I think those of you ranting about drivers anywhere in London, had better avoid driving in Kampala. Yes, even here in London we have managed to get mini pot-holes in some areas in addition to appalling drivers that lead you to suspect the method of how they acquired their driver’s licence. However, driving in Kampala seems absolutely anarchic and the rules of the road there take it to another level of road rage. For the uninitiated there appears to be no rules but there are, in fact, here are some important rules for you to understand if you are to survive and enjoy the rest of what Kampala has to offer.
Pot-holes are soon to be a featured tourist attraction for most roads in and around Kampala. Kampala city is the place where pot-holes are born and bred. As a result, 4WD are common vehicles for the cross-country conditions set in a city. So far, Japanese cars appear to be the most tenacious vehicles to cope with these road conditions. Please do not punish your European vehicles by venturing out to test-drive them on these roads unless you have an account with a renown garage to nurse it back to health.
One of the most important rules to keep foremost (guided from the fact that there are no road markings), is that direction of traffic can change at any point of your journey. Be prepared to be rammed from on-coming, sideways and rear-end but in no particular order, by all things that are moving …or not. Be prepared to take the blame/abuse and payout for accidents entirely delivered upon you. Third-party insurance stickers on most vehicles is just a badge of decoration much like the indicator lights or mirror and side mirrors in place. The taxi guy who picked us up from the airport proudly proclaimed he only looked in one direction when he drove – forward.
You will be considered insane or stupid if you stop at the zebra-crossing or to give way to your right on a roundabout…but do it anyway.
Expect traffic cops to stop to check see if you can be booked for irrelevant issues other than those tail-lights or brakes which aren’t working properly.
An additionally important rule is that if the vehicle behind you is going faster than you are (especially if it is a coach or lorry), you are required to get out of the way if there is any shoulder at all upon which you can drive to let the other driver pass. If you run over a pedestrian, ram a parked vehicle or fall into an open drain/ditch on that shoulder; that´s your fault. If there is no shoulder then you are supposed to speed up in order to be polite and avoid being rear ended but that´s your election and your instincts may require you to actually slow down – it´s complicated.
Be aware that no lane markings exist and overtaking can come from all sides by anyone/anything happening to be on the road. In some areas, city cows and goats (literally) will insist on taking walks in the middle of the road, and when it pleases, sit down and rest. Their owners only come out at night to “demand payment” if you happen to have accidentally knocked their animals, but for the greater part, they are no where to be found. They remind me a bit of tax dogders who hide out in cemetries…that’s a story for another day.
Keep in mind that, despite the fact that there MIGHT be posted speed limits on SOME roads, there is by customary dictate, no speed limit and if you are maintaining the posted limit on most roads, you are standing still relative to most of the traffic. Also, persons who consider themselves to be VIP’s will most often ignore the rules and cut across or overtake as and how they feel necessary. Remember:DEFENSIVE DRIVING AT ALL TIMES.
Traffic cops are most active on given highways/streets and roads during pre-lunch and pre-office closing hours – possibly to raise “personal” funds accordingly. It would appear however, that most traffic cops know their routes and intended-victims. I might be wrong in suspecting that they are the actual reason for the grid-lock traffic on occasions.
The most tricky part to drive in Kampala is the Northern-by-pass roundabout near Bwaise-Kawempe where near-anarchy rules at all times of day and night. This is compounded at night when no street lighting is availed. Come to think of it, I counted 5 working street lights in Kampala city, mostly by Garden City and two sections of working traffic lights Wandegeya and Jinja-Kampala Road junction. Even then, these work on a part-time basis. Load shedding might be the cause…
Be prepared to compete with full beam lights whilst driving at night – your eyes do eventually get used to the darkness if you insist on night-time driving. The beauty and freshness of Kampala actually comes to life at night…
A full gas tank to keep your AC working is a worthy investment if you do not wish to have varying shades of colour-schemes to your interiors or your person from the dust.
To avoid cannibalisation of car parts i.e, wipers or side mirrors etc, learn the hot-spots of where not to park your vehicle. I learnt to avoid Buganda Road…Use guarded parking areas. Otherwise Kiseka Market will be re-selling you your car parts.
The experience certainly confirmed Ian Clarke’s observation when he said, “the only time Ugandans are in a hurry is when they get behind the wheel of a car.”