Who will solve the Kampala boda boda question?

A friend agreed with my comments last week that walking in downtown Kampala south of Kampala road, now requires some skill.

The streets are packed; there is the human traffic to contend with first. Traders, shoppers, idlers plus many going to various workplaces give off a marketplace buzz.

The streets are lined with commuter taxis, bicycles and, worst of all, boda bodas! The bodas crowd up at junctions, ride the wrong way against traffic and crisscross streets; they are loud, noisy and worse.

Everyone seems to hate bodas, even the ones who claim to have their regulars! They are seen as a necessary evil, perhaps. A friend who lives in London loves bodas and claims we have the best transport because matatus reverse on the main roads and bodas are everywhere!

However, all middle-class Kampala people passionately hate bodas. Of course most boda-haters work or live north of Kampala road and include the city authorities, KCCA. If it had not been for the backing of politicians, bodas in the city would be no more!

The first question is: who would benefit from the banning of bodas in Kampala? Driving in and around would be easier; the city might be cleaner and less noisy; pedestrians would have more walking space…! And the losers? Plenty! The riders themselves to begin with, plus traders (including spare parts importers), fuel stations and also passengers that find bodas easy to use.

Youth unemployment in Uganda is close to 85%. This figure would surely rise if boda riders were to be kicked out of the city. Despite our (middle-class) annoyances with bodas, you have to commend their spirit. Riders work under difficult circumstances, including life-threatening ones. Many are in hospital due to accidents (even though most result from reckless conduct on the road) or as victims of crime.

Shockingly, they do not earn that much. When I asked, two riders in my village informed me that on average they earn about Shs 30,000 a day. A third goes to the boda owner and a rider keeps Shs 20,000. Clearly their hassle does not provide a lot but many are willing to join the trade. It must be a good thing that people want to work.

So, some thought needs to go into solving the Kampala boda question. Would licensing all help? I know that in my village, it is difficult to join a ‘boda stage’! One has to apply, albeit informally. Yes, we know that KCCA tried registration but do remember that most poor people do not trust the city authority or its intentions.

Traffic police must also enforce rules. For example, most riders have helmets for use on days when the police ‘gets serious’! When police got serious with seat belts, all motorists used them – apart from a few government drivers!

Just as I coined the phrases, south of Kampala road and north of Kampala road to describe areas, I would like to introduce a new one: Boda Boda Thinking! Boda riders see themselves as powerful. They go anywhere they want and when they want, regardless of others. Indeed, sometimes they seem unstoppable!

I watched television coverage of the presidential nominations conducted by the electoral commission plus the rallies of each candidate and wondered if powerful NRM will reflect on events and change strategy. It is possible that their power or strong-arm mentality has hindered or detracted them from strategic thinking.

The crowds (and yes) led by boda bodas suggest that Museveni, Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi are the leading contenders. Now KB complained that he had been bullied off being nominated first. The EC claims the president was called in first out of respect. Of course the Museveni team could have declined but methinks they needed to demonstrate power by going before all the others.

Now, if we were to assess performances using numbers and candidates’ speeches, perhaps KB came first, M7 second and JPAM third. According to one JPAM strategist, this was Round One and scores were: KB 90%, M7 75% and JPAM 68%!

I wonder what would have happened if NRM had allowed FDC and Go Forward get nominated first and on the same day.


The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers


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