I am Joe Walker aka Joseph Beyanga, a road safety enthusiast raising awareness about saving lives on the road.

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Day Two: Memories of the past informing what we need for the future

It threatened to be a long and brutal journey today with 45km plus to cover in such a short time. So we set off very early. By 5.55am we were out of the door and on the road. Our first brief stop-off for a cup of tea to warm us up was at Bannz Café where we met several people, including escorts of VIPs who said they were following the walk keenly. It made me hope that people are picking the message on road safety. 

Before we got there however, what struck me was seeing many parents along taking their children to school. Two young girls were parting company and one said she was walking to Mbalala. We thought that was far but her friend asked her if she would get there on time. It seemed for them, the long distance did not matter as much as the worry of making it on time. It made me wonder how many roads they needed to crisscross and how safe their daily commute was. But I did not have time to engage with any of them as everyone was in a rush – them to school, us to put in some distance before it got hot. 

I was reminded of the days we used to walk to school and back home every day. It took hours, but somehow we made it. Then I remembered the story of my grandfather. It is said he and others used to transport salt from Lake Katwe, on their heads, from Kasese to Jinja to make a living. I wonder what motivated him but I believe he wanted to give his children a better life. And so now here we were walking on the same road for a different cause. The sun was rising bright and falling on our faces as we headed east; it presented a bright hope of a future where life will be better, a future that my grandpa was looking for, and a future we hope for every road user from the pedestrian to the driver. 

As we entered Lugazi, at the sharp corner where sports journalists perished in a road crash in 2001, a car was overtaking another car, which was also overtaking another, all at a blind spot. I kept wondering what would make someone drive that recklessly early in the morning. The sign at the memorial site of the fallen sports journalists summed it up: “It is a road not a racetrack.” We continued on our trek through Lugazi town and just like many towns we have come across, it is really a jungle walking through them. The roads have no provision for pedestrians. But we walked through and as we exited Lugazi town past that wonderful roundabout, we came across a lonely police check-point, and thereafter the Lugazi hospital and the big signpost facing the highway that screamed, “Emergency/Casualty Ward”. My thoughts went out to those who were in there and I prayed they would make it out alive.

Before we could get to the sugar plantation, we were hit by another memorial site, a mass grave of 19 unknown people who were part of the 41 that perished in a road crash in Mabira Forest on February 14, 2004. After a brief stop, we got back to walking and then entered the scenic and rather quiet sugarcane plantation. We spotted reckless crazy drivers who reminded us about why we were walking. 

A mass grave of 19 unknown people who were part of the 41 that perished in a road crash in Mabira Forest on February 14, 2004.

It was midmorning and we were still walking fast and high on energy past the famous Najjembe. At that point, some of the walkers grabbed some gonja and chicken while others took a break to massage the tired muscles. We left them behind and in a small group proceeded to enter Mabira Forest. At this point, it was beginning to feel really hot as the temperature was rising, but the forest engulfed us in her canopy and it was cool and refreshing. At this point, I remembered the many times I have driven on this road to Jinja. If my memory serves me right, there have been many attempts to improve the highway. It is not yet the best, but neither is our driving behaviour. 

When we got out of the forest, we met Amos Wekesa who was heading to join the team climbing Mt Elgon, full of energy and inspiration as always. We exchanged a few words and I sent him a Joe Walker Road Safety message to take to the top of the mountain. By now, most of the team had gone way ahead of me because of the numerous engagements I kept having with the roadside communities and boda riders. So I had to step it up to catch up. I found them right at the entrance of Jinja with a team from Boy Scouts Association of Jinja and Tugende.

When we got out of the forest, we met Amos Wekesa who was heading to join the team climbing Mt Elgon.

We marched into Jinja through the Nalubaale Bridge (the old one) and had a conversation with the boda riders next to the Ambercourt roundabout, about the issues that affect their everyday hustle, a story for another day. After that we walked to Stabex where we were welcomed to a sumptuous dinner at Sta Café, courtesy of my good friend Paul Harera who paid the bill for us all. The kindness of friends and well-wishers on this journey continues to amaze me. It was great food, great service and a great ambience. That marked the end of the day.