We are safer with a regulated boda boda transport system
Posted Monday, September 23 2013 at 01:00
The police-Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) boda boda registration standoff is a tension between the need for an orderly city, racking in revenues from a thriving but order-less industry on the one hand and a police reliance on the same industry for intelligence gathering on the other. It is and has always been a choice between revenue and order and a secretive, informal and dark intelligence network.
Boda boda commercial cyclists have become a permanent fixture in all neighbourhoods. They often are law unto themselves. They do not obey traffic laws and create stages at will in any part of the city. They operate throughout the night and day and some have been accused on countless occasions of involvement in or facilitating acts of robbery and other related crimes.
What started as a response to a general breakdown of public transport service has become a thriving sector supporting many would-be unemployed youths, feeding many families and educating many children. It has grown into the most convenient and cheap form of transport.
Because of their disregard for traffic rules, they deliver their passengers to their destinations, often with their hearts in their hands, at break neck speed in a traffic jammed city. They ride on pavements, wrong side of the road and those who take them do so for a lack of choice rather than necessity.
They are liked and hated in equal measure. But many of these cyclists have also become an integral part of the intelligence-gathering network. They feed police intelligence with briefs and in some cases are assigned to follow up an individual for long periods to simply gather intelligence information.
In many places, their bikes are procured by and handed over to them by the police. These are disguised as a strategy of discouraging unemployed youths from taking part in demonstration and riots. In some instances, it is used as an anti-poverty initiative to keep the youth engaged and hence curb crime.
At the height of the Walk-to-Work demonstrations, the police distributed money and bikes to youths in the areas of Kasangati, Dr Kizza Besigye’s neighbourhood and in Masaka Municipality to dissuade them from taking part in public demonstrations.
These informal and hard to trace intelligence network is all over the city and in all urban and rural areas. Take for instance Pilkington Road; just in front of Workers House entrance and exit, a boda boda stage of no less than five boda bodas is stationed. They can, on some days, refuse to transport passengers and simply sit on their bikes parked at the stage.
But behind these disguised intentions to support this semi-literate lot is citizen monitoring and intelligence system that is now threatened by the proposed KCCA registration. Put differently, the registration and control of the cyclists would appear in the view of the police, to take them away from the control of the police and goes to the core of their intelligence gathering capabilities.
They have become an integral part of police intelligence in the city and it is the reason they are unlawful, unruly and unwilling to answer to anyone else. In their quintessential uncoordinated modus operandi, the police often launch traffic scoops and often times impound many bikes only for them to be released on the orders of non-traffic police officers. I was therefore not surprised to hear the Makindye Mayor bemoan the protection of boda bodas who had rampaged the division registration centre, burnt KCCA tools and beaten street cleaners/sweepers.
KCCA’s well intentioned measure to register the riders, accord them numbers and establish an orderly revenue collection system would take the riders out of the hands of the police and by extension disrupt the informal intelligence system. It is the reason the police has intervened and the registration process has been ‘postponed’.
The reliance on an informal and unregulated sector for intelligence puts the police in jeopardy. It would be in their interest that the riders are registered for easy tracing, monitoring and revenue collection. In that way, they are not just a bunch of folks for rent. The public will be much safer and standards can be enforced to ensure compliance with the law. The city will be more organised and orderly.
Mr Opiyo is an Advocate of the Courts of Judicature. firstname.lastname@example.org