For the past two months, I have been using Old Port Bell Road to exit the city after work. Just like many streets in Kampala, the road chokes on vehicular traffic during morning and evening rush hours.
This road is one of many transport arteries with clear traffic signs, and is enhanced with human guides, yet many motorists do not pay attention to either. Strange, isn’t it? Yes, it sounds strange but not surprising and shocking.
Old Port Bell Road crosses an active railway line. Whenever I drive along this stretch, I observe two young men, who I believe are employees of Uganda Railways Corporation, profusely alerting motorists about an advancing train.
Many a time, most motorists blatantly disregard the young men’s guidance. The former assumes they will have driven past the railway crossing by the time the train approaches. They end up endangering their lives, and the safety of the persons travelling by railway, a crime, according to the Penal Code Act, and is punishable by imprisonment for life.
Again, as a regular traveller going about electricity business, I have noted that in some areas old and new road signage have been vandalized by most probably dealers in scrap metal. And it is common for many drivers to claim right of way, with others following ambulances as though the latter are their lead cars.
This impatience and abuse of safety guidelines has grossly impacted on safety on the roads, and claimed many lives. According to the Annual Crime and Traffic Road Safety Report for 2020 by the Uganda Police, 12,249 motor crashes were reported in 2020. Up to 3,269 of them were fatal while 5,803 were serious and 3,177 were minor.
According to one account, most road crash victims are aged between five and 29, meaning their lives were terminated when they still held a lot of promise for the future.
In the Energy Sector and specifically electricity sub-sector, we have been registering fatalities as a result of stealing power and tampering with the electricity lines by unauthorised individuals.
In the month of April 2021, Godfrey Bwire, a resident of Budumba village in Butaleja District in eastern Uganda, died due to electrocution after he came into contact with an illegal live wire, according to Police. The late Bwire is just one of the many cases of electrocution registered due to illegal electricity connections or power theft.
A 2018 Umeme incident report found that illegal connections were responsible for 48 per cent of the electrocution cases inland. The balance was shared between accidental contact with electricity cables and household wiring.
According to Senior Superintendent of Police, Ashraf Chemonges, the Commander of the Alert Squad, many electrocution cases have been reported in the Eastern Districts of Kapchorwa, Bukwo, Sironko and Manafwa where power theft is a common happening.
Many of the households that lose their loved ones as a result of electrocution opt to bury the deceased in the dead of night out of embarrassment and for fear of prosecution in courts of Law.
“It is a sad occurrence that people continue to steal power. We lose many lives. We have heard some people in Sebei bury their loved ones who electrocuted to death at night for fear of being produced in Court for involvement in illegal electricity connections. Let us desist from stealing electricity or else the police will arrest you,” Chemonges warned while addressing residents of Pallisa District while launching an awareness/enforcement campaign dubbed ‘Komboa’ in Eastern Uganda recently.
The rampant power theft in many parts of Uganda, with many individuals connecting themselves to the grid with others bypassing meters and some openly hooking wires to the network not only disrupts service but also claims the lives of many innocent individuals, especially women and children. This has necessitated an engagement campaign to sensitise communities about the dangers of electricity even when it is a known known that electricity kills.
Similarly, Uganda is battling 5 variants of the novel Covid19 which has almost brought global economies to their knees, but our people still give it ‘legs’ by flouting the guidelines Ministry of Health.
Slowly but surely, we seem to be slipping into getting used and normalizing irrational behavior, which is claiming lives of many and might consume our culture, too. There is need to do a little more than the basics; we need to respect regulations. Speak out against objectionable behavior.
The writer Peter Kaujju, is the Head of Communications and Marketing, Umeme Limited