first, let’s focus our irritation on the urban planners

AFTER a three-hour journey covering ten kilometres of a tarmac road last week, I was sufficiently incensed at one group of people in particular, and hereby call for our national attention to be turned straight onto them.

See, there is no way we should be suffering with this phenomenon that links specific and predictable factors to the creation of the heavy traffic that disrupts so many lives in so many ways.

We all know when it is going to rain and we all know when schools are in or out. Rain and other weather patterns are regularly made available to us by way of the internet via mobile phones and computers.

For those still living in the past, every night there are television news bulletins that even show us graphics of raindrops, as if to accommodate those within our society who are so dim-witted they cannot recognise the four letter word ‘rain’.

As for school holiday schedules, those could be harder to identify if one doesn’t have a child resident in a boarding school. But for all the irritation they cause road users, surely we should do what I do and keep checking with parents of these children to mark the dates when they will be thronging the roads to take pilao and Minute Maid juice on visitation dates, or to pick them up for holidays.

My three hour trip last week almost put me in trouble but the person I was going to meet was also delayed, and so we agreed to change our meeting time and venue.

That day school hadn’t yet broken out but I presume most parents had whipped out their extra cars a few days early in order to test their suitability for ferrying teenagers back for the holidays.

This coincided with a rainstorm of significantly heavier proportions than normal suddenly erupting mid-afternoon and trapping us in gridlocks created by the stupidity and selfishness of road-users who couldn’t see or think beyond the number plate immediately in front of them.

A really bad traffic jam – in a photo taken from and, luckily, NOT in Kampala

Many others suffered worse. My friend, Matthew Lorika, got caught in the horrendous traffic en route to a business meeting along Jinja Road that he couldn’t miss otherwise a large crop upcountry would have suffered.

Assessing the heavy Jinja Road traffic and the rainstorm looming above, he ditched his car and hopped onto a boda-boda so he could get to his destination quickly, finish business and return before the downpour. The traffic was so bad that even the boda-boda got caught in it!

He made his trip and presentation of his sample for processing and export, but had to hang around for hours waiting for the rain and traffic to clear.

In those traffic jam situations I normally join everybody else in giving way to Ambulances and every time I think to myself how unlikely it is that the sufferers inside them will make it to hospital in time to recover.

And last week I considered who those occupants might be, going through many professions. Some made me smile – like if taxi drivers could ever go on one of those life-saving rides, would they thereafter be more considerate about parking in a way that blocks traffic flow? That almost had me giggling with glee at the possibility.

But not as much as the thought of what would happen if Urban Planners were caught in life-threatening situations, put into an Ambulance, and then found the traffic so bad they couldn’t make it to the hospital on time.

That got me thinking a bit more. Who are these Urban Planners, in Kampala or Uganda?

Because I haven’t studied it professionally I had to google the phrase ‘Urban Planning’ and found it defined as: “a technical and political process concerned with the development and design of land use and the built environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure passing into and out of urban areas, such as transportation, communications, and distribution networks.”

I can only presume that we have such people employed in our central and local governments because I see it is available for study at University level in Uganda. While other institutions offer related courses, Makerere University lists a ‘Bachelors Degree in Urban Planning’ as well as a ‘Masters of Science in Urban Planning and Design’!

So where are the people who study these things? Where did they find jobs? And if the people who took those jobs in places like Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) and all districts simply didn’t study for their jobs professionally, then we need the Police and Inspector General of Government and other forces to flush them out of office.

Surely the least these Urban Planners could do for us would be to announce when traffic will be heavier because of school schedules, so that we make conscious decisions to stay out of it? But no – they didn’t study any of this in school at any level, obviously.

Which makes me wonder what THEY do when caught in that traffic? Are they not irritated by it all? Or are they the ones speeding through with Ambulances and convoys with pseudo-strobe lights?

Do our Urban Planners own the fuel companies that benefit so much from the time we spend idling and crawling in traffic jams?

One way or another, there is something not right, so while the IGG and Police work out how to deal with this, since as road-users we can’t check for the weather forecast or school schedules or change our selfish driving habits, I propose a bridging solution:

Let’s give Urban Planners special number plate markers like the ones of ministers, so we can see them on the road. And let’s create some reverse sirens and strobe-lighting so that when they approach we make them stay at the very back of any line of motor vehicles they meet.

If we can just pile up all our traffic irritation onto this one group of people, it will most certainly be a beginning to getting them to solve this issue. If.

yambala elementi yo! (wear your helmet!)

Photo by Catherine Nampeera

I BOUGHT a motorcycle helmet the other week, and now go with it almost everywhere these days – making a point to carry it out of the car and into coffee shops and offices.

I do NOT use boda-bodas. More accurately, I have successfully avoided using boda-bodas for a very long time now, and intend to continue doing so.
My reasons might be different from most but include, in order of importance: 1. A keen interest in living to a respectable age 2. A strong desire to keep all my body parts intact and functional while living to that respectable age 3. The internal discomfort that boda-boda rides involve, for me, because of the daredevil nature of the average boda-boda chap, and; 4. The external discomfort that they involve because of my body mass in relation to the size of an average boda-boda seat.
But I do use boda-bodas by proxy, because there are people that I work with whose nature of work makes travel by boda-boda expedient and sensible even if most of the people that operate the machines are rarely the latter.
For years, I have been asking many of these colleagues of mine to acquire and use helmets as they ride round the city. I also, whenever the opportunity arises, find it both easy and necessary to tell even the most random boda-boda riders that they must wear helmets on duty.
At one point my tactic included shouting at them as they whizzed past: “Gundi; yambala elementi yo!”, because the phrase always raises mirth in me. Like Fulampeni and Kabada and Bulekyi-Food (a bottle of which I once bought in Wandegeya just so I could say the word out loud repeatedly in conversation).
I stopped shouting out the ‘Yambala Elementi Yo!’ phrase when an easily startled fellow in Kitintale, I later learnt his name to be Muwamadi, responded by swerving almost into a perimeter wall.
Ironically, even though I was the cause of his near-death experience I engaged him in a conversation about how he would surely have spread his brains all over that nearby wall if he had not brought the bike under control quicker. He did point out, shakily, that the entire conversation would have been unnecessary if I hadn’t shouted him down.
Explaining irony to him would have been painful (less than the accident itself), so I focused on the point that the accident that didn’t happen to him was likely to one day occur because the manner in which we stop boda-boda chaps is by shouting them down as they whizz past us on the road.
I pointed out to him the inconvenience he would have introduced to the homeowner who would have had to wash blood and brain splatter off his wall, and the trauma I would have suffered having watched his skull crumple against said wall. More importantly, though, I pressed upon him the burden his wives (he has two) and children would have faced if he died that day or became crippled.
The conversation ended with him promising to wear his ‘elementi’ (by the way – that’s vernacular for ‘helmet’) rather than perch it on the handlebars of his bike – and I have spotted him doing so a couple of times since.
From our conversation I suspected Muwamadi does not have a university degree, and I would be surprised if he showed me a senior six leaver’s certificate in his name.
Unlike most of my colleagues.
So my patience with him and others of his ilk in the matter of the use of protective wear is somewhat condescending. He cannot know better, poor fellow, and has to be spoken to gently and slowly. Where possible, I believe he and people like him need to be shown pictures and have skits performed for them.
Unlike most of my colleagues.
A person with a University degree taught in a language originating in countries where the use of protective wear is almost automatic should have no excuse for not wearing a helmet.
A person whose entertainment consumption includes foreign feature films in which people ride about wearing helmets and even padded clothing should not need to be told to dress up wisely for a bike ride.
A person who reads books and magazines where items like helmets are commonplace should not need to hear the call ‘Yambala Elementi Yo!’.
One of my colleagues uses an iPhone and Macbook, and spends lots of time in trendy coffee shops and cozy bars serving pricey drinks and sumbusas that cost more than Muwamadi’s average domestic meal (both wives and all children inclusive).
Yet she neither owns her own helmet nor uses one provided by a boda-boda chap. Her reasons are illogical enough for me to hope that one day her University and secondary school uses them to withdraw her academic qualifications.
What is the cost of a helmet? Not the ones that look like a 1940s war relic or an upside down washing powder bucket (500gms). How much is a padded helmet with a visor that swings down and swishes that look trendy?
Twenty Thousand Shillings. (UPDATE: TO BUY A HELMET, CALL 0775074834
or 0703170934 – I get no commission whatsoever and the people behind those numbers do not know me at all, to the best of my own knowledge.)
About the same as the consultation fees one pays at any clinic near you. And much, much cheaper than the cost of a funeral.
I bought two – one for me, and one for the colleague who I send directly onto a boda-boda. The rest, I insist should travel by taxi or walk, because I don’t want their blood on my hands or splattered all over a roadside wall.