Skip to main content

December 2, 2022

The New Times

The other day, we were riding down the steep road popularly known as Kwa-Rwahama–Umushumba-Mwiza Road (KK 13 Avenue) when our friend’s driver interrupted our animated conversation. He called our attention to a big truck seemingly having difficulty climbing up towards us and suggested we change route.

Taken up by our engrossing conversation, our friend absent-mindedly waved him on. But soon enough, we indeed saw the lorry stop and the turn-boy jump down. He unhooked the latch and, anon, the cabin was head down, bottom up. You know those bonnet-less cabins that ‘sit’ on the engine – come to think of it, are cabin occupants’ bottoms well cushioned against that heat?

Anyway, luckily, as a small traffic jam began to build up, a traffic policeman was already there, guiding vehicles into a smooth flow. Where he materialised from, don’t ask me! What I know, we sailed through without the least hindrance.

Observing this, I blurted out: “I am sorry!”. When they all looked at me askance, I related my story of recently travelling to Northern Rwanda. Our driver was extra-careful, frequently checking the speedometer so as not to be caught offending the many roadside speed cameras by exceeding the usual 60km/h or, where the road stretch was clear, 80km/h

Still, we all chorused “Watch your speed!” when we saw a camera flash. He’d thought to steal some speed before the next camera but “wheya!”, as we used to say. We ‘swallowed’ the penalty ticket we knew would already have been announced on the vehicle owner’s phone and continued.

Up the steep, zigzagging Buranga hill, two long and heavy trucks were groaning their asthmatic way in front of us so slowly that one of us got impatient and advised the driver to overtake them, despite an unbroken line separating the lanes to forbid overtaking. He could see the road ahead clearly, he said, there was no traffic police nor oncoming vehicle.

But again, “wheya!” No sooner had we re-joined our lane than one of two police officers flagged us down. I’d offered to foot any offence bills and so I tried to sweet-talk the policeman, explaining how we already had a camera ticket and how we were late for a funeral ceremony, plus having a driver of long driving experience. The officer expressed his condolences but apologised and explained how it’d be better to be late than dead and adding to the bereavement, with the icing on the cake of a polite “Si byo se, Mzee?”

I felt sheepish but cursed under my breath; I knew the ‘good’ message was on its way, to pile on top of the first one!

So, my apology to my bewildered friends was a retraction of that misguided ill-feeling.

Because our traffic police officers, who are on every street or road all the time, rain or shine, pitch darkness cold or scorching daylight heat, to make sure your life is protected, what can any citizen, resident or visitor, in their normal senses, begrudge them?

And the fact of their ubiquitous presence and elegant uniform is not enough. There is also that of their seeming to all be of the same slim-sized body, varying only maybe in height.

But! Little thing to fault the uniform: sleeves without reflectors confuse drivers at night. The sleeves would do with reflective designs, in hot weather when officers are without their fully reflective overcoats.

Otherwise, truly, their overall appearance makes a statement. Try to tender “kitu kidogo” – bribe – and you’ll have invited to yourself the wrath of the law of the land. Something you don’t find in many ‘rotund-and-shabby-officered’ African countries.

There are rotten eggs here and there, of course, but they are always a pair so that they may watch over each other. A case of collusion may happen, too, but with their names displayed on the breast of their uniforms, how will they be sure the bribe bidder cannot tell on them?

Still, there are some who, despite all these stringent measures, manage to somehow beat the system. But we know that they are as few as their jobs are often short-lived.

Needless to say, keeping the roads of this land totally safe is a near-to-impossible business. But then again, in any business in this country, complacency does not sit well with all organs of our government. The number of road accidents may have gone down but that’s not enough.

Every single citizen must be assured of their safety on the roads as everywhere. And so the other day the Senate was sitting to quiz the Rwanda National Police. There are traffic police officers on roads, speed cameras, speed governors, yearly vehicle mechanical inspections, so, why any death?

Well, I can’t speak for anybody but, in addition to all those, there’ll have to be wide roads strictly for motor vehicles, side lanes for motorcycles as for bicycles, walkways and flyovers for pedestrians. Tall order for the moment, eh, Senate? It’ll happen, for sure, but patience meanwhile.

Otherwise when a Chinese–made Howo monster truck hurtles sans brakes down our hilly land, what’s a hapless officer supposed to do? Hold it back bare hands, Hercules-like?

So, all said and done, our salute to traffic officers is in order.

Leave a Reply