There seems to be some slight decline in the number of ghastly road crashes that had become commonplace in December and January in Uganda. The most memorable video of that dark season, however, was not featuring desperate victims bleeding to death in a mangled wreckage. It featured a guy enjoying a chicken drumstick.
The guy eating a delicious meal of chicken, gravy and some starchy mash was also doing something else. He was driving a bus with scores of passengers on board, in addition to attentively following a conversation by other guys seated in the front of the bus.
Much of the time he was eating the chicken and the other food items with both hands, leaving the steering to be steadied by the invisible hand of God. As he had no spoon, he was slurping the gravy by the lifting the bowl containing the meal to his mouth.
So, for those moments, the bus was being driven by someone whose eyes were in the bowl and whose hands were on the bowl.
The chicken-chewing bus driver kind of brought a comical climax to the December-January road massacres that were claiming fifteen human lives a day plus inflicting permanent injuries on many more.
While people caught in mischief on camera are usually followed up and prosecuted, this guy was not hunted possibly because the bus did not crash, so why “persecute” him?
But, in the current lull, the authorities are also relaxing, and so is the public, until the next horrific crash that will claim a dozen plus lives in a lorry built to look like a bus. That is what those coffins on wheels really are — a lorry engine and axle with a bus-like body built by high profile jua kali artisans in East African cities.
Reduced cost goods
Let us give credit where is due, these trucks built to look like buses have reduced the cost goods in the shops because they offer traders cheaper transport rates for merchandise.
When a truck designed to bear 20 tonnes is fitted with seats to carry 80 passengers whose average weight is 60 kilogrammes, the engine ends up carrying only a quarter of the weight it was made to carry (4,800kg instead of 20,000kg).
So, what do the “bus” builders do with the remaining 15,200kg capacity?
They build a coach that seems to run in the sky, with passengers sitting up there like sight-seeing tourists, leaving a cargo-holding space below the passengers and above the wheels level where sacks full of grain, boxes of soap, crates of beer and other things are carried during the journey.
With the passenger lorry, sorry passenger bus, the operators are already making enough profits on travellers’ tickets, so a hundred percent of the charges for carrying cargo are “clear” profits.
And if you think all petrol in this region is moved in tankers, then you don’t know everything that those cargo holds below the passengers hold.
So the good God has spared the coaches that carry jerry cans of petrol from crashing, otherwise the UEDs (unintended explosive devices) would cause mourning in the 80 families where the human bomb ingredients hailed from to board.
You don’t want to compare the highly computerised calculations that go into the fine design of buses that are designed to be buses to make them safely stable with the estimates by the jua kalis who convert lorries into buses.
But, if our incomes dictate that over 90 percent of bus passengers travel in machines that were promoted from lorries, the way some women (and some men from a place that has a lot of gold and music) promote their skins from dark to light, then let the transport machines be well inspected and certified before they are allowed onto the road.
Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]