Op-Eds

Last week, Uganda’s roads once again made headlines across the region as we witnessed another accident on Masaka Road in which14 people were killed as they travelled back to their country, Tanzania, after a wedding in Kampala. Naturally, the impact was felt strongly as is wont to happen when a family suffers such tragic and traumatic experience.

The fact, though, is that behind every road crash fatality or injury, there is a trail and trend of events not dissimilar to others. Take the case of this accident. As details emerge, depressing truths have been unveiled by witnesses and in the media. While not all of these have been substantiated by the police investigation team, they remain indicative of the issues we must deal with, if we hope to accord the necessary respect and value for human life on our roads.

In this case alone, we can speak directly and extensively on several policy issues, many of which are properly provided for in legislature. One is the fact that the truck was carrying almost double the acceptable weight in cargo and that it was in bad mechanical condition. Secondly, there was seemingly no evidence of a desperate attempt to apply brakes – often an indicator of one of two things: Either the brakes failed to engage or the driver was not alert enough to try and stop the vehicle. This then leads us to another important issue – the quality of training of our drivers as well as regulations to ensure safe passage of drivers of large commercial vehicles and passenger service vehicles. Last but not least is the fact that the victims of this tragedy similar to many others before them did not receive timely and effective emergency care.

Following investigations, it would be interesting to hear from the police on which factors that have been shared regarding causes and circumstances of this tragedy are actually factual. Whatever the causes, what we have to deal with is another sad entry into our country’s road safety statistics, which remain alarming and should not – cannot – be undermined or ignored.

The Health Management Information System data indicates that the Public Health System is overwhelmed with road traffic crashes which are listed among the ten top leading causes of hospital deaths in the country. In 2014/2015, injuries were the fourth leading cause of hospital deaths, and more than 50% of those deaths were from the road.

While infrastructural considerations are increasingly becoming more vital in efforts to reverse this, it remains important to note that traffic reports show that over 80 percent of accidents in this country are a result of human factors, including lack of professional driving skills. This is particularly sad when one considers that we have policies and regulations, intended to enable improved behavior and therefore safety of all road users or to act as deterrents to bad behavior or practices but often times, enforcement and implementation of policy are inadequate.

Today, the road sector is ultimately the most important mode of transportation in Uganda as it carries 97% of freight cargo and 99% of the passenger traffic. It is therefore imperative that safety on the roads is improved as this would greatly reduce number of fatalities, debilitating injury, loss of property and the public health burden associated with traffic injuries.

The evidenced trend begs all of us to understand that we can prevent these accidents, should we collectively dedicate a few resources to ensure policy implementation. Common sense and respect for human life are at the core of this understanding. Surely, at whatever level of society we are at, we can see and must act on the chilling knowledge that every life lost in a road accident is one death too many.

The writer is the Chief Executive Officer of Safe Way Right Way

In July this year, we launched the Professional Driver Training Uganda (PDTU) project, an initiative aimed at training at least 12 driver instructors and 800 drivers of large commercial vehicles. The project is being implemented by GIZ E4D / SOGA - Employment and Skills for Eastern Africa, Transaid and Safe Way Right Way, alongside the Government of Uganda, as well as development and industry partners.
Questions have been asked frequently during interactions with the public since the launch of the project. Naturally, people want to know what is special, different and beneficial about this training. After all, we see large commercial vehicles driven across the country daily, don’t we?
We see the vehicles driven, yes, but how are they driven? Over the years, in the course of our work at GIZ, we have found missing links between the training world and the job market. This is the case with many fields in Uganda, including welders, plumbers, electricians, scaffolders and drivers. Many of our projects seek to bridge this gap by getting involved in and delivering skilling programmes to help ensure that we do not continue to have a vast alumni network of unskilled “professionals”.
It is a big challenge in a country where the conversation lately focuses heavily on the National Content Policy, including in the oil and gas sector which is going into construction phase soon. There will be many job opportunities for these occupations but can we confidently say Ugandans will benefit directly, when we are aware that we don’t have certified skilled workers whose qualifications meet the requisite internationally recognized standards?
In 2015, Mott MacDonald produced a report on “A Capacity Needs Analysis for Oil and Gas Sector Skills in Uganda”. The report noted that the main impediment to employing a larger share of Ugandans in the sector is a shortage of personnel with adequate experience and skills. Over 1800 professional drivers of large commercial vehicles will be required in this sector over the next 10 years. Yet, where will we find all these professionally trained truck drivers, when up till now, Uganda has only had two driving schools registered to provide professional training for drivers of commercial heavy vehicles?
These are vital questions especially when one considers that petroleum companies have noted that they will not compromise on standards of safety and professionalism for the sake of local content. Without a doubt, training solutions are required.
The Government has committed to endeavour to increase the number of Ugandans with professional skills suited to work for the petroleum sector. GIZ is therefore working with our partners, including the Government, to enhance the capacity of Ugandan drivers. The PDTU project is a model example of how development cooperation will have to work in the future to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Private sector investments are pledged for this project in the form of land, training trucks, buildings and resources. This form of public-private partnership will be key in combatting many development challenges in Uganda.
More professionally trained Ugandan drivers would not only enhance employment and income opportunities for the drivers, but also would help in ensuring that our roads are that much safer. Traffic reports show that over 80 percent of accidents in this country, which take thousands of lives every year and cause further untold damage to families, societies and businesses, are caused by human factors including lack of professional driving skills. Whichever way we look at it, the training can only result in a win-win situation.
The writer is the Country Director of GIZ in Uganda