The growing practice of tyre retreading in Uganda is major cause of road accidents, but the practice remains legal and a source of income for hundreds and perhaps thousands of people, The Sunrise can reveal.
Dr. Steven Kasiima, the Assistant Inspector General of Police for Traffic and Road Safety told The Sunrise in an exclusive interview that nearly 30 percent of all motor vehicle accidents in Ugand happen with vehicles which have retreaded tyres.
Tyre retreading is the process of replacing treads (Enjola in Luganda) on worn-out tyres. Experts say that whereas the retreated tyre may seem new, it is dangerous because it reduced the outer rubber coating that protects the inner tube from the outside rough surface.
More dangerous perhaps for Uganda is that retreaded tyres not inspected neither do traffic officers have the tools or the know how to inspect retreaded tyres.
Research by The Sunrise shows that retreading is preferred by a growing number of drivers including worryingly, those that operate taxis and other public transport vehicles. Those The Sunrise has talked to say it allows them more time before they are able to replace the worn out tyres.
Kasim Ssemboga, a professional tyre fixer at City Oil service station in Kampala too expresses concern at tyre retreading. “Using retreaded tyres is too dangerous. I wouldn’t advice my clients to use them because they are a death trap on your car.
When these tyres were being manufactured, they gauged their holding capacity to surface ratio of the road. Therefore if the treads get worn out that means its capacity to hold the car to the ground reduces however much one retreads it. Secondly the treads reduce the outer surface of the tyre which introduce the tyre to more dangers exposing them to sharp objects that can easily prick the tube.
But Geoffrey Muwanguzi, a driver of a pick-up in Ndeeba told The Sunrise that he is unapologetic about tyre retreading because it saves him a lot of money.
“I use retreaded tyres especially when the economic situation gets tough as it is now. I can use retreaded tyres and stay on the road for about two months as I make money to buy new tyres,” He added: “I am not bothered so much about it because it is not the most dangerous practice.
I think the most dangerous thing is buying used tyres from Japan. I can never put a used Japanese tyre on my vehicle because it is simply unfit for the road. Because they stay long in the cold, they lose the softness that is needed for all tyres. So when one drives it, it simply bursts.”
One tyre retreader identified only as Muddu and operates a tyre retreading business along the Gaba-Kansanga road, is proud of his job because he says he helps many low income earners stay on the road by simply having their tyres retreaded.
“New car tyres are very expensive, so most people come and buy retreaded tyres because they are cheaper. I buy the worn-out tyres depending on the nature of the tyre at about Ushs20,000 and re-sale it at not less than Ushs70,000,”says Muddu.
But Felix Kayemba, a regular user of commuter taxis relived the horror he endured when he saw one very worn tyre being retreaded at Ndeeba. “I was horrified when I saw someone cutting treads in a very old car tyre and I was equally horrified when I saw a taxi driver bargaining to buy it to fix it on his car and drive passengers.”
Research by The Sunrise further shows that although tyre retreading in other countries is done on tyres for race cars and even on tyres of aircrafts, it is strictly monitored.
In Europe for example, all retreads are exposed to the same tests on load and speed as new tyres.
In the United States, all retreaded or re-manufactured tyres are marked with a specific number showing the name of the retreader and when it was retreaded.
The danger in Uganda though it emerges is that the practice is not regulated. What happens is that unemployed people in Ndeeba and other garages simply cut treads on dangerously old tyres.
Dr. Kasiima says that the practice, however dangerous, is not illegal since there is no law prohibiting it. The Sunrise tried to inquire from the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) which is the country’s custodian on standards including on tyres, but discovered from officers that they are equally ignorant on the matter of retreaded tyres.
“The law against the practice of tyre retreading is not in existence and you know very well that anything not prohibited by law is allowed by law. There are many dangers of using such tyres. Almost 30 percent of accidents now are due to retreaded tyres. But as traffic police, we don’t work on standards of products in this country so we cannot stop it.” says Dr. Kasiima.
Indeed, perhaps as a result of the absence of a law on tyre retreading, many people have created businesses specializing in tyre retreading. Some of the richest people in Kampala Omar Mandela of the City Tyres fame also operates a tyre retreading outlet. Mandela is not alone. Several other garages have cropped up in Ndeeba, Katwe, Kansanga, Mengo and Kampala that are thriving on tyre retreading.
Surprisingly perhaps is that the Police itself is a major customer for the tyre retreading outposts, according to testimonies of some of the people The Sunrise spoke to.