Driving in Uganda has become an extreme sport, if you drive regularly, you know what I’m talking about. You would think that with all the purported improvements in road networks, signs and increase in traffic law enforcement, things we would get better, but no.
Why driving in Kampala is just like an extreme sport
Beginning with an old problem, potholes are back. At least during the reign of former Kampala city Executive Director, Jennifer Musisi, they had reduced. We would wiggle and bump over the raised road patches but it was better than breaking car components in ditches.
In fact, “ditches” is the right word, we have morphed from potholes to ditches. In some areas like Najjera and Ntinda, there are potholes the size of manholes. For real, you watch smaller cars like the Vitz and Passo almost fit in the large holes.
So now drivers have changed, they try to minimise damage to their cars by either using the space meant for cyclists, pedestrians, parking and bodas or they use the other lane for oncoming traffic. Some will do it while driving fast so that the cars from the other lane don’t find them, this is a risky game.
So now, its like rally championship dodging potholes, cars, people and other obstacles. There’s a friend of ours who exclaimed, “We were here yesterday, the pothole was small, who dug and expanded it overnight?”
Which brings us to the next challenge, traffic jam. It is everywhere, not helped at all by the increase in potholes or the ongoing construction works on all main roads and alternatives especially in the Ntinda, Najjera, Naalya, Kisaasi and other areas close to the bypass.
Drainages have been dug up, there are construction trucks and stockpiles of material and soil everywhere so, cars are left with narrow pathways to navigate to their destination.
When traffic clogs in some of these areas particularly Ntinda, it has a tendency to extend through Ntinda-Stretcher road to Spear Motors, Nakawa, Naguru to Jinja road, which extends to the city center, Kireka and other areas.
With that said, the extreme sport tactics begin to manifest a lot as there are some impatient drivers who create double lanes and try to zoom as fast as they can to God knows where before oncoming traffic finds them or a traffic police officer.
If a car is coming, they will squeeze into whoever’s side they find, and it is up to you to be alert enough to avoid the collision or scratches.
Large trucks don’t want to stop for anybody, then the bodas that squeeze in front of any car they find in jam with total disregard of their lives and expect you to stop. Others will overtake you from the front and others from the side, it is total chaos.
Then there are these guys, honestly, I sometimes think to start riding a bodaboda, there must be like an informal pledge or oath you take where you sign away your brain and soul to some grandmaster or the devil.
Not all bodaboda riders are bad, but most don’t really give a damn. They are reckless, fast, vulgar and annoying. They will try to squeeze just about anywhere, pavement, in between cars, lanes, if the guy thinks he can make it, he will do it.
The worst thing about this is that even the passengers riding on these accident-prone machines, just sit back with their beating hearts in mouth, and let the bodaboda riders pull off motocross stunts while they pray for a safe trip back home.
Motorcycle riders often forget that a bike is not like a car, one small mistake and you are all gone or disabled. Your body is your shield, most don’t even wear helmets.
If you are a new or faint-hearted driver, you will never drive past them because when you try to join a road intersection, they won’t stop even if the other cars do. They don’t stop at traffic lights; they just zoom past.
And now those traffic lights that offer small windows for off-turns like the ones at Lugogo or Wandegeya, drivers are racing to beat the light, if the guy bumps into a boda, everything will fly in different directions.
I think maybe it is because they feel they are self-righteous and everyone else owes them something, that could be the only explanation and why they rush to mob drivers even when their fellow rider is in wrong.
We can’t change the bodaboda bikers, but I believe we can preach enough to the riders to correct the bikers. If riders wear helmets and always lecture bikers or stop taking bikers that are terrible riders, we could slowly reform this menace.
We can’t talk about bodabodas and miss taxis, both are almost woven from the same cloth. I don’t know if taxi drivers even go to the same driving schools like everybody else, because they seem to operate by very different rules.
They rarely ever use their indicators, it seems like their brakes don’t work, the cars are usually beat up and damaged everywhere, they have close to no back-lights, their tyres are at times dancing like they want to escape and return home, but passengers still board them.
They just join junctions and the road when exiting parking, they park anywhere they find, they just stop without notice and are incredibly impatient. They will hoot enough to drive you mad, put you on pressure and don’t even wait for the light to turn green before they drive through.
Most of the drivers will often just say that they are now used to them, they are crazy and there’s nothing to do about them, but that’s wrong. You all have equal rights to the road and pay taxes. A little respect towards each other would go so far.
It is also really sad that we let them drive like this and recklessly because unlike a private vehicle usually responsible for one or 4 passengers, a taxi/PSV carries more than 14 passengers who would all get injured or lose their lives in one swoop due to carelessness, worse still, there are no seat-belts.
I even laughed when it came to this one, we have all faced it. It is either raining so much that the dirt road to somewhere is slippery and everyone is dancing kadodi after bearing a crazy “rain jam” or it’s too hot you want to abdicate from the car.
For real, Uganda must be one of the few rare countries where even just after a light drizzle, there is an unbearable jam. Then you find a crappy panya (short cut) and get stuck.
If it isn’t the rain, the sun is driving you crazy. The AC can barely save you unless you have enough money to keep it on all day. In public transport means like taxis, don’t expect air conditioning, it is like being in an oven.
So, drivers are more agitated, impatient and confused in these instances thus you are now driving for more than 5 people and have to be extra alert. Someone will either run into you or you’ll end up running into their car.
Over speeding and recklessness
I’m not even against car owners driving their cars fast, but you need to know when and where to test how fast your car can go. This is not a Need For Speed or Forza game, in the real-life, you can die or kill someone and they don’t get a start over.
I am not even going to demonise Subaru drivers this time because most of the instances I’ve brushed close with or witnessed are mostly caused by Toyota drivers and some peeps in government plated cars.
I’ve come to realise it is mostly people in Toyota Wish, Premio, Ipsum, Altezza, Vitz (I honestly don’t know what these ones are thinking), Hilux double cabins, Rav 4 and others that think are speed demons.
You’re driving and a dude flies from nowhere at a junction into the main road without stopping or looking at either side. I bid farewell to anyone driving in Ntinda, Najjera, and Entebbe after the bypass areas, too much confusion and extreme sport.
DUI (Driving Under the Influence)
We have the “I am fine, I will drive home” cases after a few pints or bottles of Jack Daniels and Black Label. They don’t know where their lane is, drive with full beams on and occasionally doze off at the wheel.
If you are reading this and you are one of them, don’t quit going to church or the temple cause, the day you do, you will be one of those we find in ditches still thinking their driving.
Yes, robbers. I have been chased more than twice by robbers at night always and luckily escaped them. They will follow you everywhere and they are pretty fast.
They have no specific hours, but usually start around 11 pm at night and might wait for you at traffic lights like those at Lugogo or in more deserted places then follow you. I’ve never stopped to find out what their end game is.
I suspect they imagine you are not seeing them, and that if you do, that you aren’t experienced enough or are too drunk to outrun them. They will probably follow you home and enter after you, or go back and return with reinforcements then rob your home.
Or you may not be so lucky and they’ll get in front of you and block the road then put you on gunpoint and rob you or take your car. Either scenario isn’t a rose garden. So, you are always driving on tension and fast at night.
There are a lot of other scenarios and cases that have turned driving in Kampala, surrounding towns and much of Uganda into an extreme sport but we couldn’t list them all.
My friends and I freaking out over a possible car robbery incident 😀 😀
This doesn’t mean we have also forgotten about drivers who seem to have dodged driving school, they don’t indicate where they are going, they just turn, drive in full beams, don’t know how to park and so much more.
I think unlike before, it is going to be even harder for new drivers to drive now that it was back in the day. Not because the cars are harder to drive, but because the conditions are more stressful and they are facing worse drivers.
If you have any experiences you would like to share, you can leave a comment.
Lawrence writes about tech, lifestyle, politics, business, crypto and occasionally entertainment. He writes for Newslibre and Spur Magazine while consulting with numerous international companies on strategy, community management and marketing.
He has contributed to the journalism, open source, film, youth, web, Andela and Mozilla communities.