Here’s how we can tackle the boda epidemic

Author: Moses Khisa. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Mr Moses Khisa says: Police and other public authorities have to stop giving a free pass to boda boda riders to run the red light, ride on pavements, speed unnecessarily, etc

Two weeks ago, I underscored the runaway epidemic in the passenger motorcycle industry, popularly known as boda boda. 
From some of the reactions, the crux of my concern appears to have been missed. The issue is not whether or not the boda boda industry serves a purpose, provides a needed service and makes a contribution to society. 

Rather, it is the cost we are incurring as a nation and why we have to think hard and deep about the long-term damage and destruction unfolding before our eyes. As I argued before, the most deleterious damage wrought by the boda boda industry is the acceleration in lawlessness and destruction of basic values and norms of courtesy, patience, empathy and decency. 

Our public morality with regards to acceptable and reasonable standards of proper conduct is being driven down into the ground, and our compatriots who ride passenger motorcycles are firmly in the driver’s seat. 

There are two core arguments made to justify the presence and proliferation of the boda boda industry. One is about employment to the hordes of otherwise unemployed and unemployable youths. The other is the cure motorcycles bring to Kampala’s endemic traffic jams and poor road network both of which often make moving around nightmarish. 

Both arguments are valid, but they bespeak of our inability to think long-term and pursue sound solutions, instead of going for quick fixes and easy solutions. 

At any rate, boda bodas are now all over Uganda even where there are no traffic jam problems, and despite the staggering huge presence of boda bodas everywhere in the country, unemployment has hardly abated and it will keep getting worse. 

In Kampala, boda bodas are in fact gradually becoming the primary source of road confusion, chaos and traffic jam. Soon, as they continue to populate the roads, takeover whole streets and flood every corner of the city, boda bodas will create congestion and a bigger traffic jam situation than vehicles. 

In other words, the ever rapid growth in the sheer number of boda bodas will with time defeat the very purpose for which many people find them handy. If we are a serious society and want to reimagine public order, we have to do something about the boda boda industry. 

A gradual and phased-out process of arresting the situation needs to be imagined and implemented. Assuming we have a government that is capable of bringing about transformation, here are some of the steps worth considering in tackling the boda boda epidemic.

First, institute an indefinite ban on importation of boda bodas and their parts. This will be a first step in slowing the runaway growth of the industry and allow for taking measures to manage the current innumerable motorcycles spread across the country but especially in Kampala.

Second, regulation and restrictions must be imposed on current operators. The police and other public authorities have to stop giving a free pass to boda boda riders to run the red light, ride on pavements, speed unnecessarily, etc. 

If we cannot get people who are so conspicuous on the roads to adhere to the rules of the road, we cannot have a society. As day follows night, we are headed for total disaster. Getting boda bodas to follow the law and do the right thing cannot be passed on to corporatisation; it has to be done by law enforcement.

Third, we have to think innovatively and deeply about expanding the economy in ways that create jobs and opportunities for especially young people. It is naïve to think that the boda boda industry can even barely scratch the surface of the employment crisis. 

Business financing, investment capital, backward technology, limited human resources are some of the constraints to growth in value-added production that can generate substantial job opportunities. The cost of credit in Uganda is simply outrageous and if we had a responsible and responsive government, something must have been done yesterday, urgently.

Fourth, the government can create a fund to help transition boda boda riders into better and more productive activities. The idea would be to gradually scale back on the industry to mitigate its adverse effects but also to channel our time and money in real productivity where young people can have a better return and improved livelihoods.

Last, as a society, we need to do deep soul searching. We have to see and accept that we are on a wrong path of embracing and enabling the sprawling of boda bodas as quick fixes for our poor transportation and as easy avenues for ‘investing’ a few millions of shillings. This stuff is untenable and dangerous. We all have to open our eyes.