Carrie Underwood: My solution for surviving Ugandan traffic

Driving in Ugandan traffic will change your life; mostly because you’ll constantly see it flash before your eyes.

Imagine this:  Take the majority of Kampala’s 1.7 million people and put half of them on road – in one form or another – at the same time.

Now, take away all road signs, traffic signals and directional markings. They have a few, but they’re more for decoration.

Subtract the grid layout of the United States’ roads and highways. Most roads in Kampala go in circles. If you look at a map of Kampala, it looks like a spider’s web, overlaid by another spider’s web.

Now decrease the width of the roads and increase the number of lanes – two lanes become three or four, four lanes become 26 (that might be an exaggeration). In fact, just erase any lane lines because they are irrelevant.

Here would be a good point to define “roads.” Ugandan roads are anything that is passible, no matter the depth of the canyon-esque potholes. Sure many are blacktops like the U.S., but others are dirt roads, trails, or walking paths. If it’s wide enough, it can be driven on.

Now add in thousands of boda-bodas (motorcycles/scooters, often used as taxis) that weave through the larger vehicles like they are chasing James Bond in the beginning of a movie.

On a side note: bodas are border line magic. I have seen people haul an entire family of four, tin roofing and hundreds of pounds of fruit. Others have actually seen coffins (with the body) tied to the back. All this defies the laws of physics but no one seems to notice.

Now add in the pedestrians, thousands of pedestrians either manning their roadside stores or standing inches from the edge of the road as countless rearview mirrors whiz by their head. This includes children, who learn from an early age to be mindful of the roads.

Then there is the rate of motion. Kampala traffic has two speeds – warp and gridlock. Basic rule: You go as fast as you can for as long as you can, and then usually you hit traffic or speed humps (not bumps) to slow you down. And speed humps are everywhere.

Undoubtedly this traffic takes the blue-ribbon for one of the most challenging driving setting on the planet. It certainly tops any city in the United States.  But, Adam, you say, I’ve driven in Los Angeles (not even close), Chicago (pansies drive in Chicago), New York City (Quit. You’re embarrassing yourself).

At first blush anarchy does seem to rule the road here, but once I erased my expectation, a new pattern emerged. Instead of a highly regimented systems of lights and signs, Kamapla traffic flows like blood through arteries. It’s jumbled, messy, crossing down every which path, but still flowing and natural. Most importantly, despite the chaotic feel for visitors, the Ugandans are relaxed and calm. There is no such thing as road rage or fear.

I am not a Ugandan, however. I flinch. I gasp. I spend most of the car rides quietly singing “Jesus take the wheel” by Carrie Underwood.

On the other hand, Simon, our driver for most of the week, has no reaction as he navigates clogged byways; dodges bodas, potholes and pedestrians who often run across the highway; and weaves through the endless back roads. His intuitive navigation skills and steely nerves are a sight to behold.

I’ve decided I’m going to bring Simon, Joe and a handful of Kampala’s taxi drivers back to the United States and start a NASCAR team. I’d win every race.

Of course, they would probably be bored driving on a smooth road, in a circle, at only 200 miles per hour.

A few rules of the road:

  • You’re not “close” to something until you hit it with your rearview mirror.
  • Right-of-way belongs to the largest vehicle.
  • Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way. They have the right to get out of the way.
  • Taxis are everywhere. They are usually white minivans circled with blue checkers.
  • Honking your horn is not a sign of frustration. It just means, “Hey, I’m coming through. Push over.”
  • Flashing your lights does not mean there is a police officer ahead like in the U.S. It simply means, “I’m coming through” or “I see you. Do you see me?”


123 responses to “Carrie Underwood: My solution for surviving Ugandan traffic

  1. So true!! Not likely to find 100 chickens tied to the top of a truck in Chicago or cows with their tails tied to the top of the trailer in front of you in DC (as soon as the, “Why? for this was asked, the cow provided the answer).

  2. Pingback: Carrie Underwood: My solution for surviving Ugandan traffic | Foolishness of this World·

  3. I love very accurate account of the Kampala traffic! I had a crazy notion to ride a boda boda in Kampala
    I thought I could handle it, but all I was doing was praying, Dear Lord don’t let us crash! No helmet and in a skirt!! The other drivers were wondering, what is this Mzungu (a foreigner) doing?? I just wanted to get from point “a” to point “b!” Thank God for my safety conscience, but daring driver!! I adore Uganda, their beautiful people and even their traffic!

  4. This is so true!!! And it really doesn’t help when you add cows into the equation… Because then you accidentally hit them if you don’t see them. It’s happened.

  5. I am a bornagain ugandan who starts every morning with a smile and feelings of joy as I get into my car. As soon as I see the first bodaboda cyclist, I TOTALLY LOSE IT!
    I have not loathed a human being as much as I loathe those chaps. Bodaboda is short for “Border to Border”. These guys used to ferry people across no-man’s land at the borders thus carrying them from Border-to-Border. Somehow due to cost and an overzealous president wishing to provide gainful employment to otherwise uneducated lumpens, these guys are not the major mode of transport on Ugandan roads. There is no highway code, no rules and worse, they overtake on ALL sides WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT THEM!
    Once I saw two collide into each other and my heart sung for joy (yes. shame upon me :-D). I think I would aim my car at them in hopes of culling the insanity but they have hostages 😦
    I digress. Great post.
    Jesus take the wheel indeed. TAKE BOTH AND THE RIDER!! DO IT NOW!!

  6. Driving in Kampala brings one closer to God, not with the 1001 near misses you encounter every day. As for boda’s avoid them like the plague they are. I can count on my fingers and more the number of boda boda fatalities i have witnessed in the 4 years i have been driving in Kampala, beautiful post

  7. This is so true and now that am looking at it from a foreigner’s point of view…… its very funny!! this is wat iv known all my life but i have just always known the roads are dangerous!! love this article!!

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    yet again.

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