Burying our heads in the sand with regards to Namungoona Fuel tanker

Saturday 29th June 2013 brought what is possibly the worst fuel tanker to occur on Ugandan soil.

In the relative quiet of the night, residents of Namungoona, a Kampala suburb, familiar with the croaks of frogs in Lubigi marshland and occasional raving from engines of vehicles firing on the Northern Bypass, were audience to a tragic occurence. On Saturday night, it was a macabre unraveling of tragedy.
Fueltanker01

Several fatalities consisting of boda-boda riders. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE

To me this occurrence and the ensuing reactions from all corners (accident, response or lack/limited of emergency services or first aiders etc…) did not come as a surprise. What was perhaps the redeeming fact, was the number of fatalities.  This was an ‘accident’ among so many to unravel, waiting to happen.  It  is only by God’s grace and alertness that the numbers were not much higher.

Police officers check burnt motorcycles at the scene of the accident on the Northern Bypass yesterday. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE

Police officers check burnt motorcycles at the scene of the accident on the Northern Bypass. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE

Cars and vehicles burn in Ecatepec, Mexico

Scene of aftermath shortly after tanker exploded

At around 22.00hrs (GMT) an online status from one of my acquaintance raised the developing tragedy. Yet all the main media channels in Uganda were either preoccupied with foreign news on Obama’s Africa visit, issues in Syria, or entertainment coverage of the BET awards etc. In fact my online social network acquaintance recorded as the president being abroad in Tanzania without any indication of him flying in to check out the developing tragedy.

Prez M7 at scene of accident

President Museveni at the scene of accident at Namungoona on Monday 1st July. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE

PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE The President soon put to rights this PR setback.  Shortly not long after the tragic events, not only did he visit the accident scene, but went to the national hospital offering 5million UGX to relatives of the deceased to cover funeral costs… It was tweeted that the fuel tanker collided head on with a Toyota Ipsum before overturning and falling causing people to rush to the scene for free fuel.  Most of these young boda-boda transporters had turned up to make good the flow of “free” fuel from the stricken tanker are believed to be the fatalities because the fuel tanker burst  into flames burning them all. On count, over 30 boda-bodas were burnt during the inferno. Residents say they were carrying people who had stopped to collect the fuel tweeted Sms media Uganda Sunday morning.

aftermath of the explosion

aftermath of the explosion

The fact that the online community is what availed most of us far afield to learn about this tragic event is perhaps an indication of perceived priority of the government media organs on ground. Same goes to factor for the limited if not reserved response by the emergency services in the country…if at all they exist. The ensuing reaction of the public to this tragedy on a background of President Museveni’s 5million pledge to relatives of the deceased is perhaps what has prompted me to make sense of this.  There is way too many questions on my part to be caught up in the emotional reactions to the tragedy that unraveled. First of all, I recall from past experience road safety and regulations in Uganda. This is simply a joke.  Whereas some eye witness accounts have gone to state that the explosion occurred after the tanker went off the road, the way most road users in Uganda behave when driving is perhaps an indicator of such pending tragedies. Fact being that lack of lighting on roads at night, combined by the reckless attitude of most road users, especially those in large vehicles like lorries/trailers is a recipe for disasters such as these.  I know. I almost got run off the road by a huge trailer on Bombo Road at night, the driver who even when we took recording of his driving and registration details, didn’t seem perturbed. People drive recklessly to get to their destination completely oblivious to other road users – if at all, not even give a damn. Most often its persons who consider themselves more important human beings to others, that sets precedence. The response of Uganda’s emergency services to scenes of accidents is questionable…the methodology of ferrying victims to the only national hospital is almost a certifiable death sign-off.  Assuming they make it and survive the limited resources met out at the national hospital.  In this incident especially, persons with burns are most likely to die from secondary infections they will acquire at the hospital. Traffic police in Uganda seem to have differing priorities to their allocated job.  They have bursts of action dependent on time of day or seasonal demands… most often  more concerned with collecting kintu kidogo than enforcing traffic regulations.

scene of namungona post accident

Recovered boda-bodas of fatalities from the explosion

From the emotional reaction to the death toll, one could be excused for blaming poverty as the cause of the young persons who rushed to siphon fuel from the tanker. Truth be said, these persons were hoping to get free fuel that they hadn’t paid for from an unfortunate occurrence to the tanker driver. It is debatable they were willing to listen to the tanker driver warning them to stop… Yet society is excusing these victims’ actions on poverty, yet again reinforcing the conciliatory acceptance of corrupt practice that has become so endemic that most don’t even recognize it anymore when practiced. Issues then become politicized because persons have failed to take personal responsibility and ownership of their collective actions, often opting to apportion blame or scapegoating, and/or exploiting;  whichever suits their perception or political affiliation.  Resulting in shelving/staving off the implementation of any beneficial suggestions that could redress the causes or issues. Bottom line is – the current governance in place is to blame for failure to: empower citizens to make the appropriate choices in fighting the moral decline in society; failure to sensitize citizens  to have faith in the judicial and legislative system which for the greater part functions on selective mode for the elite citizens,  whilst exploiting the ignorance that surrounds most practice that has come to be acceptable. God really loves Uganda and it’s only when He is distracted or blinks that such tragic incidents occur.

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Why solidarity is a challenge among some in the African communities

building in progressThe idea to pop in to our nearest DIY shop only took on out of being asked to wait for another hour to get the car’s headlights aligned in order to have it pass its annual MOT.  Otherwise, given the fact that I felt like death warmed over and the weather outside further compounding the pitiful situation, my bed would have been the better alternative straight after the necessary car service.

Topps Tiles is not a DIY shop I’ve frequented before although I have heard of it and seen their TV adverts.  Normally we head down to Homebase if we need to work on anything around the home.  But this time round given the vicinity to this particular one to the place our car was being serviced, and the awful weather, we found ourselves dropping in. It was purely out of curiosity on my part – but also to get out of the rain and cold I must admit.

I have to say, this “window shopping” episode turned out to be quite an eye-opener. I am not saying I’m leaving Homebase – that would be silly given that they do have more of a range on offer in their stores.  But when it comes to specialisation in the tiles or wood flooring, I am won over by Topps Tiles.  We were very impressed by the range of services they had but more so, their sales staff who went out of their way to give us full attention, guidance and advise, even throwing in a free DIY DVD that trains you how to lay tiles etc!  It is a pity the costs of exporting most of what we want to use abroad in another building project outweighs our budget, but if this wasn’t the case, I would most definitely buy and export.  Still we were very impressed by all we learnt and saw.

The sales person giving me a set of business cards for people who could come and lay the tiles down for us after purchase brought me to recall a fellow Ugandan in the diaspora who is in this line of work.  I was about to start searching through my contacts when something my husband said stopped me. You see, being a very private individual, my husband is very cautious about who he allows in to our home – especially if they happen to be from Uganda. Experience has made him evolve to guard his private dealings.  Some of this caution I have come to appreciate stems from the lack of confidentiality or inability to isolate in a professional manner what is work, from social affairs of discourse.

Perhaps it is a cultural thing from having lived abroad for so long by both us in that it is disconcerting to head to a shop to purchase something and for the owner or sales person of the shop to lay claim to knowing you so well that he/she will happily share this knowledge (sometimes imagined or assumed) with whomever pops along or cares to listen. Or to expect you to know so and so in the Ugandan community, the current politics of this and that etc…basically the assumed social elements that appear to be so natural but which unfortunately come across as intrusive if not inquisitive.

My guess is that this is why most Africans shy away from utilizing their kinsmen. This, or the old adage: familiarity breeds contempt.  It is easier to pay someone to come do a job you’ve contracted them to and not worry about them using the opportunity to fill up on information for their social networks as to who is who and what they do or have to anyone willing to give audience.

Lack of professionalism in relation to undertaking work of any kind remains any to some persons and sadly this is not just in contractual work of this nature alone, but in other areas such as in nursing and beyond. It is partly why most persons in the African communities would not share the causes of their illness or any social issues.  This is costing Africans solidarity in being able to pool together resources, skills and finances that would bring about sustained positive empowerment and development.

I would dearly love to utilise the skills of my fellow kinsmen but how can I obtain guarantee that their only stake in working the job given is to ensure it is restricted to just that without coming across as being a snob or a pompous individual?