Boda Boda, Kampala’s convenient traffic nightmare

By Kwabena Opong,
Kampala, Uganda

Kampala is Uganda’s capital city and Greater Kampala with its estimated population of 2.3 million is likely to double in less than ten years, according to a UNHabitat study. Like most African metropolis, Kampala faces a myriad of transportation issues. Uganda’s railway system (UR) is still limited to the few miles of lines laid by the British to connect to the productive areas of the country as was done in its other colonies on the continent.
Currently UR is essentially a cargo carrier while its passenger segment is literally curtailed. In Kampala UR only carries passengers from the train station to the city’s main sports stadium named after Nelson Mandela in the Namboole suburb east of the city during tournaments. But an urban rail system in Kampala is much needed. The only bus company that was operating in town was stopped for unpaid taxes by the country’s revenue authority. For a city that is fast motorizing, Kampala’s road traffic is chaotic to say the least. Familiarity with the traffic situation in Lagos or Accra is a close description of the Kampala sceneIn Kampala as in Lagos and Accra, trotro or minibuses known as taxis or matatus in the local language provide the needed expedited service, but passengers do not enjoy the privilege of custom service to be conveyed directly to their destination for 500 Ugandan Shillings ($0.20). A more expensive version of taxis exists and that could cost the passenger up to as much as 20,000 Ugandan Shillings ($8.00) per ride, a kingly sum by Ugandan standards.
Anyone coming from a jurisdiction where driving is done on the right as in the United States, Ghana or Nigeria needs to study the driving situation in Kampala where driving is done on the left before actually embarking on what might seem a gargantuan task. What could make it even more complicated is the sight of a large number of motor cyclists who ride weaving in the tight traffic, sometimes hitting vehicles and/or being knocked down.
The Kampala version of the motor cycle taxi is called Boda Boda.
In Lagos and Accra they are called Okada but they perform similar functions: carrying passengers and goods to their destinations at a much faster rate than the average taxi or tro tro. Boda boda is not unique to Kampala: it is found in the major cities of the country. In Kampala the average fare for a boda boda ride is 1,000 Shillings. It could go higher depending on the distance, but it is wise to negotiate before the ride. The term boda boda is the Unglish – the Ugandan English – version of border to border. The concept was initiated by bicycle riders at the border town of Busia where they ferried passengers from border to border. Bicycle boda boda has lost its luster with the introduction of motor bikes but a few continue to ply the roads carrying passengers and cargo.
Boda boda is not for the faint of heart, but is both a menace and a convenience. The roads are for the most part potholed and it is not uncommon to see on a daily basis boda boda involved in one accident or the other. In fact, at the Makerere University Teaching Hospital at Mulago, a special ward is dedicated to boda boda accident victims. Any new comer to Kampala would cringe at the contempt in which boda boda riders hold traffic rules. Boda boda riders can be seen riding to and from any direction of the road. They ride anywhere there is room to maneuver, including pavements and kerbs. During rush hours, they run red lights at the city’s roundabouts with abandon in the presence of white-attired traffic police who look on unconcerned. It is also common knowledge that a large majority of boda boda is uninsured even as they carry passengers around town. A few have been caught running away carrying their vehicles on their head after an accident. Some also speed away leaving their passengers on the road after an accident.
Overloading is also a common sight among boda boda in Kampala. In spite of warnings from the police to avoid overloading, families of more than three can be seen behind the motor cycle taxis. They are often seen with cargo.
Despite its obvious setbacks, boda boda could be a convenient segment of the transportation system. If placed in the proper legal perspective. Special lanes could be carved for them on the roads as it is for bicycles in New York City. Boda boda is an accessible transportation system that could be complementary to a weak system as it persists in Kampala and indeed Uganda. It is fast and could be used effectively. They are very familiar with the city and can be relied upon to carry their passengers to their destinations. Riders could make use of proper training in traffic rules and for revenue generation, they can be educated to pay taxes.
In the remote parts of the city, boda bodas could be used to expeditiously convey the sick to the nearest medical facilities for treatment. They convey merchandise to local markets and it appears to be popular with tourists.
Riding the pylon on Kampala’s potholed and dusty narrow streets may be unsafe but it is fun and has an economic potential if placed properly within the transportation structure of the capital city. It is an experience worth having when in Kampala on a visit.

Posted by on Apr 24 2014. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply