By Josepha Jabo
On Friday, December 15, 2017 I was caught up in one of the most horrific traffic jams to ever hit Kampala, in recent years. It was pure gridlock, where motor vehicles were stuck in a frustrating bumper to bumper traffic jam for hours! I couldn’t believe it. I was on my way to an event and got stuck somewhere in Kololo. I had to abandon the vehicle I was in, and find alternative means to get to the venue. Other stranded people were doing the same, either walking to their locations or jumping on boda-bodas. I saw a citizen struggling to direct traffic at a crossroad. I asked someone what the problem was and he told me, “Traffic Police are on strike!” I later found out although they were not officially on strike, traffic police officers had been ‘withdrawn’ to prove a point that without them, traffic jam (which they have been accused of causing) would ensue. Yet, it was wrong of them to abandon junctions where there are no traffic lights.
Why should traffic police officers be deployed in places where traffic lights are functional? It does not make sense for traffic officers to be stationed at traffic lights because this causes confusion. For example, a traffic light will go ‘Red’ (indicating stop) and a traffic cop will signal to a driver to proceed. A traffic light will go ‘Green’ (indicating go) and a traffic cop will tell a driver to stop! A few years ago, while I was watching the evening news, a traffic police officer claimed that they were, “More intelligent than traffic lights.” Really?
The public should not blame Kampala Capital City Authority’s (KCCA) Executive Director Jennifer Musisi, for the comments she made earlier that week on Wednesday, December 13, 2017 while at the Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP 2) review workshop. It is understandable that she and the World Bank would not want any hindrances to the investment of billions of shillings they have put in by installing traffic lights in Kampala. Musisi said, “Traffic Police are not allowing traffic lights to do their intended work. I thought the Police are supposed to come in when someone has broken traffic rules. The lights are computerized and automatically controlled.”
Traffic Police should not be offended when they are accused of causing traffic jam. I have witnessed this several times at junctions where traffic cops tend to prioritize the movement of vehicles on the main road rather than those on feeder roads. A case in point, is the Spear Junction where motorists coming from Ntinda are almost always held up for about 11 minutes (when it should not exceed 5 minutes) while priority is given to drivers along Jinja Road. To make matters worse, when the traffic cops do finally release the drivers from Ntinda-Stretcher Road, they simultaneously release those from the opposite Nakawa-Jinja Road and this almost causes near collisions as all these vehicles connect in the middle of Jinja Road! This gives the impression that traffic police officers are overwhelmed, by the sheer amount of traffic, and need more training. As a result, some drivers coming from Ntinda prefer passing through Naguru, during the morning rush hour, to avoid the mayhem at the dreaded Spear Junction!
Another factor that contributes to traffic jam is Ugandans seem to be more interested in the kind of cars they drive than obeying traffic rules. Many Ugandan drivers are indisciplined, impatient, and disrespectful towards other road users plus they are fond of dangerously overtaking and speeding; partly because they never enrolled in a registered driving school. Over the years, I have heard of stories of Ugandans buying forged driving licenses for Shs300,000. I wonder how many drivers in Uganda have read, or even memorized ‘The Uganda Highway Code’ published by the Ministry of Works and Transport? I wonder how many drivers can read the few, existing road signs because most of them are stolen and sold for scrap metal!
Besides apprehending traffic offenders, traffic police officers should help enforce pedestrians’ rights, which have been largely overlooked such as cautioning motorists to respect zebra crossings, by letting pedestrians cross the road; and ordering boda-bodas off pavements, so that pedestrians can walk in the capital city in peace.
Raising parking fees will not necessarily reduce the number of cars coming into Kampala on a daily basis because motorists will adjust to the new rates. Rather, in the absence of flyovers, the solution is for KCCA to implement the Kampala Metropolitan Rapid Bus Transport Project, which will encourage many people to park their cars at home and fewer privately-owned cars will come into the city on a daily basis—consequently reducing the volume of traffic and the likelihood of traffic jam.
The Writer works for Uganda Media Centre.