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ANALYSIS: Massacre on Masaka road

 

A mangled truck that was recently involved in an accident on Masaka road parked at Mpigi Police Headquarters. Independent/ Ronald Musoke
A mangled truck that was recently involved in an accident on Masaka road parked at Mpigi Police Headquarters. Independent/ Ronald Musoke

Are the rampant deaths on this highway a result of undisciplined motorists only?

This is the car in which Bukomansimbi Woman MP died. It is a navy blue saloon car whose face is punched-in from colliding head-on with an oncoming car. That one over there is where the NTV journalist and Miss Tourism representatives died.

Like a good curator with ancient history at his fingertips, Phillip Mukasa, the Police Spokesperson for the Katonga region is pointing out the various mangled remains of accident vehicles at Mpigi Police Headquarters. Sometimes he gives details of the occupants who were killed in the accidents. At other times he recalls details of the horror of the accident.

“The driver of that FUSO truck died a painful death. The collision was so bad that it was difficult for the police to find his head, which was chopped off.”

There are about 30 vehicles here. There is a truck which looks like it was squashed by an angry giant from front to back and the roof of the drivers cabin sewn off by a mighty slash, leaving the steering wheeling floating in space.

There are several passenger taxi vans with their side, face, or back rammed in, SUVs snarling with no bonnets, and small saloon cars with shattered windscreens. It is impossible not to think about the horrible terror the occupants would have felt before they died, or the pain of those that survived with major injuries.

Most of the accident vehicles are brought here because it is the main police station along the Kampala-Masaka highway; one of the longest stretches of deadly road in Uganda. Masaka highway has been deadly for years, but a recent increase in accidents has raised new concern and made even the most seasoned traveller dread the journey to southern Uganda.

It is difficult to say exactly how many accidents happen on this route as they are recorded at different district police stations, and the national statistics on traffic accidents are not documented based on traffic accidents on highways. But police say in the last seven months alone, close to 200 people have been killed and hundreds more injured on a road which cannot be avoided by thousands of motorists going as far as neighbouring Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania.

 

This is a staggering number of fatalities even by the standards of the so-called ‘Road of Death’—the North Yungas road in Bolivia which registers 200-300 deaths annually and is regarded as the deadliest highway in the world.

For three consecutive days, starting July 26, we travelled by public transport on the 130km highway to investigate why this road has become so deadly.

On all days, our journey started in the crowded New Taxi Park in Kampala city. We went through Kyengera, Nsangi, Mpigi, Buwama, Katonga, Lwera, and Lukaya up to Masaka town.

On the second day, I sit between a regular traveller on this road and the taxi driver. The burly man probably in his mid-40s appears to be a trader as he has several pairs of gumboots on his lap as he listens to the 9am news on his Nokia phone radio. It is quite loud but he prefers to hold it close to his left ear.

One of the last news items jolts us into a lively chat. It is yet another distressing report about two accidents that occurred on Masaka road the previous day. One of the accidents involved a prominent man; Lawrence Mukiibi, the proprietor of the St. Lawrence schools and colleges that dot this highway.

Mukiibi was turning off the highway into one of his schools when a double cabin rammed into his car. Fortunately, he was not killed but he suffered serious injuries, and was flown abroad for treatment.

Meanwhile, the police say over 80% of the accidents registered on this road is a result of human error and the biggest percentage of this is caused by drivers.

Soon the driver of the 14-seater taxi—a Toyota Hiace— starts the engine and our journey begins. Passengers at the back of our taxi remain quiet but my neighbour and I continue talking about the road carnage on the highway we are about to travel on.

He tells me his name is Mugumya and he blames the big number of accidents on what he says is “a narrow road yet there is a high volume of traffic.”

“You have some motorists who drive slowly,” he says, meaning at the recommended speed, “but you also have others who have no qualms driving at speeds of 120km/hr”. He says this is dangerous as the highway has no special lanes where they can drive uninterrupted for even a few kilometres.

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