Lockdown: How bodas transported human cargo

Sunday June 14 2020


By Jacobs Seaman Odongo

Many years ago, I travelled to Luuka District to attend a friend’s grad party. From Magamaga, I boarded a taxi that had sardines packed five in a row. I took the front co-driver’s seat, only to see the driver squeezing himself with yet another passenger on his seat.

The conductor and two touts went missing after drawing shut the duty taxi door. It was only after they re-emerged to pull open the door at a stop in some village along the way that I realised they have been sitting on top of the vehicle. It was raining and there were about four of them up there.

I thought that was weird until this lockdown thing happened and with it, Uganda got two full Health ministers. After a week of enduring what the son of Kaguta had decided was the new normal, I broke ranks with myself and walked to a stage on the Kampala-Jinja highway in Bweyogerere.

There were three touts here. One approached me and offered free advice: you can take a boda if in a hurry or hang around until a vehicle stops. He explained that hanging around is to be like other permanent secretaries who do their job as accounting officers without being seen here and there, and taking the boda was to be like Dr Diana Atwine, the PS Ministry of Health.

I don’t know what the tout meant in all this. Atwine doesn’t even ride a boda to begin with. And, a boda from Kampala to Jinja? At a time bodas were banned from transporting passengers and limited to cargo?

A boda man approached grinning like Dr Atwine. He offered to deliver me to Jinja in one pack. And piece.
“And police checkpoints along the highway?” I asked.
“Worry not,” he assured. “We have our way.”


Curious, I asked how much but the guy threw the question back at me. A quick mental calculation and I apologised, saying I didn’t have what he would require for the 78-km journey.

“Just tell me what you can give, brother,” he persisted with a sweet tooth.
“Satte,” I blurted out.

The boda man turned his back on me and immediately started shouting for the attention of other prospective travellers. I moved back to the friendly tout and asked how much he thought bodas were charging to Jinja.
“Seventy-K,” he said. “But if you talk well, you might get at 50k.”
“And how about the police checkpoints?”

“Police will not see you,” he said. “Unless you stick your neck all over like Dr Atwine.”
I trudged away puzzled. But luck was on my side. A Fuso stores truck rumbled to a stop. As travellers fought to board, the driver said he was only taking one person. They chose me.

Throughout the journey, I never saw a single boda with a passenger either headed our way or in the opposite direction. The few headed to Kampala were not carrying anything. But the many headed to Jinja were carrying cargo. Huge boxes or bales of goods and such.

I wondered if the bales and boxes were the Dr Atwine these guys kept mentioning. But it was days later that I found out what they could actually have contained. Stranded at night way past curfew tick, a boda offered to pack me like a bag of cassava and deliver me home in one piece. He explained that if the police stopped us, I only had to sit still as he explained how he was a trader caught up in the shamba with cassava to deliver.

I asked for other options and he had a few more up his sleeve. I won’t share them because I might need them again. Just know I wasn’t a bag of cassava on a boda and I wasn’t sticking my neck around like Dr Atwine. I sat still.