By Dr. Ian Clarke
There are no words that can assuage the grief for the pointless loss of the many young lives on Lake Victoria last Saturday. I knew four who died. I am grateful for those who survived, but struggling with the picture that, at one moment those who died were enjoying the party, while the next they went to a watery grave.
Sadly, this tragedy illustrates so many aspects of what is wrong with Uganda, not the Government, or the ‘party goers’ or the police, or any other group that has been blamed, but what is wrong with us all, and the dire consequences of our wrong mindset.
This tragedy could have easily been averted because there were so many missed warnings. There was the opportunity to call off the event so as not to put people in danger, and the people themselves did not have to take the risks they did and thus put themselves in harm’s way, but all the warning signs were ignored.
Retrospectively, we are blaming and pointing fingers, but we are simply punishing the dead, when it is we the living who must learn, but on our past record we will stubbornly refuse to change. We have developed the attitude that if we break every sensible rule, take every known risk, don’t listen to advice, everything will still be OK. After all ‘This is Africa’.
When we turn a blind eye to risk is usually OK – until it isn’t, and there is another tragedy. When a driver of a bus breaks the rules and overtakes on a blind corner but meets an oncoming truck in a head on collision, he dies.
Not only has he learned too late that he took one too many risks, he has also caused the death of other innocent people. It is this attitude – that I am bigger than the rules, that my priorities are more important than everyone else, that I will take the chance even though I know it is not safe, that is killing us.
Rules are seen as a way to impose fines and seek bribes for infractions, and not as having been put in place to bring order, and save lives. Therefore everyone feels rules are there to be broken, or for extracting a few shillings. So we have reached a stage that our mindset is to break the law no matter what the consequences.
Since the accident, it has emerged that the trip was originally scheduled to take place on another boat, which was in good condition, but was not available, so the owner of the beach (RIP) decided to fix his old boat (warning one). He could have postponed the trip until another date when the other boat was available. His boat was an old fishing boat, which had been modified for pleasure trips, but had been out of the water due to its poor condition.
The repairs were not done thoroughly and corners were cut (Warning Two), and there were still mechanical and flotation problems, (warning three) but he still pressed ahead. The trip had been scheduled to leave at 1.00p.m. but the boat arrived 6.00 p.m. only one hour from darkness (Warning Four).
The long delay left the guests with little to do, except start the party at KK Beach. Presumably the food was to be served at the actual party venue K Palm Beach, so the guests were drinking alcohol on an empty stomach, which caused increased inebriation (Warning Five). When the boat arrived it was not level (warning Six), but they pressed ahead and boarded despite this.
There were life jackets, but not everyone had a life jacket, or chose to wear one (Warning Seven), and the boat was overcrowded (Warning Eight). On taking off, some marine police tried to stop them (Warning Nine), but the guests, presumably high, refused to stop. The boat continued across the lake and was listing, but music blared, announcements were drowned out (Warning Ten) and the passengers seem to have been largely unaware of their precarious situation. Some fishermen in small boats saw the boat was listing badly and came out to tell people (Warning Eleven) and take them off for a fee.
A few passengers left, but most stayed with the crowd thinking they were safer. By now it was dark and the boat was off shore only two hundred metres, but listing badly. Finally, to end the tragedy people panicked and rushed to one side to jump overboard, making the boat capsize and trap them beneath.
I have seen lots of judgment being passed on social media, but let us face it, this needless tragedy, in which many of us lost friends and relatives, happened because we break the rules all the time, which is why these horrific accidents will keep on happening.
Dr. Ian Clarke is a Ugandan politician, physician and entrepreneur who serves as chairman of Ugandan Healthcare Federation, and a board member of the Private Sector Foundation Uganda.
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