By Jeremy Namanya
When tragedies happen, the shock, sorrow and outrage are often followed shortly by the need to lay blame at somebody’s feet. In the wake of the jaw-dropping calamity that befell the passengers of a Gaaga Bus that crashed into a tractor and cargo lorry on Friday the 25th of May in Kiryandongo, we find ourselves looking around for whom or what may have been responsible for the 22 dead and the scores injured and affected. We find ourselves wondering who is to blame.
Blame serves a few purposes more than giving us something to aim our anger at. Blame tells us why whatever happened, happened. Blame tells us who or what made whatever happened, happen. But most importantly, blame gives us hope that if we find the reason for it happening; whatever happened need not happen again.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office states that while there is yet to be a detailed police report, “initial investigations point to out over-speeding and vehicles in dangerous mechanical condition as the cause of the accident.” Now, this is usually the part where we decry a culture of recklessness on our roads, and ask the government to fix our roads or do an unspecific “something” to stop drivers being so recklessness, but then over-look the other factor. Poor mechanical conditions of the cars involved.
Would this accident still have happened if these cars had all been in tip-top shape? Possibly. There are so many unpredictable factors that combine themselves at the worst time to catalyse an accident that it is difficult to say one thing in particular is responsible for a car crash. However, having a mechanically sound vehicle ensures that whatever unforeseen event occurs on the road (as they often do), a driver is in the best position to mitigate the situation and even avoid the accident.
With so many factors that could cause a road accident, including recklessness of fellow road users, and bad road infrastructure, one ought to at least insure that the vehicle in which they travel is in the best possible condition it can be. There is no telling when that really bad pot-hole will get fixed, or when taxis will stop careening on and off the road without warning, but is all that in our control? No, but the faulty brakes that have been squealing for a week are, and are our best hope for survival in case a taxi veers back onto the road as we are avoiding a deep pothole. Uganda has had a mandatory vehicle inspection program run by SGS since 2016, with an estimated 33,000 cars checked since. But at less than 10% of Uganda’s over 300,000 cars inspected, poor mechanical conditions as a cause of accidents are far from being a problem we have dealt with.
The problem with looking to apportion blame when a tragedy happens, is that we are more quick to look outside ourselves and place responsibility there, than to look at ourselves and see whether we could have avoided a similar calamity; what could we be doing in our own lives to ensure our safety? What is in our control? Only when we all collectively take responsibility for what we can control to avoid accidents (whether it is our behaviour, or mechanical condition of our vehicles) will we really see an end to the kind of horror that befell passengers of the ill fated Gaagaa Bus.