Driving In Africa

Posted on October 14th, 2017 by mikeg

Stock photo from the Drive Safe Uganda Initiative

I promised to write about things that I found interesting and one of those is the act of driving in a foreign country.  Most people I meet over here are friendly and outgoing with all of the time in the world to relax and get to know you……….that is until they get on a motorbike or behind the wheel of a car. At this point it becomes an every man for himself free for all where the meek or fainthearted are left stranded on the sidelines because no one is even going to consider slowing down to let them pull out in front of them.

Overloaded truck carrying potatoes to town

As you can see from the picture above, driving in the city is the most difficult.  If you have never seen it, taxis (14 passenger vans) and motor bikes dominate the roads and anyone with a personal automobile who dares to enter into their arena better be prepared to defend themselves.  Ones driving credibility is demonstrated by pretending pedestrians and bicyclists, the absolute bottom of the traffic barrel, do not exist and driving as if you do not see them, ignoring the motorbike (boda boda) driver leaning against your bumper and scratching your paint with his mirrors, and occasionally pulling up onto a shoulder or walking path because the person in front of you is just not moving quite fast enough.  To that last point in fact, it it can be considered a personal insult if the person in front of you is not going fast enough for your comfort and you have every right to enter into oncoming traffic flash your headlights while giving the horn a couple of short blasts and moving on your merry way.

Truck driving through back roads to get into Congo broke down, we had to move all his cargo that was blocking the only road down the mountain. No one was quite sure why they unloaded in the first place.

The roads outside of town typically have less traffic but have a different set of challenges, the most frustrating probably being speed bumps, or humps as they are called locally.  Whether as part of the original road construction or home made out of dirt, speed humps are put in place near almost every trading center, school or sometimes when it just seems like you haven’t had one for a while. Sometimes marked with a sign or painted bright yellow, but often camouflaged to match the color of the road, these humps are not to be ignored. Hitting one at 70 kph will result in your head coming into contact with the ceiling of your vehicle and loss of any cargo in a truck bed, I am speaking from experience here.

Rain season roads are impossible without 4-wheel drive

Coming from the southern US, it took a little bit of time to adjust to this.  I mean, at home, pedestrians have the right of way, people typically let each other in, and the most daring traffic violations most people make are running a yellow light or slowly rolling through a stop sign.  However, in Africa, traffic rules/regulations are mere suggestions, not set in stone laws that result in a fine to those that choose not to obey.  If fact, if you slow down at a stop sign, you are more likely to be rear-ended than hit any cross traffic, because the person behind you is definitely not expecting you to stop.

Road conditions are also something that takes a little getting used to.  When a local tells you the road is bad, you better believe that the road is bad. The kind of bad that at home people would be writing Senators about if its not repaired immediately. 4 wheel drive is a must and vehicle maintenance has to be a priority.

Banana Delivery                 

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you realize that this, while accurate, is pretty “tongue in cheek.” The fact is, I have had a great time getting to drive around Uganda and Kenya.  On all my other trips here I have been with large groups and we paid for a driver to take us around in a nice safari vehicle.  Everyone is looking at the sites and talking with each other and you don’t realize how much different it is, how much more of the culture you experience, when you are driving yourself.  It truly has been one of the best parts of this experience.



Thank you,

Mike Green