Mr Stephen Ojula graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration in 2018 but he for two years failed to get the white-collar job he trained for.
Mr Ojula got his degree from Nkozi University and after realising that the dream job that classroom work promised was elusive, he turned to a boda boda rider.
The motorcycle Mr Ojula rides to earn a living belongs to one of his colleagues, who is also a rider and graduate of Business Administration from Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU).
“I had to abandon the hunt for the office job because it had become tiresome and depressing. I had even lost hope and grown thin,” he says.
The 29-year–old resident of Adam Village in Kwapa Town Council, Tororo District, says although being a boda boda rider is gruelling, it pays well compared to other odd jobs.
“[On average], l am assured of my Shs30,000 in my pocket [each day] whenever I leave home, but if this motorcycle was mine, I would be earning and saving more,” he says.
Mr Ojula, who operates his boda boda mainly in Tororo Municipality, is one of about 700,000 graduates who enter Uganda’s job market each year, but out of which only 90,000 get formal jobs irrespective of qualification, according to National Planning Authority (NPA) statistics.
This translates to 87 per cent of graduates ready to work but can’t find a job.
According to the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) records, there are about 47 universities, nine of which are public, nine degree-awarding institutions and more than 200 other tertiary institutions in the country.
Mr Javier Moya, another rider in Tororo Municipality and a holder of a Diploma in Records Management, expresses disappointment, saying the country is currently not conducive for graduates.
“I call for the government to provide more economic opportunities for the graduates otherwise this country is becoming un-habitable to the educated youth,” he says.
President Museveni, while campaigning for the January polls that he won, listed seven priorities to tackle under his securing the future campaign, which included provision of capital to the unemployed youth, defence and security.
Other priority areas were education, increment of salaries for scientists, roads and railway, electricity and health.
In central region, which Mr Museveni lost to National Unity Platform (NUP) leader Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, discontent brews over rampant unemployment.
Mr Joseph Kabanda, 28, a boda boda cyclist at Motel Stage in Kyotera Town, Kyotera District, says he graduated with a Bachelor in Electrical Engineering from Kyambogo University in 2015. He searched for formal employment and got it but it wasn’t paying well.
“I preferred to start my own business, but I lacked capital. Where I got a job, I was being paid peanuts. I later approached a friend who owned a motorcycle and he allowed me to use it for boda boda business. I am now progressing well and I currently own my boda boda (motorcycle),” he says.
Mr Musa Kamanyire, who studied Social Work at Kyambogo University in Kampala, is a boda boda rider at Watoni Stage in Mukono Municipality. He graduated 12 years ago and has never secured a formal job despite several attempts.
“I would buy newspapers every Monday and Friday to search for jobs, but after applying, they would call us for an aptitude test and from there, I couldn’t hear from [the [prospective employer] again,” he said.
Mr Julius Nasibu, who holds with a degree in Development Studies, is also a boda boda rider at Sombe Supermarket in Mukono Municipality. He first joined Uganda Police Force where he says he was earning Shs400,000 monthly salary, but he later decamped.
We could not establish his entry rank in Police, although graduates are more generally recruited as cadet officers.
“I could spend a lot of time at the police station waiting for murder scenes to go and carry dead bodies and yet I couldn’t earn every day. Remember I have a family and I couldn’t wait for salary when I have a lot of responsibilities at home,” he says.
Mr Nathan Mudegi, a boda boda rider at Nkoma Stage and a graduate of Business Studies from IUIU, says after graduating in 2016, his parents asked him to leave their home and look for a job.
“I looked for a job for about three years, but I failed. I did other odd jobs, but the pay was little. I later tried boda boda and I found it better paying. I stayed in [the business of riding commercial motorcycles),” he says.
Mr George Khisa, another rider at Pallisa Stage with a degree in Social Sciences since 2014, says he has so far achieved a lot in boda boda business.
“I tried applying for advertised jobs until I gave up and resorted to riding boda boda in order to feed my family,” he says.
Mr John Wadenga, a local leader in Mbale City, says many educated youth are migrating from rural to urban areas for other opportunities but they end up venturing into the boda boda industry due to rampant urban unemployment.
“This explains why the number of boda boda operators is ballooning each day,” he says.
A 2013 report authored by Standard Bank analyst Simon Freemantle and economist Jeremy Stevens measured motorcycle exports from India and it revealed that Uganda at the time imported motorcycles worth Shs113.4b ($31m).
The report put Uganda ahead of Kenya and Tanzania as the leading importer of motorcycles in the East African region.
Data from Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) indicates that Kampala alone has more than 120,000 motorcycles, majority of which are engaged in commercial activities – boda bada.
IUIU alumnus Rasidi Wabuya, now a boda boda rider, says he regrets going to school. “My colleagues who dropped out of school earlier are even doing better than l am,” he says while waiting for passengers at Nakaloke stage.
In Lira, more than 8,000 young people, including graduates, have found solace in boda boda business due to shortage of jobs.
Majority of them are said to have sold their family land to purchase motorcycles, which they now ride in urban centres to make ends meet.
The Lira City West MP-elect, Mr Vincent Obong Eyit, says he has trained unemployed youth in vocational skills so that they can start their own work to earn a living after they failed to get their dream jobs.
“Unemployment is still a very big problem in this country because most of the graduates are unable to find jobs,” he says.
Mr Eyit says the government should set up factories that can employ hundreds of jobless young people.
He also urges youth to engage in productive projects such as dairy farming, goat rearing, piggery and poultry.
In Soroti, Mr Matthias Acurut Mulumba, who graduated with a Diploma in Human Resource from Uganda College of Commerce (UCC) Soroti, says he had no option to become a boda boda rider.
“My siblings needed my financial support after my graduation in 2016, but I could not help because I had no job,” he says.
Another graduate, Mr Aron Echiku, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from Kyambogo University, says he started riding boda boda after he realised that his colleagues, who graduated before him, were in the same business.
“There are no jobs in Uganda. If you are to get a job, it should either be luck or you must have a godfather otherwise you will roam the streets until you get tired,” Mr Echiku says.
He says most times he applied for a job in district local governments, he was bounced and alleges that jobs are sold to applicants.
In Fort Portal, Mr Vincent Ndyabadiho, 27, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science, says his boda boda work pays him more than people who work in offices.
“Today if you give me a job [with a monthly salary] of less than Shs500,000, I can’t accept it because in a month I earn more than that money from riding my boda boda,” Mr Ndyabadiho says.
Another boda boda man, Mr Exevier Lyahinda, 28, who holds a Diploma in Agriculture from Africa Ark, says after graduating in 2018, he failed to secure a job and resorted to riding a motorcycle.
“I tried in different offices to get a job but all in vain; so, I decided to join Golden Boda Boda Stage and started riding and I don’t regret it,” he says.
In Gulu City, Mr Robert Onen, a professional teacher, who is now a rider at Corner Layibi, says the boda boda industry is very profitable.
“I have practiced teaching for 11 years, but when I joined boda boda business two years ago, I [earn more money and] don’t regret [the decision],” Mr Onencan says.
Gulu City Boda Boda Association spokesperson Emmy Ocen, himself a professional civil engineer, says he turned to boda boda business because he failed to secure a more paying job elsewhere.
“As I speak, we have 22,000 members and among them are teachers, police officers, farmers, soldiers and other young men, who have failed to get formal jobs,” Mr Ocen, says.
He adds that boda boda business is accommodative and does not require a glossy résumé or certificate for one to qualify and register.
In Jinja, Mr Bosco Balikowa, a boda boda rider with a Diploma in Motor Mechanics, says he looked for a job for three years in vain.
“In 2017, 1 started riding a boda boda where I used to pay the owner everyday Shs10,000,” he says.
Mr Balikowa, who has since bought his own second-hand motorcycle, says they were earning enough but Covid-19 restrictions have hampered their work.
“The Covid-19 guidelines have affected our business. We no longer earn like we used to,” he says.
The director of information at the secretariat of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, Mr Emmanuel Dombo, says the government is committed to creating jobs through commercialisation of agriculture, expansion of private, service and ICT sectors.
“In the [2021-26] manifesto, we have identified areas where the government can be able to expand on the employable opportunities,” he says.
Mr Dombo says the government has attracted investors to set up factories in the different parts of the country and provide seed capital through programmes such Emyooga to solve the problem of rampant unemployment.
“Many factories are being set up in Mbale, Mbarara, Mukono and so on to employ educated youth. The government is also providing seed capital for youth to start up businesses,” he says.
Last year, Daily Monitor ran a story of Ms Margaret Asiimwe, a 25-year-old boda boda rider, who mobilised other women from Fort Portal City, Kabarole District to join the same business. They have since established an association known as Kabarole Women Boda Boda riders and Farmers Association.
Ms Asiimwe is the chairperson of this association. Every month, each member saves Shs20,000.
According to World Bank and Uganda Bureau of Statistics data, Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world with 77 per cent aged below 25. There are slightly over 7.3 million youth aged between 15 and 24 living in Uganda. However, most young people, especially those of employable age, have no jobs to meaningfully earn incomes from. The unemployment rate for young people in Uganda aged 15–24 is 83 per cent.
90, 000: Number of graduates who get formal jobs irrespective of qualification out of 700,000, according to National Planning Authority statistics.
30, 000:Average amount a boda boda rider earns per day, making it a total Shs900,000 in a month.
120, 000: Number of boda bodas in Kampla according to data from Kampala Capital City Authority.
What they said...
Electrical Engineer: “I preferred to start my own business, but I lacked capital. Where I got a job, I was being paid peanuts. I later approached a friend who owned a motorcycle and he allowed me to use it for boda boda business. I am now progressing well and I currently own my boda boda (motorcycle),” Mr Joseph Kabanda, 28, a boda boda cyclist from Kyotera District.
Business professional: “I looked for a job for about three years, but I failed. I did other odd jobs, but the pay was little. I later tried boda boda and I found it better paying. I stayed in the business of riding for commercial purposes,” Mr Nathan Mudegi, a boda boda rider from Mbale.
NRM party speaks out: “In the [2021-2026] manifesto, we have identified areas where the government can be able to expand on the employable opportunities. Many factories are being set up in Mbale, Mbarara, Mukono and so on to employ educated youth. The government is also providing seed capital for youth to start up businesses,” The director of information at NRM secretariat, Mr Emmanuel Dombo
Compiled by Fred Wambede, Bill Oketch, Joel Kaguta, Alex Ashaba, Joseph Omollo, Phoebe Masongole, Olivier Mukaaya, George Muron, Denis Edema, Tobbias Jolly Owiny, Jessica Sabano, & Ambrose Musasizi