Friday, July 02, 2004

Uganda: boda-boda -- taking the pulse of the populace

Daniel Kalinaki writes in tomorrow's Monitor ...
Anyone who has driven through the city will tell you that boda boda riders own the streets. They know all the shortcuts and, with more of Kampala’s streets becoming one-way, show no hesitation in riding on the right (actually wrong) side of the road rather than going round in squares to keep left.

Increasingly, these little men in funny jackets and second-hand helmets are starting to own the political space in the city as well. It all started on the last nomination day of the 2001 presidential elections when President Museveni, who was late and on the verge of being disqualified, jumped onto a boda boda at Kololo airstrip in order to beat the crowd and get to the nomination desk.

The President, who declared a boda boda as one of his possessions, to the IGG [Inspector General of Government], has since then had his fair share of boda boda rides, all well publicised to show him as a man of the people.

The boda boda has become a tool of transport and of popular expression. This week a couple hundred boda boda riders filled Kampala’s streets to protest against the Constitutional Court ruling which declared the 2000 Referendum illegal.

[...] There is something incredibly shallow about this new Boda Boda Political Party (BPP) as a barometer of popular political sentiment. For starters, their numbers are at best suspect and hardly statistically representative of the general mood of ‘the people’ at the grassroots. [...] They have to be paid for their lost income and given fuel to zoom around the city and make smokers jealous. Many educated people did not understand the implications of the Constitutional Court ruling; even fewer members of the BPP did.

[...] If the great political decisions of the day will not be determined by Parliamentary majorities or court rulings, then certainly, they should not be determined by 200 teenage boys on 50 c.c. boda bodas riding on the right hand side of Kampala’s streets. (full-text)
What was that about the President ...
There is another guy who is not averse to using the boda boda in congested situations. You have probably heard of him. His name is Yoweri Museveni. Actually, the only mechanical means of transport he owns is a boda boda. According to the mandatory asset declaration filed by leaders with the Inspector General of Government, Museveni has one boda boda but no personal car. He used to have two of these bikes but one was stolen by a herdsman. Now he has only one. But he calls the shots in Uganda. (source)
Also in the July 3 edition of the Monitor, a story that the President's legal assistant, Fox Odoi, wrote a letter telling the mayor of Kampala to stop taxing boda-boda operators. However, the paper also says that Odoi did not confirm that he wrote the letter.

A "boda-boda" is a motorcycle or bicycle taxi.
The name originated from when persons traveling between the border posts of Malaba and Busia would take a bicycle taxi. The bicycle owners would shout out boda-boda (border border) to potential customers. (source)