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Mugambas killed by a human being, not a motor vehicle

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Mugambas killed by a human being, not a motor vehicle

 Extremely horrifying. Suddenly, violently, the Mugambas – Ulrich Kamurasi, and his first cousins Elli Winyi and Tara Byanjeru- killed by a reckless driver on Friday December 30, 2022. Precious lives of beautiful, innocent young adults, very much in the mid-morning of their promising lives, silenced forever. Their parents and siblings thrown into a darkness that we cannot even begin to imagine. Their friends and relatives shaken to the core by the senselessness of it all, a nightmare that one frantically hopes will be just that – a bad dream that ends with a reunion with those lovely souls that deserved to live their full lives. However, the nightmare is a dark and utterly unbearable truth that Kamurasi, 31, Winyi, 24, and Byanjeru, 21, are gone from us forever. 


Ulrich Mugamba, a very nice gentleman, was my daughter’s friend. He visited us in our home in Toronto. He was a walking example of the power of a good upbringing and solid education.  Likewise, Elli and Tara, the children of our friend Judy and her husband David, were the kind one wanted in one’s corner. When one despaired at the onslaught of moral corruption in the land, and the dumbing down of society by the unthinking embrace of anti-intellectualism, one’s hopes were uplifted by reminders that we had bright, well-mannered young people like Elli and Tara who would move our country forward.


Their maternal grandparents – the Rwakakookos – are among the senior citizens we admire because of their private and public conduct. So, the news of these young people’s deaths is personal to us. We do not know what to say to their families. Frankly, we are in a cold, dark place that disables me from writing with the traditional cheeriness that the beginning of a new year invites. The earlier news of multiple road traffic crashes on Uganda’s roads, and the deaths of new year’s revellers at the Freedom City Mall in Kampala, has triggered a sadness at par with that one feels after a terrorist attack or mass shooting. 


The journalists reported that the Mugambas were killed by “a trailer truck that lost control and rammed into two cars and a boda boda on the Kampala Mityana Road.”  There is a glaring falsehood in this statement. A brainless motor vehicle on a Ugandan road does not kill anyone. It cannot start itself. It cannot drive itself. Therefore, it cannot lose control. It takes a living, breathing human being to cause death in a road traffic crash.  This is not mere semantics. The distorted news reports are informed by an attitude that views motor vehicles as dangerous, but skims over the role of human agency.  So, we need to change the narrative. 


The Mugambas were killed by a human being. The carnage on the roads, in Uganda and everywhere in the world, is almost always the fault of human beings in charge of the driving experience. Scientists have repeatedly demonstrated through excellent research that the main causes of road traffic deaths and injuries are (1) speeding, (2) alcohol and drugs, (3) non-use of motorcycle helmets, seat belts, and child restraints, (4) distractions by mobile phones, (5) unsafe road infrastructure, (6) unsafe vehicles, (7) inadequate post-crash care, and (8) inadequate enforcement of traffic laws. These eight factors are all under human control. Therefore, they are preventable. 


That is one of the reasons I avoid calling them accidents. An accident is an event that occurs by chance or is without apparent or deliberate cause. The consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs are predictable, not accidental. The same applies to driving beyond the legal speed limit or driving without regard to traffic or weather conditions. I have seen people driving fast during a heavy downpour or speeding through the night and early morning fog that clothes the beautiful mountains of Kigyezi. I was not surprised that two buses crashed head on at Rwahi a few days ago because the drivers’ visibility was severely restricted by the fog. Chances are very high that the drivers were flying their death machines as though on a flat road at fogless high noon. 


Consider each one of the causes of road traffic crashes that I mentioned earlier, and you will see that they are under the control of human agency. Acknowledgement of this is a pre-requisite to prevention of this carnage with depressing statistics. Worldwide, 1.35 million people die every year due to road traffic crashes. Up to 50 million survivors of the crashes suffer disabilities. 93 percent of the road traffic crashes occur in low- and middle-income countries which account for only 60 percent of the world’s motor vehicles. Road traffic injury rates are highest in Africa. (They are lowest in Europe.)  With over 7,500 road traffic deaths every year, Uganda has the highest per capita rate of these preventable tragedies in East Africa.  


Reckless driving is a universal problem. Everywhere in the world, roads are deadly paths we tread, never thinking that we may be killed in an instant. In North America, where roads are, for the most part, in excellent condition, the road carnage exceeds most other causes of death. Last month, a 35-year-old woman drove in the wrong direction on the eastbound lanes of a major, multi-lane highway in Toronto. She crashed into a vehicle driven by an unsuspecting 53-year-old man. Both died on the spot.  So, every time I drive in Canada or the USA, I know that I am operating a useful tool that could easily become a deadly weapon, with disastrous consequences. 


However, I am terrified of Uganda’s roads. There seems to be a suicidal streak that has motorists in its grip. I see narrow roads with drivers that disregard Newton’s Laws of motion and drive as though they are in a motor rally. Some attempt to overtake trucks and buses without clear visibility of oncoming traffic. Buses and trucks, many of them with a tilt of the chassis that tempts the laws of gravity to tip them over, fly through towns and hamlets. Bodaboda riders operate in a lawless world that tempts fate every time they ignite the engines of their two wheeled weapons. Pedestrians walk on roads or cross them as though motor vehicles fear them. Cows and other animals share roads with risk-taking drivers. 


While Uganda has wonderful traffic rules on the books, and while the Government has attempted to address the carnage, the results, so far suggest that Uganda will not meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 3.6) to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by 50 percent by the year 2030.  


Kamurasi, Winyi, and Byanjeru Mugamba were buried in Fort Portal yesterday. We ought to honour them, and honour every Ugandan life lost in the road carnage this year, with serious interrogation of how we got to this point. How do we stop the carnage and prevent further pain for parents and siblings of road users? 


To the Mugambas, you are in our hearts and thoughts. We pray for grace, protection, and complete healing of your daughter Viola, who survived the horrific crash. May the Lord enable you to live with the unfillable hole of your children’s irreversible absence.

© Muniini K. Mulera

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