KAMPALA- If it is true fools learn from experience as the saying goes, then we Ugandans cannot be categorised as fools because not even experience has had the ability to teach us much.
The year 2018 has been awash with disasters just like several years before. Indeed no one should be blamed for the occurrence of such disasters, but our response to is where the shoe pinches. Over the last 30 years, our response has virtually followed a similar trend starting with lamenting and ending with identifying a group of people to blame. Even with the establishment of an entire Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, our country remains as unprepared for disasters as ever before.
In October 2018 disaster struck Bududa again. River Suume swept several houses away; the most recent landslide in the area. Several died. The incident was a lead story in all media. Political leaders and journalists were part of the traffic to the area that kept the public updated on the incident. The last verdict was that the affected people were supposed to have left the area long ago as government through the office of the Prime Minister had bought them land in Bulambuli, which land was said to be uninhabited awaiting the arrival of the Bududa slides victims. Later the story said the procured land was not habitable as it was a swamp. It later turned out that the land was actually not in a swamp and was being occupied by people not cleared to take up the land. An investigation into the land acquisition was suggested and that closed the Bududa landslide case, probably until disaster strikes again.
The St. Bernard SS Mannya inferno that left 11 students dead and many injured got us asking important questions: how could a dormitory catch fire at 11pm, and there are no askaris or teachers to help yet they all reside within the school? How did an outsider enter the school (that is said to be fenced) at 11pm, lock the dormitory, set it ablaze yet leave unnoticed? How could the school expel students for indiscipline and then allow them to stay in the vicinity of the school? After the attempt to burn the school two days earlier, why hadn’t the school stepped up security? The list of questions continued. In the analysis of this case one could think that Manya was the first school in Uganda to burn. Buddo Junior’s fire incident seemed to belong to the distant past and yet after Buddo, several other schools have caught fire although there is no conclusive report on any incident. Up to today there are no pragmatic measures by the ministry to make schools less prone to fires.
As the Mannya case lingered on, the River Mayanja floods provided the country with a new topic of discussion. The flooding reports had started a few days earlier in Kawempe; in the traditional Bwaise and Kyebando areas. Nalukolongo and parts of Nateete were also on the list. The floods list is old, only Namayumba, parts of Kakiri and Masuliita were unlucky to join as new comers! In fact in early September, just before the rains Dr. Mary Kitutu, the State minister for Environment had advised residents in waterlogged areas to leave and find friends and relatives on higher ground to provide them shelter until the rains cease. Sound advice, but how practical is it questioned. As people became victims of the floods we as a country were at what we do best – talking. The Bwaise people blamed the extensions on the Northern Bypass, those in Nalukolongo blamed KCCA for not constructing the channel.
Councillor Ssegirinya attempted to carry a jerry can of water to KCCA Executive Director Jennifer Musisi’s office in protest but he got arrested midway his journey and that is how the flood story ended in a magnificent display of comedy with no suggestions on how the floods can be permanently stopped.
Then in came the killer boat cruise. The new topic got us off all the old disasters. It is one disaster that has kept the country on tenterhooks: the police and the UPDF were on water and in air looking for bodies; Brian White was at the scene too as residents were busy trying to pull the mega boat, 300 meters off the shore and lying on the lake floor, with ropes and bare hands.
Social media sensationalists were writing and supplying stories on Prince Wasajja and how he escaped as well as giving him some pieces of advice, while traditional media gave giving timely updates on the incident. The religious were praying over the dead…we were all basically busy.
I read Irene Kiiza’s article “Why we should mourn and mourn…” and could agree no less. Sadly, there had been a major ferry accident in Tanzania on the same lake three months earlier, but we did not picked any lesson. Katikkiro Peter Mayiga has suggested a central communication system to control travel on the lake, which is very sound advice. MV Templar should have sent a distress signal and the marines would have intervened quickly then we would not have lost all those lives.