On January 18, 2020, Nicole Blessing Ahumuza got onto the road like any other regular passenger. In her 16 years alive, she’d exhibited leadership skills, she had friends, she cared for people with empathy and compassion. But on that day, a tragic accident ended almost two decades of her life.
Ahumuza is just one of the many victims who lost their lives in the 1110 road crashes reported in January 2020. According to the 2020 Annual Crime Report released by Uganda Police Force, 12249 crashes were reported in 2020. Of these, 3269 were fatal, 5803 were serious and 3177 were minor.
Latest events indicate that road accidents are rampant with Traffic Police stating that 118 people were killed between April 24 and May 4, this year. An article by Daily Monitor shows that “daily human slaughter on Ugandan roads has stabilized at 10 deaths every day.”
The Innovation Village recently held a Road Safety Hackathon and it emerged that beyond the ecosystem builder, the country can no longer ignore the ongoing events.
“Road crashes on our roads continue to be alarming. At a global level, we lose over 1.3million people per year. In Uganda, we lost thousands of people in 2020 yet the country was in lockdown and vehicles did not move a lot. It is an issue that continues to touch the core of our mandate and it’s challenging us to find ways to reduce these accidents,” Judith Karara, Senior Road Safety Officer at The Ministry of Works and Transport said at the launch of the hackathon.
Finding new solutions
While the government finds answers to a problem that is on everyone’s lips, innovative ecosystems are seeking to change the status quo in new ways.
Arthur Mukembo, Lead Venture Building and the Future Lab Studio at The Innovation Village says the hackathon recently held by The Innovation Village and Nicole Foundation challenged entrepreneurs, developers and road safety experts to conceptualize new pathways to harnessing available and emerging technologies to leapfrog various constraints on the pathway to solving the persistent problem in Uganda.
Mukembo says, “We aimed at identifying desirable, viable and feasible tech-enabled solutions that can substantially move us forward in enhancing safety on the road. We believe this challenge will drive creative thinking among these young innovators through an open innovation approach and human centered design principles.”
As per the Crime report, road accidents are majorly caused by careless/reckless driving, careless pedestrians, vehicles in dangerous mechanical condition, over speeding among several other causes.
Solomon Rubondo, a member of Council of Advisors at Nicole Foundation believes young innovators can help address safety before travel, road use with family/relatives, conduct of drivers and passengers as well as response after an accident.
“Looking at Nicole dying at a tender age, we feel that this problem can be well amplified by the youth. When we lose a youth, we lose the next generation and this gives us the opportunity to have young opportunities produce the best ideas around travel and public transport,” Rubondo says.
Meet the Innovators
Samson Bruno Were participated in the two-day hackathon given that he was already building a solution in the same area. The innovation built under Taasa is a mobile app available and free to download on android mobile devices; in the event of an accident; smartphone users (victims or bystanders) can use it to share details about the incident with the police, medical services, and emergency response team. The app makes response efficient and swift to save lives.
“Our innovation is reducing the time it takes for authorities to respond to an accident report and thus ensuring preservation and administration of proper treatment to victims including post-crash counseling which most victims don’t get because they’re oblivious about. I envision it saving lives by digitalizing and providing one uniform platform for the stakeholders in the road safety sector to access data about crashes and make informed decisions to reduce accident occurrence,” Were explains.
The team admits it has faced a few challenges including a steep learning curve about the road safety sector and collaborating with stakeholders who share a similar cause.
“We have been researching a lot about the sector to create a good solution. The challenge we anticipate is how to sign partnerships and get these stakeholders (Non-Governmental Organizations and Government ministries) onboard so that we can build towards a similar vision. We believe that once the solution is rolled out and gains traction, it will attract the attention of these key players; but for now, its speculation,” Were says.
The team plans to establish Taasa firmly and ensure that it is accessible to everyone who has a smartphone across all regions of Uganda. Were has also planned to introduce a dedicated fleet of ambulances across water, air and land onto the app to cater to needs of some hard-to-reach areas.
Asked whether innovation can be a game-changer, Were says, “Definitely. I believe necessity is the mother of inventions. Whenever a man is faced with a challenge, he is pushed to do something about it to overcome that situation (the process called innovation). If only more spaces were given to youth with innovative minds to not only voice their ideas but also to build them to life, then our country would be on a bright path.”
Can tech-led innovation help?
According to Karara, road crashes cost Uganda Shs4 trillion through evacuation, treating, rehabilitation, enforcement, and loss of daily income made by the victims. The ministry is mooting a plan that is expected to work alongside ideas from innovators.
“Shs4 trillion could go into other things in our budget if we saved it. As a ministry, we are working on an action plan that will go up to 2030 and it is aimed at reducing road accidents by 50 percent. We are collaborating with different stakeholders to do things in a new way. We hope that we can come up with high-tech solutions that address this struggle that we face,” Karara says.
Cuthbert Kagabo, Team Lead Nicole Foundation believes technology can help in several ways.
“We expect that technology can be used to avoid road accidents, for instance, identifying and flagging black spots and telling the typical road user what they need to do. The other thing is in the event of an accident, can a road user get to their mobile phone and identify the nearest health facility or police station? These and many other things are what we are keen to see before a road user gets onto the road, when they are on the road and if they can get help in the event of an accident,” Kagabo says.
The Innovation Village through the Future Lab Studio’s Venture Building arm is supporting three innovations following the discovery of their inventiveness, feasibility, and scalability. The plan is to nurture their ideas through a 13-week business refinement journey and turn them into investable milestones, further connecting them to the opportunities to raise capital to take the concepts to market.
This seems like a starting point but reducing the fatalities on Ugandan roads will take more than developing the ideas. Collaboration on bringing these solutions to life as well as ensuring their uptake on the market, will go a long way in providing the much-needed impact.