The tragic boat accident that left at least 32 Ugandans dead on lake Victoria was a case of total negligence and recklessness on the part of all those responsible for the well-being of the people of Uganda .I happen to have interviewed the representatives of the  Earthwise proprietors (now deceased) about five years ago when they promised to assemble boats in Uganda -a promise which was never fulfilled . They didn’t not only fail to assemble what they promised but brought some wreck of a boat which claimed so many lives over the weekend .

And , that’s beside the point given this national tragedy . We are told the marine police and ex captain of the “boat” warned revellers against boarding the vessel noting that it was not in good condition and therefore not fit for the “cruise” . Typical Ugandan style, many of the revellers whom we are told started drinking or merry making as early as 10 am in the day- could not listen and they forced their way to have the cruise- including some well placed people of  influence.

It is no wonder that the marine police didn’t hold their ground perhaps for fear of being reprimanded following orders from “above”. As fate would have it ,  the owners/operators with the instigation of their largely drunken clientele ,ignored the police’s advice and  allowed all the ladies who were within the vicinity to board free of charge thus over loading an already mechanically damaged boat .

But that’s not what is more annoying and why we have to ask the hard questions about the general management of government affairs . When distress calls were sent out , it were the ordinary bavubi (fishermen) on their rudimentary-rickety  boats who responded and actually rescued the so much talked about 26 survivors . No government machinery was available to conduct a grand rescue mission the kind we saw when a team of young boys was trapped in a cave for several days somewhere in Malaysia . In fact, the few survivors quoted in the mainstream media  say they called police and it was the usual response -no fuel. And the country s misery was made complete when state ministry in charge of the transport docket stated of course unprepared that GOVERNMENT was looking for the ill-fated “boat” because it was not licensed nor registered . What a tragedy !

A closer look at the legal framework that governs the water transport industry shows  something of a bizarre nature . On our statute books we have the 1905 Maritime transport law such an outdated piece of legislation . The Marine Insurance Act of 2002 only deals with issues of insurance policy coverage . So unlike the Traffic and Road Safety Act of 1998 , there is no updated specific law to deal with a modern water transport system with all the attendant challenges .

So apart from criminal negligence under the Penal Code, the perpetrators of felonies on our water bodies cannot be brought to book for violation of a specific code of conduct .In otherwise, there are no updated specific duties and obligations , defined offences and penalties for the water transport sector .

The National transport Master Plan 2008-2023 barely covers anything significant about the water transport apart from lamentations of poor enforcement of operator safety procedures, since services are often characterised by gross over-loading, use of defective vessels, and absence of basic safety equipment such as lifebelts and jackets.

In the Plan ,it is also indicated that navigation routes are archaic and need to be re-surveyed; navigation aids are often damaged or missing and there is severe capacity constraints in both the Transport Licensing Board and the Marine Police resulting  in poor enforcement of water transport standards.

Apart from updating or coming up with a new water transport law altogether, there is an urgent need to operationalize the  proposed new Multi-Sector Transport Authority (MTRA) which must be equipped with sufficient resources and staff to carry out vessel inspections regularly, with powers to suspend licences where owners persistently flout the legal safety requirements.

Lastly , let us as Ugandans , allow public officials to serve our country and enforce the rule of law without fear of any political ramifications . Enough said .

The Writer is Media and Communications Consultant/ Trainer and Advocate of the High Court of Uganda


Uganda’s Wekesa scores against bullying SA immigration

It was a David vs Goliath encounter in the 21st century. The brief but furious battle fought on social media by Ugandan economic warriors against the bullying South African giant that had collected a heap of dollars from scores of tour operators and then denied them visas ahead of an important tourism expo in Durban. But after a few days of spirited fighting, the Ugandan economic patriots led by tour operator Amos Wekesa emerged victorious.

It was on April 30th when Great Lakes Safaris CEO Amos Wekesa made a protest on Facebook bringing to public attention the plight of scores of Ugandan tour operators who had been denied South African visas for their travel to Durban for Indaba tourism fare where they go annually to seek business from all over the world. The Ugandans had already paid thousands of dollars each for exhibiting, and they had also spent more on hotel accommodation in advance. They had also paid for the visas but did not expect any refund.  The blatant injustice seemed unbelievable but real. While voicing the plight for dozens of the affected, Amos Wekesa knew that the complaints were factual because his own staff at Great Lakes had been denied visas and he knew exactly how much they spent.

Moreover, as Wekesa disclosed, the previous month Ugandan tour operators had similarly lost millions after being denied visas to go to Cape Town for another exhibition. But ironically, Uganda’s predicament had been diagnosed by the slain South African reformer Steve Biko who half a century ago said that “the oppressor’s most potent weapon is the mind of the oppressed”.  And so it was that when Wekesa raised the tour operators’ predicament with a of concerned ministers, they did not see any problem saying that with their diplomatic passports, they had already got their visas and were ready to proceed to South Africa.

Flabbergasted by the sheer insensitivity of the Ugandan political appointees and their ignorance of their responsibility to Ugandans regarding the very functions they were going to attend to the country, Wekesa took the battle to social media, calling on ordinary citizens to share and circulate the fleecing Ugandans were being subjected to.

Though combative in his approach, Wekesa carefully avoided politics and did not mention Uganda’s invaluable contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle in its final, decisive years when the frontline states had been beaten into submission by the apartheid military machine that forced them to let the ANC leave their territory, and the young NRM government, hardly a year in power, took the Umkoto we Siziwe into Luwero, making Kaweweta their training base for several years. Wekesa only  mentioned a few naked economic facts like MTN, Stanbic, Eskom, saying that licensing such enterprises by other African countires has greatly helped make South Africa’s economy the second largest on the continent.

Ugandans joined Wekesa in the battle and a couple of days later the South African officials relented and started giving the visas to the Ugandan applicants whom they had so unreasonably turned away. But Wekesa urged the people sustain the ‘fire’on social media and the matter soon came to president Cyril Ramaphosa’s. The South African president communicated a “goodwill message”  to his Ugandan counterpart.
President Yoweri Museveni accounted to the nation and om May 6th twitted thus “…. His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa who has taken interest in resolving the unnecessary bureaucracy Ugandans are subjected to when South African visas. Ugandans should get visas on entry in South Africa just as we do with them here.”

The battle had lasted exactly one week.

And what was the reaction of the Ugandan ministers who had not seen any problem with carriers of ordinary passports being denied visas to South Africa after they had each spent thousands of dollars in participation fees and expenses, on learning that Presidents Ramaphosa and Museveni had agreed to eliminate this unjust immigration non-tariff barrier ? You guessed right. The ministers sent congratulation messages to Wekesa on the battle he had fought. But Wekesa with humility attributes victory to the Ugandans on social media who spread the word after he ignited the protest.

Lesson learnt? Ugandans must stand up for their economic rights. They should gain confidence to take on the competitors, and this starts with the cabinet ministers plus other leaders at all levels.