Kawunyemu Alert: Community Policing the Police

On September 25, 2016, a message went public – well, amongst some circles. It was to the effect that there was an ongoing traffic operation in Wandegeya. The operation was intending to curb drivers with worn out tyres, without driving licences, and, also, without motor third party insurance. Without any of the mentioned, victims would end up in the coolers. The same was happening on the Lugogo Bypass, where there was a bus and a laptop to verify past defaults. Ntinda was considered even worse as the Officer in Charge of Traffic himself was there, and was, a matter of course, to be avoided by taking an alternative route. In an age when such drivers should be lessened off our streets, and brought before the law, the message was widely broadcasted.

While we are still described as an agricultural country, a banana republic in which we should be concentrating on making it cool enough for the young, phone wielding population; an even, apparently, cooler thing happened. We made ourselves a laughing stock when some of us developed an innovative, mobile application meant to alert drunk drivers about the presence and the avoidance of traffic policemen on Ugandan roads. Kawunyemu Alert, they called it. (Kawunyemu is a local, Luganda word which is used to refer to the breathalyzer used by traffic officers to measure driver’s blood alcohol concentration).

The reactions were mixed. Some thought it was one of the reasons that Uganda has problems. That is, the fact that we are OK with alerting lawbreakers about police operations intended to net them. They thought that if you are driving a car that is not road-worthy or driving under the influence of drink, you need to face the law, and that those people who make such proclamations about the presence of traffic officers are as complicit as the lawbreakers themselves.

Others felt that there is a thin line as the application could have been developed simply to warn would be criminals not to drive. That is, by, for example, encouraging them to hail cabs back home and alerting them on the risk of driving under the influence of drink. Some thought that this was a mere assumption.

Kawunyemu Alert was, and still is, appreciated as another innovative solution to a Ugandan problem, one which would make the usage of sign language from other drivers on major roads and highways history. It was recommended as helpful until it occurred to most that it may not necessarily be as it would instead encourage drivers to partake more drink, and in doing so contribute to the aiding and abetting of traffic related offences.

Questions as to requesting Google to put it down were raised. Why? Perhaps, because it identifies the points at which the traffic policemen – in this case, Kawunyemu – are, essentially, to make it easier for the previously drinking driver to identify routes without them.

Also, because it enables the driver to lose the element of surprise – from the police – on the new, alternative route that they choose to use. It is on this new route that they are bound to meet other equally inebriated drivers, and, potentially, cause their own or other road user’s death – by way of suicide, really.

There is a sentiment, and one shared by many, that the reason for the creation and acceptance of such is that we have what are either weak or no regulations, and that is due to that that many things go unchecked. The law does however exist. Its application, however, may passionately be contested.

Section 2 (2) [anyone driving under the influence of drink who causes bodily injury to or the death of any person commits an offence] of The Traffic And Road Safety Act, 1970, and Section 111 [anyone who drives or attempts to drive], Section 112(1) [anyone whose blood alcohol concentration is above the prescribed limit], Section 118 [anyone who is in charge of any motor vehicle while under the influence of drink and drug] and Section 108 of The Traffic And Road Safety Act, 1998, Chapter 361 of the Laws of Uganda, are drafted to specifically address this issue.

The essence of traffic policemen on the roads is, therefore, to see to the application of the law, by helping to identify and remove all drivers and vehicles that are driving under the influence of drink and not roadworthy respectively. Creating and using an application dedicated to avoiding them is to conspire against the law.

Their presence on our roads is not the problem. The problem is the drunk, poor, reckless drivers and any action that points to helping them avoid the law should be considered wrong. Traffic policemen, who have built a reputation of being corrupt officers, who only carry out operations during the school fees hunting season, and in more than one instance been faked by thugs, should position themselves in strategic spots and do their jobs – always. They should not only practice their on and off operations which drives have now grown used to. That is what is also contributing to the institutionalising of crime, much more than any mobile application can.

The Kawunyemu application is, definitely, a bad idea, but we understand where it is coming from. People are simply tired of being bullied, even when they are drank, but below the permitted limit, or when they did not drink at all, but are carrying drunken passengers. It is important that if anyone is the designated driver, they do not drink, and that their friends should be aware of that. If we want to be held to the highest standard, we too need to set our own bar high enough. That way, we are not the same as them – traffic officers that we do not fancy. Intriguingly, they share the same society as us.

Thankfully, the Uganda Police has finally woken up and started the process of investigations into the purpose of the application, its developers and users, so that they can be brought before the law. Beyond that, it is our fervent hope too, that they will also continue to take notes from their colleagues in, for example, Rwanda who have found ingenious measures of curbing drunken and/or reckless drivers. Some of these include the using of undercover traffic officers with unmarked cars which patrol the routes to find and penalise such drivers. Such measures were taken after the Rwanda Police noticed that drivers were behaving when near police checks, but speeding soon after while warning other motorists of where the check points were.


This article appears in our digital magazine, The Deuteronomy, Vol 7, Issue 1 of October 7th, 2016

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