Traffic in Kampala

How to describe traffic in Kampala… it’s not the craziest we’ve ever seen (that would probably be Bangkok or Phnom Penh) and it’s probably not the most aggressive we’ve ever seen (that would be Turkey) but there’s something special about it… it might be the matatus – the white vans (much like ours) packed with passengers that stop pretty much anywhere they darn well please and just zip back out into traffic whenever they feel like… they’re basically the public transit system of Kampala. There’s a driver and a conductor. The driver drives and the conductor entices/encourages passengers to get on and collects the money. They don’t follow a schedule or any particular route… basically you pays your money and you go where it takes you… you and a dozen or more passengers… they’re a big part of the reason nothing ever starts on time in Kampala and while they’re a necessary service, they clog up the traffic pretty bad…

And then there’s the bodas… dear lord the bodas… they’re everywhere… they’re not quite scooters… not quite full blown motorbikes… they’re some sort of time-bending, warp drive enabled, space folding vehicle of the future… they squeeze between vans, zip in front of trucks, dodge buses… if we had a dollar for every time we thought someone was going to be squashed and somehow emerged unscathed, we’d all be very rich… and they’re not just hauling people… we’ve seen them piled with mattresses, pineapples, construction equipment, recycling, and an endless variety of families, babies, tourists and whatnot. Sometimes they where helmets. Most don’t… probably so they can see and hear everything around them so they don’t get smacked… there are some companies (Safe Boda being one of them) that have standards, follow the rules, wear helmets and make their passengers wear helmets but they’re definitely in the minority. Most seem to just say “screw it” and let ‘er rip…

Now add in full size buses, four wheel drive safari vehicles, construction equipment, potholes capable of swallowing tanks, police trucks loaded with heavily armed officers, Royal convoys, guys selling vegetables and fruits, people zipping to and fro, dogs, goats, cows and the odd mzungu looking forlorn and lost and it’s a wonder Patrick’s hair isn’t snow white and falling out… there are few (we’ve seen maybe 3) stop lights, virtually no stop signs, no street signs to speak of, the traffic police wouldn’t dare stand in the actual intersection so they mostly just whistle and wave in random patterns (I swear one guy was just swatting flies) or write tickets… and then a military or police vehicle comes roaring through the seemingly impenetrable wall of vehicles and everyone gets the heck out of the way… there are no sidewalks… few zebra crossings (crosswalks) and it’s every person for themself…

Probably the only saving grace is that the drivers are all pretty chill about it all… they’re aggressive sure but only because if they weren’t, we’d still be at the airport waiting for a break in the traffic… maybe it’s more accurate to say they’re assertive because we haven’t seen much actual aggression… mostly they cut you off, lock up the brakes and then everyone smiles and laughs… and lays on the horn of course… once in a while they might make a gesture or make a comment (their window is only inches from yours at times) to show that you went too far or someone might do something particularly stupid and others will let them know, but for the most part it all actually works… insofar as we haven’t seen any accidents or road rage… which is good, because it would probably take a tank to get to the scene of the accident because there’s no room for the drivers to move over and let emergency vehicles by…

When you leave the city and start driving, say to Masaka, the potholes get bigger. The trucks get bigger and slower… the bodas are joined by tuktuks and assorted other vehicles (most of which are built like tanks). The dust is everywhere… and police checks… in the 4 hours we were on the road, we passed through at least 15 of them and were pulled over (for absolutely no reason we or Patrick could discern… except perhaps to be lectured by the traffic cop on what his hand signals mean)… these stops include full-on spike barriers and lots of machine guns…

And on top of all this, they drive on the wrong side of the fecking road!!! All in all, you would be quite literally out of your mind to try and drive in this country. Save your sanity. Save your hair. Your marriage. Your hopes and dreams for the future and hire a local driver… and update your will…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s