For decades counting, vehicles have played an integral part in man’s life. Whereas, in the past owning a car was often considered flamboyant, today automobiles act as a source of employment to a considerable number of youth but also are a means of beating Kampala’s round the clock traffic jam.
To the people running a string of businesses in contemporary Uganda, owning a vehicle is no longer an option, but a key priority putting into consideration its added advantages.
Baguma, a stout businessman I encountered in Kikuubo says that on top of transporting agricultural produce to market centres, owning a car has drastically reduced his transport expenditure.
Admittedly, he says that his Toyota Hiace has enabled him to effectively supervise his businesses that range from a piggery that is located at Muduuma Township on the Kampala- Fort Portal highway on the outskirts of the city, an under garment shop in Kikuubo and rental units in Nansana.
He says his ride enables him to effectively monitor his entities without any hiccups.
“I no longer have to worry about transportation costs any more since I am able to transport produce from the farm unscathed but also supervise other businesses at a reduced cost compared to when I was using boda bodas.”, Baguma says.
Baguma is not alone. Phillip Katuramu a Makerere University Business School Bachelor of business administration represents a growing array of unemployed youth who are cutting a niche in the transport industry. After a fruitless search for jobs, the 27 year old has finally found his feet in a chauffeuring service Taxify.
Glamorous as it appears, driving on city roads can be daunting even to the renowned matatu drivers due to enormous commercial cyclists that maraud all over the city transporting unbothered passengers eager to get to their destinations within the blink of the eye.
Going by estimates by Peter Kaujju the deputy director of public and corporate affairs at Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA), there are 3,000 commercial motorcyclists operating within the city although he admits that the previous registration count was 64,000.
Separately, a 2018 report by the United Nations economic commission for Africa report titled “road safety performance review Uganda” stipulates that as of 2014 there were about 405,124 motorcycles in Kampala compared to 15,979 previously in 2007.
However, the relationship between these motorcyclists commonly known as boda bodas and other motorists has not been rosy.
Often times, boda boda riders have found themselves at the receiving end of public criticism something which many observers claim has to do with their aggressive riding antics and disrespect for traffic guidelines.
This they say is the underlying reason behind Kampala’s pervasive road accident count.
Gereva Katwesiime a retired civil servant is one of the so many city dwellers who cannot help but hope for day when the city will be free of these adrenalin induced riders.
Like any other pedestrians in Kampala, Katwesiime has no misgiving about boda bodas whom he refers to as a ticking time bomb city authorities must get rid of sooner than later.
Deducting from personal experience, the tall, light skinned and lean aging patron painfully relates an incident where he was unnecessarily knocked mid last year while on a stroll in Mutungo, a city suburb regardless of the fact that he was walking on a pedestrian lane.
“I do not know why authorities are not doing anything about this problem, yet the injury count is increasing every day. Personally, I was knocked even while I was walking on the pedestrian side by a rider whom managed to get away without apprehended”, Katwesiime explains.
Apparently, he is still nursing gruesome injuries that at one time confined him to a wheel chair.
Katwesiime is not alone; Duncan Mukasa a mobile money operator is also among those affected. Though slightly lucky, Ssali says that this year alone, he has twice been knocked by errant motor cyclists in the city centre. As a result he has had to nurse two minor injuries.
Coincidentally, these two are just a pinch of a bigger problem whose cure is yet to be found.
According to a 2018 United Nations economic commission for Africa report titled “road safety performance review Uganda” , motorcycle fatalities in Uganda between 2011 and 2016 doubled from 570 deaths to 1,170 deaths, representing a 51.3% increase in the five-year period. As if that is not enough, the same report stipulates that in 2015 alone 5,543 riders were seriously injured.
On average, the country loses 10 people daily in road traffic crashes making it the country most accident prone country in east Africa.
This damage is not entirely limited to pedestrians but to motorists as well. Joshua Twinomujuni a cab driver I found at Mabirizi plaza single handedly faults motor cyclists for their contemptuous attitude towards traffic lights. As a matter of fact, Twinomujuni says as drivers they face a torrid time in steering safe of crisscrossing cyclists at key city junctions such as the Jinja road on a daily basis.
“It is chaotic my brother, when the lights say stop to them it says otherwise. As a result, you need to be steady in order not to knock multitudes of boda men crossing from all directions”, he narrates.
To make it worse, Twinomujuni says most boda riders are in the habit of driving close to his vehicle something that has cost him hefty amounts in maintaining his vehicle. As a result of infringement constantly his vehicle needs to be replaced with side mirrors and body sprayed to conceal scratches.
Robert Ssekindi a taxi driver on the Entebbe route, who boasts of a decades old is remorseful of their berating behavior towards other motorists. He says that even when they (boda boda) are guilty of an offence, they go an extra mile by abusing the victims or even going physical at times.
“It baffles me why these guys commit traffic offences and on being reminded they resort to using foul language”, Ssekindi points out.
Amidst all this mayhem, one might be prompted to ask if at all there an end in sight to this baffling situation.
On the contrary, Charles Ssebambulide the traffic police spokesperson sees no cause for worry since the existing legal framework such as the traffic and road safety act 2000 has ably dealt with errant motorcyclists over the years.
“It is not that we do not have the laws, we do have them. If you go to central police station, you will see a huge number of motorcycles which all have been confiscated from errant riders. Contrary to public criticism, our officers are doing a commendable job”, Ssebambulide explains.
However, he admits that enforcement of these rules has been hampered by the largely because the force is stretched thin on the ground.
“One thing you need to consider is that it is not easy to apprehend motorcyclists, they are many yet we are few. However we are doing our best”, he explains.
That said, though Peter Kaujju the (KCCA) spokesperson seems poignant of this grueling reality he blames it on the huge vacuum in the public transport sector. However Kaujju says that government is in plans to register all commercial motorcycles not only Kampala but across the entire country.
“Boda Bodas exist because of a large gap that exists in the transport sector however efforts are being made to address this issue. Apparently government together with KCCA is coordinating an effort to register all bodas, details of which we shall announce at a later date”, he explains.
In the meantime however, Kaujju says that plans are in the pipeline to have the train service that is already operating between Namanve and Kampala to other areas within the city such as Kyengera and Luzira. This he says will go a long way in reducing traffic congestion within greater Kampala.
“We have a train service that operates on the Namanve – Kampala route which ferries about 3,000 people daily meaning there is much more that needs to improve. However, there are plans to extend this service to Kyengera and Luzira”, Kaujju further adds.
Asked whether app based and registered motorcycle companies are the way to go, he says that though they are a much better option, other individual riders if trained could do a better job as well.
Kampala is home to a growing number of registered commercial transport companies that include; taxify, uber boda, safe boda with Jack Johns the latest.