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Keep your eyes on the road, see why Uganda is driving itself crazy



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The best time of year to understand contemporary Ugandan society has come. And the place to study it is on the road. During the festive season and after, you can see on the road behaviour by people that accurately reflects their life off the road.

As Christmas approaches, there are fewer cars in Kampala as many owners and users (of organisation vehicles) head upcountry to their rural homes.

The behaviour on the less congested roads tells their story. The other day, we carefully skirted around a vehicle parked on a suburban road, hazard lights on. Inside, a group were drinking beer from bottles. This included the driver.

The impatience of Ugandans can be seen on roads leading into and out of town. Someone joining the main road from a feeder road sees a car (with right of way) approaching and he speeds up to enter before it reaches the spot. The driver on the main road also speeds up to pass before the one from the feeder can get in. God takes care of both.

With the New Year, the heavy traffic returns to the city. The awful congestion itself tells the story of our sense of organisation and ability to act in the interest of society, but most drivers think they are terribly important and everybody else can go to hell.

You find drivers overtaking cars that are bumper to bumper, race ahead and come face-to-face with oncoming vehicles, then start to force their way back into the line they had left. This happens thousands of times a day in Kampala, meaning the nasty people are not the exception.

We won’t mention the hundreds of VIPs with armed guards and sirens who scatter everybody off the road like we are stray dogs.

Where you have two or more lanes, they are clearly marked as you approach junctions, to show the lane for turning left or turning right or going ahead. Someone knowing very well they are going ahead takes the turning lane just to be ahead of others, and then cannot proceed when the light signals his lane to move, thus blocking those behind who were in the rightful lane, until their light turns red and the one to go ahead turns green, then he fights to enter the lane he should have been in, all the time cursing whoever doesn’t make way for him. Again these are not exceptions but almost standard practice.

Does it then surprise you that the country is lagging far behind where it should be? With such attitudes of impatience, would it surprise anyone that most of the businesses we set up fold before their first birthday?

Do you still get surprised when an average Ugandan is told the business will yield a 20 per cent profit in a year and he dismisses it as “not working”?

Would it surprise you to find that many people look for jobs but have no intention of working hard at the job, or even working just hard enough to meet the expectations of the employer? Even those not working at all expect a full salary?

That is how easy it is to study this society: Just watch the road – and predict its future.

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