Bodabodas; the roving tiger we love to hate

BODABODAS. Those little noisy, gassy rides of motorbikes that whisk us through quick errands. We hate them; their riders even more. We also love them, probably because we cannot do without them. This country is very slow; the taxis just get you nowhere, but the bodaboda does. In a minute or less. But that is all we care about. Once we are off one, we switch off. We couldn’t care less if the bodaboda man got knocked on his way back. We don’t care if his ride got confiscated or if he died of depression. Why should we. We will find another. They are so many around town. Truth is, bodaboda is one of the most endangered professional species in Uganda today. It ranks favourably among the most stressing jobs in the land.

Ungodly hours

Ronald Kigenyi leaves his single room of a house at 6:00 am. He walks a few kilometers to the trading center in Mutungo where he keeps his bike and heads for the nearby stage. He works through a very uncertain day. “I sit for hours before getting a customer,” he says. The waiting is usually done in the open, exposed stage or under a tree shade; under the distressing torment of unpredictable weather. Leaving the stage means losing a customer, braving the treacherous weather is the only option, until one luckily finds a passenger. Luck sometimes comes in short supply, especially when faced with a difficult passenger. Some passengers bully us,” says Henry Magwali who works at a stage in Industrial Area.

“I took this guy to Kiyembe. On arrival, he jumped off the bike and asked me to wait for him. I waited thirty minutes and when he returned, asked me to give him sh 10,000 to sort out a small problem. I gave him all I had- sh 9000. He disappeared into a building.” Magwali waited two hours. “When I asked, they told me he had gone through a hallway leading to a busy road on the other side of the building.” In a bizarre twist of fate, roles were exchanged. The passenger that should have given money to the bodaboda man instead took money from him. Mwagali drove away a very sad man.

A Death trap

After a hard day, boda boda riders retire in the night- anywhere between 9:00pm to 11:00pm. Their meager incomes force some of them to stay on and work well into the night. This is one of the most tormenting moments. Operating on the insecure city streets and suburbs, these unsuspecting cyclists have become a target to robbers that hire them, lead them into dark places, kill them and make off with their rides and profits. Those who survive, get away with thorough beatings. We have been attacked, had some of our colleagues killed,” says Vincent Mawanda a rider on Makindye Kirabo stage. He never works beyond 9:00 pm. Such is the threat their lives that some riders have suspended night operations. This was the case in Lira recently.

Unfortunately, police does not help very much. “They ignore us when we report,” says Mawanda. Little wonder, many riders do not trust police and traffic officers. “They add to our stress,” says Frugensio Bizimungu at Obligato stage. Just like motorists, they harass us.” Unfortunately the reparations for these men are never thought about. David Tumuhaise, Uganda Insurers Association’s technical manager says few motorcyclists are insured comprehensively. They don’t care much for it. They have enough stress.

They also kill. Bodabodas are believed to be the leading cause of road accidents in Kampala today. Dr. Edward
NRM – campaigns, Wakiso, bodaboda supoorters

NRM – campaigns, Wakiso, bodaboda supoorters

Naddumba, a senior Orthopedic surgeon said recently that that 75% of all trauma cases at the national referral hospital are as a result of bodaboda accidents. These guys are simply irrational. They respect no lanes; they wear no helmets; they drive like crazy. But what can they do. The roads are not clearly marked. No helpful road signage and the policemen that would help things have also given up. And yes. You always have to make it in time for your appointment. You want to make it to your date before she walks out on you. But wait a sec. How did she get there in time in the first place? It is all a farce- I think.

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