Boda Boda riders are guilty but who is innocent?

Author: Nicholas Sengoba. PHOTO/NMG

What you need to know:

The biggest culprits are the ones who should know better. The ‘big people’ many times with the aid of police escort, double cabin pickups. They go shoving others off the road like they are the Orwellian ‘more equal.’ than others

Almost every day you come across an average of five boda boda accidents on many roads. It has now become common to assume that all accidents on the road are caused by motorcycle taxis.

It is said that the one who is caught with their hands in the cookie jar is the thief. Even for past cookie thefts. Many boda boda riders don’t have a great reputation.

They show little or even no regard whatsoever for other road users. They overtake on any side of the road. Ride in any direction. Cross at whatever point they feel, whenever they feel. Stopping depends on their whims and availability of pillion passengers at times irrespective of the signals. So the red light may mean ‘go’ and green may see them stopping, thus blocking and dangerously inconveniencing other road users.

Boda boda riders are known to block parts of roads with rocks and all manner of rudimentary paraphernalia as a way of demarcating or ‘gazzetting’ their stages.

They also have the bad habit of enforcing their own rules in case of an accident in which one of their own is involved. This is irrespective of whether he is in the wrong. They simply surround the other vehicle owner then either harm them, take advantage of the troubled waters and steal car parts or other belongings they can lay their hands on or even damage the ‘offending’ vehicles as a comeuppance.  Yet when they are glaringly guilty which is more often than not, they simply take off leaving victims with huge garage bills.

Various reports have laid their teeth in the bad ways of boda boda riders and their state of narcotic drug use, sobriety and levels of inebriation on the road as they move recklessly with either goods or pillion passengers. The numbers that lack basic training or even riding permits is alarming.

That is part of the long and short of the speck in the eyes of the  boda boda riders. This group is an anomaly but a necessary evil in the traffic madness of Uganda. The narrow jammed roads, poorly planned cities plus the lack of mass transport leave most with no option but to take a ride. Because of unemployment, commercial riding is one of the quickest and easiest solutions to youth having something to do for a living.

The number of motorcycles keeps increasing exponentially. Ease of entry is a blessing in disguise. Ownership models come with challenges. In case of hire purchase, there is a need to cover what goes to the seller, then care about the ones taken home. Same applies to one where the owner expects a certain amount daily. An oversupply of boda bodas means they have to compete for the available pillion passengers and goods to keep their heads above board.

So does the need for haste which comes with recklessness. They are also a big voting bloc meaning the politician ‘goes slowly’ on them.  In any case the politician who campaigns on the empty promise of job creation but has no job to provide the voter sees the business as a lifeline.

The traffic policeman at times sees their misdeeds as a source for daily bread and milk for the children. So they look the other way and this indemnifies and  emboldens the undisciplined on the road.

But that does not end the story of road accidents which keep all of us on the edge. We cry about lack of training of drivers, fatigue while on the roads that are also very narrow. 

Many of the cars used are in dangerous mechanical conditions. The speeding, drug and alcohol usage. Overloading and poor enforcement of the traffic regulations by the few poorly paid traffic policemen plus the absence of technology like body and CCTV cameras to watch over us are all good excuses.

But Uganda’s case is one of a general lack of discipline, courtesy and consideration for other road users. Plainly speaking it is just outright bad manners.

The biggest culprits are the ones who should know better. The ‘big people’ many times with the aid of police escort, double cabin pickups. They go shoving others off the road like they are the Orwellian ‘more equal.’ than others.

So everyone takes it up from there. You simply push others off the road, block them when you can. You may even knock them off for good measure.

You just behave like your time and whatever you have to do is more important than that of others. So you can’t wait and they should do the waiting instead. The Boda Boda riders are irritatingly all over the place so we can easily spot their faults without noticing our own.

We speak of better manners on the road because that is the easier and less costlier thing to do at the moment while we figure out the harder expensive stuff.

We are not going to lay rail tracks in a day and put everyone in trains. Neither are we going to pave, widen and increase the number of roads overnight.

But we can make an effort to teach every road user the manners and etiquette of road usage. We should not tire.

Like you are taught to knock on a door before you are allowed in or open it, the pedestrian should be taught the basics of crossing a road. You don’t just enter because this may lead to abrupt braking causing a pile up or an oncoming vehicle veering off the road knocking other people.

Same applies to speeding, over taking and letting others have the way before you, even if you have the right and it is your turn. It costs you a few minutes but saves you a lot in terms of time, money, your vehicle, and your life.

We all have to look out for others on the road and how we behave too. Society is a collective contribution of individual behavior.

If we have become a country where accidents are waiting to happen, it is because most road users, including pedestrians, are not mindful of safety. It isn’t only a boda boda thing.

Twitter: @nsengoba


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