suffer the little children in urban kampala


The day we read the heart-rending story about a four-year old boy in Ntinda who was crushed to death by a wayward lorry this week even as we were recovering from the horrific recount of the teenage kidnappings, I found a man beating up a little boy at the Kitante crossing.

For a few seconds I was confused, because the fellow dishing out the violence was the zebra crossing attendant outside Kitante Primary School, and the child was a uniformed pupil making his way across the road. The child had ran irresponsibly across half the road and the attendant had frantically restrained him from going the other half where the lunch hour traffic was uncontrollably zipping past.

The adrenalin and his relief at having saved the boy’s life combined to trigger off a volley of angry slaps into the face of the little fellow. The boy had been in the wrong and certainly deserved sanction or punishment – but not THAT beating; so I wound my window down and lambasted the zebra crossing attendant, who was startled into halting his attack.

But after a few seconds, his adrenalin still boiling, he shouted at the whimpering child, “If you ever do that again, I will BEAT YOU!”

My own adrenalin or whatever other substance causes angry excitement, had risen at the sight of this fellow unleashing adult violence upon a little boy and memories of our own childhood when we got beaten up by similar adults not for reasons of discipline, but to release their own frustrations of life under most repressive circumstances.

I also felt it was not sensible for him to be threatening the child with further violence, yet was still confused because he believed he was doing it for the boy’s own good.

And then I remembered the little boy of Ntinda.

A neighbour who had seen the accident happen recounted it to us tearfully, complete with details of how the little boy’s minders had jumped to safety on seeing the truck hurtling their way, leaving him in its path. His mother, poor lady, had left them just minutes before to return to her domestic duties.

Once again, examples of children being so unfairly treated by adults who should know better but actually DON’T seem to know better.

I run this small private NGO inside my head whose objective is to stop adults in Kampala from exposing their children to danger as they walk around the city. I noticed this many years ago and began a crusade that I hope is helpful but also returns hilarious results.

Our (so far I am the only employee) task is one: whenever we see an adult walking with a child and that child is on the open side of the road, we tell the adult to place the child on the shielded side, and to hold the child’s hand firmly.

Simple.

We don’t have sidewalks or pavements in most parts of the city, and the majority of us don’t own or operate motor vehicles, so you would be surprised how many lives are mindlessly put at risk in this manner every day.

Cartoon - Beat to death

The adults in question cannot be blamed because it never occurs to them to: a) hold the hand of a child when walking down the road or b) place the child out of harm’s way, on the side that doesn’t have cars being operated by cranky irrational Kampala drivers. 

Most of us were probably raised in an environment lacking the danger of motor vehicles, so the peril posed by traffic and city roads is not present in our sub conscience.

But even people with university degrees, who work in so-called ‘big’ companies where there are terms such as ‘Environmental, Health & Safety’ will be found driving their questionable Japanese cars with children unstrapped in the front seats.

So if a lawyer, auditor, banker, doctor can drive around with their child not wearing a seat belt in the vehicle’s most dangerous seat, while talking on a mobile phone, why would any lower-cadre parent with a humble education think of holding their child’s hand as they walk down a busy road engaged in kaboozi with a fellow housegirl/courier/tea-woman?

That’s why a zebra crossing attendant, while saving your child from being run down by a speeding car, can unknowingly cause him brain damage from a few angrily struck blows. 

Keyword: logic.

7 thoughts on “suffer the little children in urban kampala

  1. Thank you for highlighting these issues. I think I might unknowingly be an employee of your ‘NGO’ seeing as I am always stopping strangers on the way(mostly house helps) and telling them to put the child on the safe side of the road. Shouldn’t the traffic cops be arresting people who drive with little children in the front? Isn’t it a traffic offence? The sight of people driving around with little people faces an inch from the windscreen is an all too common one in this town. It needs to stop

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  2. Thanks Liz, for doing this on your own, but now let’s go on a recruitment drive so that all the people who are unknowingly risking the lives of little children are outnumbered! I won’t say anything about the traffic offences at this point.

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  3. One of my biggest pet-peeves is that scenario…. Adults letting children walk on the ‘dangerous’ side of the sidewalk. I used to see it a lot in Uganda & see it every so often here in the US. A media campaign of sorts might be a brilliant idea! It may save more lives

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    1. I feel like campaigning but fear that steam will be lost eventually and the issue put on a back burner. We have to keep it alive and embed it into everyday life so we have it in consideration when building even our homes so we provide walkways for pedestrians, etc

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  4. Simon, if you were the traffic attendant, what would you have done? How best can we discipline kids without going to the extreme highlighted.

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    1. I would have tackled the discipline quite differently – though it is easy to say that now, especially for someone in my position. The point is, we need to work hard at being sensible disciplinarians and in the way we raise these children into adults who are going to raise children. The problem didn’t start with this traffic attendant, it started with his parents, and their parents before them!

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