‘BODA-BODA’ in Uganda: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by by David Botchie

Submitted by DPP on Thursday, January 31, 2013 - 14:51

There are three main ways of getting round Uganda if you do not have your own means of transport—taxis popularly known as special hire in Uganda, Toyota mini bus (Ugandan version of a Taxi) aka ‘Matatu’ in East Africa and motor cycle taxi called ‘boda boda’. The term ‘boda-boda’ comes from the Busia border of Uganda some 50 years ago when innovative Ugandans provided bicycle taxis for bus passengers who had to disembark on one side of the border and walk a long distance to the other. These bicycle taxi operators would advertise their transport by shouting out ‘boda boda’ and since then the term ‘boda boda’ taxi service has become a very common name on the streets of Uganda. Of course, in Kampala, the ‘boda boda’ bicycles have been replaced by loud, polluting motorcycles. These new versions of ‘boda boda’—motorcycles have now become a very important means of transport in Kampala. Personally, I describe a ‘boda boda’ in Kampala as ‘the Good’, ‘the Bad’ and ‘the Ugly’.

‘The Good’
It is not strange to get stuck in a traffic jam for 3 hours in Kampala. I was always thinking it is only in Accra (my country of origin) and Lagos that such type of massive traffic jams exists but Kampala has actually given me a new meaning to the word traffic jam. However in an informal way a ‘boda boda’ rider enjoys certain immunity to traffic. The ‘boda boda’ rider simply curves, manoeuvres and weaves its way round cars and passengers, as idle automobile drivers enviously watch it speed by. Thus you can only meet a client on time if you consider boarding a ‘boda boda’ in Kampala. Furthermore, it is cost-efficient. Roughly, I need five times the amount of money I need to board a ‘boda boda’ before I can board a special hire taxi. It is increasingly becoming a more efficient way of transporting emergency cases to hospitals in Kampala. A doctor friend of mine told me that a patient in a very critical condition risks losing his/her life if you do not get an ambulance or a ‘boda boda’. Special hire taxis will always get stuck in traffic for at least one hour. It is also increasingly becoming a very cardinal source of income for people. According to a ‘boda boda’ operator in Kampala, the business is so lucrative to the extent that he has completed building a three bedroom house and currently paying fees at the university level.

‘The Bad’
Despite the fact that it is an efficient means of transport, it is a cliché that ‘boda boda’ is the main cause of road accidents in Kampala. No wonder the media keeps reporting that the number of people who die through road accidents are more than HIV, Marburg, Ebola and malaria combined.

‘The Ugly’
There is an increasing perception that theft cases on the streets of Kampala are mainly caused by ‘Boda-Boda’ operators. But I am yet to witness and ascertain this particular allegation.

The following precautions are very important if you are considering a ‘boda-boda’ ride around Kampala: Ensure you get a helmet for yourself because you may not be comfortable in the sweaty helmet of the ‘Boda-Boda’ rider. Today, there are very cheap imported helmets from China flooding the streets of Kampala. It is actually worth it to get this life saving wear since it will go a long way in saving your life should anything unfortunate happen. If you are a lady, you must learn to dress like a man. Women in Uganda ride on ‘boda boda’ sidesaddle; this is graceful but it makes it harder to stay on the bike. If you know you will be riding a ‘boda boda’, leave the skirt at home and put on a pair of Jeans. Do not allow a ‘boda boda’ to take your wallet for a ride. Try your best to appear as informed and in-control as possible, and demand a fair price. Last but not the least, always get on and off of the left side of the bike to avoid the very hot exhaust pipe on the right side. Finally, find yourself a regular driver who’s driving skills and judgment you have vetted, and stick with him. Store his number on your phone and call him whenever you need a ride somewhere rather than trying your luck with someone new every time. After taking these precautions you only need to ‘jump’ on a ‘boda boda’, hold it firmly and move freely around the small beautiful city of Kampala.