedestrian road safety in Uganda: a qualitative study of existing interventions’ reveals that “pedestrians in Uganda account for 40percent of road traffic fatalities and 25 percent of serious injuries annually. The research also concluded that there is a low prioritization of pedestrian needs in design, implementation and evaluation of pedestrian road safety interventions.”
The design review of the Najjanakumbi-Busabala road confirms the need for pedestrian safety and much more by declaring the intention to construct two pedestrian bridges which will go a long way to save lives and keeping pedestrians safe on paved roads. Preserving lives for the future economic growth of a country is a priority.
The construction of more roads in Uganda is a positive development considering the many multiplier benefits of improved transport network. Chinese have two common sayings; “要想富” , “先修路” loosely translated; “Better roads lead to better life.” and “Build roads if you want to get rich.” In order to enjoy better life and riches that comes with road construction, we must also consider roads that will not increase risks to users especially pedestrians.
Andrew Arinaitwe, is a Journalist and Junior research fellow at Development Watch Centre.