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Protest paralyses east, 1 child dead

Drivers accuse policemen of being drunk

Week-long protests that paralysed public transport in many parts of eastern Uganda last week ended with one confirmed fatality, a 15-year-old boy. Discontented drivers took to the streets in protest at the new traffic regulations they described as colonial, oppressive and uncalled for.

In Buikwe district, protesters told police chief Kale Kayihura that his men and women, who were often drunk, were largely to blame for the sporadic violence that resulted in the shooting of 15-year-old Shakulu Kalinaki by a policeman. The accusation was made on Thursday in Naminya village, Wikisi sub-county, after Gen Kayihura visited the deceased’s home.

“We are the ones living with your policemen in these communities and we want to tell you that those [people] in our uniform are drunk. They spend most of their time in bars and this is why you see them mismanage protests and strikes,” charged one resident.

In response, Kayihura pledged to investigate the allegations. He also promised that the police officer who shot and killed the boy would be severely punished. He gave the bereaved family Shs 1m. The week-long protests brought public transport in Busoga urban centres to a standstill as disgruntled drivers made their feelings known.

Violence ensued as vehicles' windscreens were smashed by stone-throwing protestors who blocked all roads linking Jinja to the rest of the country. Similar protests were reported in Mbale, Iganga, Kamuli, Mayuge and Bugiri, among other areas. Police chief Gen Kayihura spent most of Thursday in the region, trying to calm tempers. He met taxi drivers at Jinja town hall and urged them to call off their strike, which had begun on Monday.

“Report to us all undisciplined traffic officers who ask for bribes. For us we shall know how to deal with them,” Kayihura told the drivers.

The drivers had earlier told him that his officers are money-minded.

“Their major interest is collecting money from us but not enforcing the law. They are using faulty speed guns to double the speed so that they extort money from drivers,” claimed Kalidi Muyingo, coordinator of the drivers’ association in the region. The drivers further said that they had resorted to protesting because they were not consulted before the new traffic rules were introduced.

In response, the minister of state for Transport, Stephen Chebrot, conceded that implementation of the new regulations had been poorly handled. He asked the drivers to remain calm and resume work as his ministry sensitises the public about the changes.

Besides Kayihura and Chebrot, the meeting also attracted Jinja East MP Paul Mwiru, Lands minister Daudi Migereko, and Jinja RDC Richard Gulume Balyaino. Police last month issued new penalties for traffic offenders, doubling the fines for, among others, drink-driving, talking on phone while driving, and driving without seat belts.

In the new regulations, driving without a valid driving licence now attracts a fine of Shs 100,000, while traffic offenders who fail to cash the Express Penalty Scheme tickets within 28 days must pay a surcharge of 50% to Uganda Revenue Authority.

New rules

Drink-driving now attracts a fine of Shs 200,000; driving an uninsured vehicle carries a Shs 40,000 fine, while driving a car in bad mechanical condition could cost you Shs 60,000. Driving without a seat belt is Shs 80,000, among other fines. Drivers say these fines are unbearable.

“We shall not accept this kind of extortion. Fuel is hiked, processing a driver’s licence is also high, and now they have hiked fines on all traffic offences. We shall not accept this,” said one protester in Bugembe town council.

Several people working in Kakira, Wairaka, Bugembe, Walukuba, Mpumudde, Namulesa, Mbiko and Bukaya were forced to walk to work last week.

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