Uganda – Saving lives through safer roads
Committed to promoting safer mobility
Every year, over 10,000 people die in road traffic accidents in Uganda. This shocking figure is an estimate by the World Health Organization (WHO), which says Uganda has the world’s 20th highest road fatality rates per 100,000 population (27.4)(1). With road safety a serious and growing public policy issue, it’s clear that action is urgently needed – and Barbara Mwanje agrees. As CEO of Safe Way Right Way, Barbara is working hard to save lives on Africa’s increasingly busy roads.
Barbara joined the award-winning NGO, Safe Way Right Way (SWRW) in 2012. She’s appalled by the level of carnage in her country and determined to make a difference: “It’s tragic how bad Uganda’s road safety record is, she says. I feel a strong desire to be part of a change.” Safe Way Right Way is the result of a collaboration between the World Bank and Total. Established in 2012, its goal is to improve road safety on Africa’s economically critical corridors (the African Road Safety Corridors Initiative or ARSCI). These corridors include the main roads linking Mombasa (Kenya) to Kampala (Uganda) and Bujumbura (Burundi): a major transit route with a poor road safety record.
Counting the cost
In Uganda, fatal accidents are horrifyingly common. “The most at risk are males between the ages of 19 and 45,” says Barbara. These men are often the breadwinner of the family, whose death leaves financial worries as well as orphans and widows. Barbara acknowledges that such accidents are devastating on a number of levels. “It’s a struggle for kids to continue in school, for families to keep a roof over their heads. For people that become disabled, there are medical bills. Families must work to pay them, which leads to a vicious cycle.” Such tragedies are why Barbara is driven “to make an impact” for the people of her country.
A successful career in road safety
As CEO of Safe Way Right Way, Barbara is making change happen every day: “I manage the organization, implement programs and report directly to the managing directors of SWRW member companies.” At the heart of her work is the urge to provide public service, which she’s had throughout her career. Before SWRW, Barbara worked for other road safety organizations including Arrive Alive and the Global Helmet Vaccine Initiative.
This experience is helping Barbara tackle the issues she faces today. “With every intervention there are challenges,” she says – and it’s clear they take many forms. “Building partnerships is an uphill task, she admits, as local officials sometimes think we’re here to criticize.” The need for greater resources is another problem: “We can only stay four to six months for an intervention, says Barbara. Once we leave, we need to make sure that new practices are continued.”
Safe Way Right Way in action
Despite many obstacles, the statistics show that SWRW is gradually making an impact. The NGO’s efforts in Uganda currently focus on a variety of initiatives. The team identifies accident black spots, visits town councils and implements road safety measures near primary schools. “We have one-day training with teachers and students,” says Barbara, “and we identify crossing guides.” The result? “Four months after the intervention, 70% of children are using the crossings,” she says. “It’s good to know that there’ll be no further fatalities.”
School zones aren’t the only area where SWRW has achieved success. Barbara also points to “a real reduction in the number of injuries” due to speed reduction measures on roads. “There’s been an average reduction of 24% in speed and a 54% reduction in the proportion of speeding vehicles, she explains. We place life-size dummy police officers along the road, which makes drivers slow down.”
Meanwhile, Barbara has been leading other vital SWRW projects: a driving school for Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) and passenger vehicle drivers, community sensitization and road safety awareness advertising campaigns. In 2017, all this hard work was rewarded with a prestigious Prince Michael International Road Safety Award. For Barbara, it was “a huge moment” and one of her most inspiring.
Advocacy and the future
While there’s good news, Barbara knows her challenge is ongoing. And that’s one of the reasons that she continues to lobby for more resources and better legislation. The recently launched SWRW Legislative Action Plan is designed to ensure that the issue of road safety gets more attention in Parliament and wider society. And Barbara sees even greater levels of advocacy as the way to deliver long-term improvements in the future. But for now, she is content in what she finds “a highly gratifying role”. Though every accident brings sadness and frustration, it also gives Barbara the motivation to keep fighting for improvement.
In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 64/2551, which proclaimed 2011-2020 the Decade of Action for Road Safety. The goal of the Decade is to reduce the growing trend in road traffic deaths, and to save an estimated 5 million lives over the period. The Government of Uganda is a signatory and Safe Way Right Way is working to fulfill key UN objectives.
1-3 year objectives
- To reduce speed along the corridor.
- To reduce vulnerable road user incidents.
- To improve corporate fleet safety through selfregulations.
3-5 year objectives
- 59 % To introduce and implement quick win solutions to traffic related fatality and injury.
- To develop a sustainable model of interventions for local authorities.
- Pour l’année 2015 seule, 13 736 personnes ont été gravement blessées.
- To advocate for improved enforcement and infrastructure.
Accidents in Uganda: a statistical snapshot
- 59% of all persons killed were below age 35.
- 19% of these were under the age of 18.
- During 2015 alone 13,736 people were seriously injured (hospitalized).
- Each fatal accident costs about 70 times GDP per Capita in lost economic output*.
*Safe Way Right Way profile 2017