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Deadly sport

By Ronald Musoke

Who cares about maimed victims, killed children?

On the wet and cold Saturday morning his nephew, Abdallah Mawejje died, Ddumba Ssentongo was mainly speechless and distraught looking, with his eyes red from crying.

On that day of July 12, Ddumba’s nephew became the third child to die following the Zirobwe incident when a rally car veered off the road and rammed into a crowd fetching water on a communal stand tap in Bukimu-Kibutuzi village, in Luweero District. Four other people were badly injured, two of them – children, had a leg amputated.

The driver of the killer car was a rookie. As he waited outside the police post at the Mulago National Referral Hospital to get clearance from the police to get the body of his nephew from the mortuary, Ddumba was clear about who he thought was to blame – the Federation of Motorsport Clubs of Uganda (FMU).

“When we met the FMU representatives at Sabrina Pub, we pleaded with them to come to Mulago Hospital, to have a look at the children and see the condition under which they were,” he said, “We hoped that if they looked at them, they would probably find us a better health facility. No senior person from FMU turned up.”

Tearfully recounting the incident, Mariam Nalukweya who is a sister to one of the victims, says Mawejje’s life ended tragically because he had not received proper medical attention.

The Mulago Hospital police post overlooks the entrance to the Accident and Emergency Ward where, at that precise moment, two other children were fighting for their lives. Still, the FMU bosses had not showed up.

The accident that claimed the lives of Gerald Wanadi, Rehema Nanziri Nakimbuggwe, and Mawejje has led to questions on motorsport safety in Uganda and who should bear liability for injuries and death.

Investigations carried out by The Independent reveal that either there is an attempt to avoid liability by the driver, the FMU, and the Kenya-based insurer, APA Insurance, or the rules are being crafted as the case progresses.

Popular sport

Watching motor rallying in Uganda has in recent years become fun thanks to the merrymaking that accompanies the sport.

On a typical rally day, thousands of fans will transform a popular viewing spot along the rally route into a carnival-like atmosphere.

Children, impressionable youth, and old folk from both the city and surrounding villages all turn up donning fancy wear with ear-splitting vuvuzelas ready to cheer on their stars. The event is incomplete without alcohol.Seeing thousands of fans leap in the air as they scream their voices hoarse is a remarkable advertisement for the sport.

Unfortunately, the excitement sometimes has tragic results as happened in the remote village of Bukimu-Kibutuzi in Zirobwe, a quiet rural countryside, about 50Kms from Kampala city, with few people, little motor traffic, and winding earth roads that has become an ideal fixture on Uganda’s rally circuit.It is usually a carnivore as excited villagers mingle with motorsport enthusiasts from Kampala city who travel there in droves to catch the action.

But on July 6, tragedy came to them in the form of a speeding rally car driven by one upcoming driver, Umar Dauda.

Dauda who is in his early 20s was competing in the fourth round of the Southern Motor Club National Championship.

Eyewitness reports say he lost control of his white Mitsubishi Evo 4 as he tried to negotiate a corner. He veered off the road, and hit a brick water tap enclosure about 15 metres away. By the time the car came to a standstill,seven people; six of whom were children aged between five and 15 years were badly injured.

One child, Gerald Wanadi died instantly, while the second one, Rehema Nanziri Nakimbuggwe, died along the way to Mulago Hospital. There was no emergency ambulance evacuation. Instead, in tragic scenes that are witnessed whenever accidents occur in Uganda’s motorsport, victims – with bone fractures, were carried to hospital along bumpy roads on motor bikes.

Better care needed

Four children; Hanifah Nantale, Rose Nakanwagi, Abdallah Mawejje, and Umar Kasambula were admitted to Mulago National Referral Hospital in critical condition. Two of them had a leg amputated.The seventh victim, Aisha Nabaggala, an adult is said to have sustained chest and back injuries. She was treated at another hospital.

Umar Kasambula suffered a broken right leg. When The Independent was at Mulago Hospital on July 9, he was lying on a mat on the floor in the Accident and Emergency Ward. His leg was wrapped in freshplaster of Paris from the ankle to the hip. He could barely speak. Surprisingly, Mulago Hospital had hours earlier discharged him.

His sister, Mariam Nalukweya, who was nursing him, narrated how she escaped the accident by a whisker.

She says they were at the tap fetching water when, out of the blue, “a car flew into the air and hit the tap enclosure.”

“Before I knew it, I saw one child lying dead,” she says.

Dauda, the driver, dashed out of his car. Nalukweya recalls seeing him kneel down and raise his hands to the heavens. He pleaded with the gathering crowd.

“I didn’t do this on purpose.” Two other children’s legs suffered horrific injuries. Eye witnesses say Nakanwagi’s leg got chopped off on the spot while Mawejje’s was badly crashed. It was amputated immediately he arrived at Mulago Hospital on July 7; a day after the accident.

Indeed when The Independent visited Mulago Hospital in the late afternoon of July 9, Mawejje was on life support. Surrounded by his immediate family and well-wishers from his village, he lay unconscious on his bed.

As Mawejje’s uncle, Ddumba lifted the brownish-blanket and cream bed sheets covering Mawejje’s frail and lifeless body for The Independent to see the extent of his amputated leg, he told us how it saddened him each time he thought about the fact that his nephew would never play football again. Looking weary, Ddumba said his nephew had bled a lot and needed transfusion.

“I have just returned from Nakasero Blood Bank to fetch blood,” he said.

It is not clear why patients, and not Mulago Hospital staff, always have to go to the national blood bank to get blood from Nakasero Blood Bank which is just a few minutes’ drive away.

The blood, when available, is supposed to be free of charge. But Ddumba said he had searched for donors of Mawejje’s blood group ‘O’ at the hospital with limited success. He got only two units. Mawejje needed four or five units.

When we visited him a day later, Mawejje’s condition had worsened. This time, Ddumba failed to get a single mililitre of blood for his nephew.

The in-charge on Ward 3A said Mawejje’s prognosis did not look good.

“The reason we have moved him closer to my door is to ensure that we monitor him closely,” the nurse said, “He lost a lot of blood and his HB level (hemoglobin) is still very low [but] he is also battling sepsis.”

When she said he needed more specialised attention, when Mulago is the top hospital in Uganda, it was not clear what she meant. Mawejje died in the early hours of July 12, six days after the accident.

Rally organisers vanish

Initial attempts by The Independent to speak to officials of the national motorsport governing body, the Federation of Motorsport Clubs of Uganda (FMU) failed. After Mawejje died, however, the gravity of the situation appeared to hit them finally, and they started to offer explanation of their poor response to the tragedy.

“We have spent the past two weeks looking for ways of how to deal with the situation but with limited results,” one of them said.  Mawejje’s uncle Ddumba and Abdullah Kayemba, the guardian of three of the other children – Rehema Nanziri, 4, who was killed, and Hanifah Nantale, 7, Rose Nakanwagi, 10, who were badly injured, said they made every effort to get help from the rally organisers and failed.

One meeting was in a bar called Sabrina’s Pub. In that meeting, FMU promised to transfer the badly injured patients such as Mawejje to CORSU Rehabilitation Hospital at Kisubi, along Entebbe Road for more specialised treatment and pay all the hospitalized children’s expenses. But, the parents say, nothing substantial has been forthcoming since that meeting.

Ddumba and Kayemba told The Independent that only the ‘fans’ gave them Shs210,000 collected at the venue—which they shared equally to help pay for the children’s medical care.

Meanwhile, the FMU officials say they have done the best they could.

Dusman Okee, the vice president of FMU told The Independent on July 16 that immediately after the accident, FMU’s team comprising doctors and an ambulance swung into action, got the injured and took them to Mulago.  “All our doctors were involved only that the families didn’t know that the doctors were at Mulago because all our doctors work at the referral hospital. We paid all the medical costs of the injured people,” he said, “The FMU doctors and administrative staff have been giving FMU regular updates.”

“We drove the boy (Kasambula who suffered a broken right leg) back to Zirobwe; we paid the doctor and told him to look after the patient very well. When the boy (Mawejje) died on Saturday, our Secretary General went to attend the burial,” Okee said. Ddumba told The Independent that FMU also left behind Shs 200,000 as condolences.

“We have been deeply involved with the families from the day the accident happened [and] unbelievably, the families have been kind to us and they have actually inquired about the welfare of the rally driver.”

Okee said FMU is now working with the insurance company to see how best the victims are compensated. Still, the parents feel let down by FMU.They are demanding for justice.

“Everything we have been doing involves money and we buy everything from medicine to food,” Kayemba said.

They insist the children who survived the accident should be looked after by FMU or whoever is liable.

Kayemba says when his girl, Hanifah Nantale, was discharged on July 10; he was given a list of medication he had to buy with a bill amounting to about Shs 350,000. He has not received any help from FMU. Rose Nakanwagi whose leg was also amputated is also still at Mulago’s Ward 2C and requires attention.

“Our children were all normal before the accident (and) we expected them to fend for themselves when they grew up. Now this incident has changed everything,” Kayemba said.

“They are lame and their lives will never be the same again. These children should be given all the necessary attention. And for the parents who lost their children, they need compensation,” Kayemba said.

Will insurance pay?

The ordeal that the children’s parents have endured brings to the fore questions of how motor rallying is run. Who is liable in the event of such an incident?

When The Independent sought clarification on July 15 from Lawrence Niwabiine, the Assistant Commissioner for Traffic in Kampala City in regard to who exactly is liable to compensate the victims, he said the individual rally driver is not liable but FMU is.

Niwabiine said he did not have specific information about the Zirobwe rally accident, but he noted that such fatal incidents are not treated as accidents by police.

“When the minister of transport gives permission for a rally event to go on, he or she also waives the traffic rules and regulations such as speed limits,” he said.

Speed lifts are not permitted on main roads or transport sections but in competitive sections where rally drivers drive as fast as they can.

But Dr. Stephen Kasiima, the Police Commissioner in charge of traffic told The New Vision on July 14 that although Dauda who also sustained injuries during the same accident in Zirobwe was admitted to hospital, as soon as he is discharged, he should be charged.

“Dauda was reckless, thereby causing the accident in a non-competitive section,” Dr Kasiima is reported to have said.

FMU insists the accident was in a competitive section. But it has suspended Dauda and his co-driver, Hamza Kakande’s licenses, arguing that although it was a rally, there are traffic rules and regulations to be followed and the licences will be suspended indefinitely.

Jamina Opio, a legal advisor at Barefoot, a non-profit organization which provides free legal consultations and services in Uganda, says a rally accident is generally a traffic offence which falls under the Traffic and Road Safety Act, 1998 and the Motor Vehicle Insurance (Third party Risks) Act, Cap 214.

The two Acts provide that a driver must report an accident and must be the holder of third party insurance.

“In this case the owner of the vehicle is liable to pay the third party,” Opio says, “If he or she has third party insurance, his insurer shall meet that cost.”

However, according to the supplementary regulations of FMU, the entry fee for competitors of the rally includes only limited insurance cover determined by FMU for the competitor for third party civil liability.

Okee explains: “All rally drivers are under FMU and that is why FMU insures the entire event, including third party such that when an incident like the one in Zirobwe happens, FMU activates the insurance scheme”.

Meanwhile, the accident driver has got himself a top city lawyer, Geoffrey Nsamba, who is also a rally driver. Nsamba says “his law firm and other lawyers in the rally fraternity have agreed to help the families secure, process and get insurance benefits that are tangible that accrue to them.”

“The event was insured against indemnity for those third parties that probable or otherwise would sustain injuries or loss of property or loss of lives,” he says adding that APA Insurance has given its word.

“We are looking for relevant documents to present to APA and then the process of payment indemnifying the families of the deceased and those that sustained injuries will commence,” he said.

That too is proving a challenge for the families that Nsamba has asked to get the documents.

“We already don’t have money yet the lawyers have asked us to look for all kinds of documents,’ Kayemba said.

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