The boda boda is a creature of many stripes

Author: Angella Nampewo. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • If we do not take active steps to manage it, the boda boda is fast becoming the monster to fear. 

Boda bodas have been praised, even in songs, for standing in the gap where other means of public transport have failed. I can hear the late Elly Wamala’s lyrics as I write. Back then, he was full of praises about this motorcycle  that can wiggle through narrow alleys, and through valleys where public transport is painfully scarce or unavailable. 

Once, while in the vicinity of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a rider pointed at the youth waiting in line and conversation shifted to travel abroad for kyeyo, especially in the Middle East. 

The rider made an interesting statement that if there were suddenly no boda bodas in town, there would be a mass exodus of young men to work abroad. Basically he was saying that the boda bodas are what is keeping many young men around. 

Most boda boda riders, he said, are assured of a steady daily income and a comfortable existence. For a boda boda spouse, the daily kameeza (household expenses) contribution is guaranteed and there is even some left over. 

That is why the streets are filled with riders in spite of the fact that motorcycle prices have only gotten steeper over time. Like going off to work in the Middle East, it is a job with hazards but one that pays.

In my view, the conversation about boda bodas should not just be about the statistics, it should cover the human elements. Why are so many young people (often men) opting for this line of work? People will even sell their land in the village, buy a boda boda and come to the city. 

We know that there are many highly educated riders in the business so it is also wrong to assume that this is about a bump of reckless, illiterate lumpens.
I discovered recently that there have been attempts by Kampala rider associations in their respective divisions to register their members. 

This was after I saw a new lot of riders whizzing around town wearing reflector jackets with QR codes, riders’ names and numbers on the back. 

Riders from different divisions have different colour codes, for example dark blue for Rubaga. I also learnt that this was an initiative of the people by the people, not the official government initiative. 

There is also a police crackdown on errant cyclists, which is as it should be. According to police reports, 257 lives were lost in boda boda accidents last month alone. And those are someone’s parents, sons and daughters. They are not statistics. 

However, the crackdown needs to go hand in hand with an understanding of what makes this industry tick. 

While some riders are trying to make an honest living in a harsh economy, there is a whole underground system of boda boda criminals who are terrorising the wananchi. Reading and listening to the accounts of those who have encountered these goons can make anyone swear never to board a two-wheeler after dark. 

So if police is netting the reckless riders, what are they going to do about the ones who are strangling passengers and robbing them all over the place in the neighbourhoods? If we do not take active steps to manage it, the boda boda is fast becoming the monster to fear by day and night. 

Providing the people with alternative means of transport and better road networks would be a good start because as it is, we are stuck with devil motorcycle since it is what will get us from point A to B where no other means exist or where the state of the roads just won’t allow. 

Besides a young person somewhere has got to eat.

Ms Angella Nampewo is a writer, editor and communications consultant     
[email protected]