Whenever a speeding car zips past you in a rural hamlet, do you glance at the 30mph sign and begin lamenting political scandals? As a lorry undertakes you on the M25 do you silently curse MPs for claiming false expenses? If you lived in a developing country, maybe you would. Today I stumbled across a research that claims a real, perceptible connection between bad drivers and corrupt government. The report states that bad governance encourages lawless driving through poor accountability, limiting economic advancement, maintaining hierarchical social structures and discouraging legal enforcement. These connections have also been reinforced by other independent studies.
Despite the Miller family’s recent close contact with the bureaucratic complexities of Kampala I wouldn’t dare to point a critical finger at the authorities here in Uganda. So, instead I have decided to create a set of driving directions for my commute from our house in Kirinya to the Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity office (UCLF) in Wandegeya. I call it the alternative AA Route planner (alternative as the AA in this case stands for ‘Accident Avoidance’, not Automobile Association).
The AA Route Planner
From Kirinya, Bweyogerere, Kampala to Wandegeya, Kampala via Northern Bypass.
32 minutes in theory, anywhere between 45 minutes and two and a half hours in reality.
0.0 Leave home (unless heavy rainfall has washed away the road outside your house) and navigate the narrow, uneven murram roads. Take care to drive slowly over the large, protruding rock outside the primary school so as to avoid another scrape on the already scored and dented undercarriage of the car. Beware of scattered and distracted schoolchildren.
0.1 Turn left onto Kirinya-Bukasa Road and continue. Moderate your speed to drive around multiple potholes and roadkill. Ignore passing vehicles that attack the aforementioned potholes at speed as if they were a challenge to the driver’s masculinity. Also pay attention to the temperament of the local roadside cattle herd. If they are docile, proceed as normal, if they appear restless give the ambling bovines a wide berth by passing on the opposite side of the thoroughfare.
1.1 Turn right onto Kireka Road whilst eyeballing the lines of roadside boda bodas (motorbike taxis) for any sign of movement. Be sure to observe in all directions at once whilst proceeding forward as a motorbike could and will appear from any direction. Please note, motorbikes appear always to have right of way, no matter what direction they are travelling.
1.2 Turn left at the Industrial Area Road and approach the railway crossing. Do not look for lights or signal, you will need to look down the track to see any approaching train, which will also announce its arrival via intermittent blasts of a horn. Clear the crossing and continue.
1.3 Turn left onto Namboole Road. Continue to follow the road around the Mandela National Stadium.
2.0 Approach the first of many roundabouts with caution. There are no regulations for roundabout use in Uganda or if there are, nobody appears to know them. Try to join the roundabout swiftly to avoid antagonising the drivers behind you. Once on the roundabout be prepared to brake quickly. Informal rules dictate that vehicles attempting to join the roundabout at high speed always have right of way and you will need to stop sharply to avoid a collision. Do not use your indicators to signal that as these will probably be ignored. A flailing arm out of the window is a more recognised signal of your intent to turn off.
2.1 Pray for protection and mercy as you join the busy Northern Bypass. Watch for the waves of minibus taxis (matatus) lapping to and from the verge. Continue, both to pray and to navigate the bypass. Follow the Northern Bypass for 7.6 miles.
9.7 Hit the inevitable traffic jam at Kalerwe. Continue at tortoise pace whilst continually rotating head 360 degrees to anticipate numerous boda bodas darting in front of your vehicle from several directions. Practice a meditation-like mindset to quell the rising road rage. At the roundabout take the first exit onto Gayaza-Kampala Road.
9.8 You have nearly reached your destination…or have you? Proceed incrementally through the heavily congested market area whilst taking care to give way to bicycles, hawkers, customers, street preachers, children, goats and chickens. Retract side mirrors if you wish to keep them intact. Amuse yourself by marvelling at the objects that can balance on the back of a boda boda – cages full of hens, a windscreen, a metal gate, goats, a sofa.
10.8 After the longest mile of your life take the 2nd exit at the next roundabout. Continue down Bombo Road, past Makerere University and…
11.2 Congratulations, you have arrived whole and healthy at the UCLF office.
Although my morning commute has been given a light-hearted treatment, many accidents occur every day. In 2013 alone 2,937 people were killed in motor accidents in Uganda. In truth, I give a little sigh of relief and thank God each time I arrive at my destination. But I have come to realise that I am not immune to a little careless driving myself. Just as a driver can become more negligent in an environment of poor governance, so those entering into a reckless driving environment can become influenced by it. I did small things at first, cutting up a taxi or using a big 4 wheel drive to bully other drivers on a roundabout. I can recall feeling a flicker of smug satisfaction at blocking other vehicles that were jostling for position with me. Then came angry gesticulations and insults uttered under my breath. It may be that external things such as corruption influence bad behaviour on the roads, but the responsibility for how we choose to respond in any environment is individual, and we need to own it. In this moment I need to commit to driving responsibly and with integrity, as a testimony of my faith. So if you see me traversing the streets of Kampala, dodging potholes in Beira, or gliding over smooth tarmac in Eastbourne please let me know, how am I driving?