East Africa

The Boda Boda

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The Boda-Boda


In East Africa and some other parts of Africa, we got our ‘Eureka’ moment and determined that the answer to instant youth unemployment, poverty and a mass rapid transit system, was self-employment and hence the introduction of the Boda-boda and Tuk-tuk. Why not kill two birds with one stone, eh? In any case, what is good for India and Thailand must be better for us, since we third worlders are strong advocates of  ‘appropriate technologies’ and are tired of the West. No, we were not going to imitate their nasty expensive electric over and under ground trains and trams. No, we were determined to find an African solution to an African problem. Consequently, somewhere in the scheme of things, two and three wheeled motorised cycles were imported from Asia and distributed hurriedly and widely to the unemployed youth of Africa with the promise of wealth and job security. 


In our enthusiasm and revel at finding an advanced solution to a problem that could otherwise have dire social and political consequences, we forgot the necessary infrastructure requisite for this new solution.We forgot that our roads were thin and mostly potholedwhere the Boda-boda and Tuk-tuk must vie for spacewith buses, cars, trailers, lorries, bicycles, wheel-cartsand pedestrians. We did not realize that new traffic and safety regulations should accompany this new mode of transport. We do not seem to have consulted our health experts on the dangers of riding the motorized cycles without the protective gear against nature’s elements (dust, rain and wind), and the carbon monoxide from other vehicles that would have unforeseen health consequences. I hear that long periods of riding expose riders’ reproductive organs to danger! Remind me, did we think through the total socio-economic impact of this mode of transport? Stories abound of young men abandoning their farms and villages for the boda-bodalife-style in the urban centres.


The Boda-boda and Tuk-tuk stationed at every corner and junction of our cities, towns, villages, highways, roads and paths have become an integral part of our daily lives and evolved a culture tinged by mutiny and defiance. I prefer to call this the ‘Boda culture’. It is a culture of haste and getting what you want when you want no matter what – a culture of impunity – a law unto themselves. The motto of the boda-bodas and tuk-tuks seems to be; ‘I am the only one with places to go. All you others must wait’, similar to that of our VIPs who shovemotorists off roads with their sirens and imposing entourages. At times, one wonders about who influences who  between the boda-boda and the politician.


This culture cuts across every norm and custom and reigns large in our lives. It flouts every traffic law with the connivance of the law keeper. I cannot tell whether these antics are due to ignorance of the said law, general stupidity, sheer impudence or a combination of any of these. How can one explain an overloaded Boda-boda(four passengers and a wide load of iron roofing) attempting to snake its way through a traffic jam and in the process scratching two cars, all in view of a traffic policeman? In the meantime, another Boda-bodaferrying a policeman is coming at you full speed in the wrong lane and another is driving on the pavement and pedestrians scamper in all directions. Efforts to bring the unruly growth and conduct of boda-boda under control often leads to disputes with urban authorities. Destruction of property and death often accompanyboda-boda riots when authorities attempt to introduce regulation for this mode of transport. Boda-bodas have been known to bring burglars to a site and then bring the rescuers and/or police later. In this melee, politicians exploit boda-bodas for political gain.


Have the Boda-bodas resolved the issue of youth unemployment? Travelling across East Africa, the picture says ‘not really’! I would say that unemployment was just motorized, what I call ‘unemployment on wheels’. The sight of redundant riders is common and would probably need doctoral research to decipher its insinuations. They say ‘a picture paints a thousand words’. Here are some pictures from my travels in Western Kenya.


Level 1 (XP: 10)
I believe the reason why there is more discipline witnessed in the boda boda community in Kigali, Rwanda in comparison to their East African counterparts is that in Rwanda it has been seen that there are consequences when one breaks the law. Though some may argue this, consequences to impunity and corruption in Rwanda are metted out to the culprits.
When the citizens of Kenya witness people (especially the political leadership) going scott free for one corruption scandal after another which doesn't require forensic experts to see that they are guilty, what is happening is a programming of people's minds that you can do whatever needs be to achieve your desires, regardless of the action, and you will not be held accountable. The ownership of the boda bodas and tuk tuks by police officers and politicians also is a serious conflict of interest as all they are interested in is the bottom line at the end of the day.
The only way that some kind of order can be restored in this industry is for the people of Kenya to witness that there are consequences to being corrupt and breaking the law, as seeing is believing and this shall instill the fear of God in them.
As for the mindset of self imposed discipline, if this has not been ingrained in a person during the pivotal stages of growth in ones life, then that ship has sailed away and one is left only with the state forced discipline as witnessed in Rwanda.
Level 2 (XP: 450)
I find Boda Boda a wonder transport for this Jam in Kampala, I use it daily from Monday to Monday, I pray for safety every day!
Level 1 (XP: 100)
They say that necessity is the mother of invention! Until such a time as we provide alternative solutions to low cost transportation, we must continue to bear the costs of the Boda Boda insurgence. Sigh.
Muniini K. Mulera
last year
I think it speaks to the fundamentals of personal discipline in life in general. I can't think of a word in English that expresses this better than our African words for this: Emicwe or Engyesho in Rukiga/Runyankore; Engeso in Runyakitara; Empisa in Luganda. Is it adabu in Kiswahili? This is a reflection of upbringing both at home, school, places of worship, society. The Boda Boda rider is the prototypical example of the moral degradation that has afflicted society. I think our educational systems need close examination and rebooting.

In the end though, rules and their consistent enforcement go a long way to easing the problem. The reason why we do not see chaos on the roads here in Canada has less to do with people's moral health and more to do with the rule of law. I suspect given a more relaxed application of the rules, we would see the Boda culture right here in my neighbourhood. The New York and Montreal drivers appear to have a mild case of Boda Boditis.
Level 1 (XP: 50)
last year
Again the question of money versus safety arises when discussing the role of Boda bodas in our society! Rwanda seems to have found a solution but then again this discipline seems to be state forced and not self imposed by the Boda Boda riders themselves! You get a feeling that there is no conviction there and if the strong hand of the state relaxes all hell will break loose like in UG and KE! What is it that we can do to encourage self regulation in our public transport sector???
Level 4 (XP: 1050)
I am very ambivalent about Boda Bodas. Functional, filling a gap and provide employment. However, very dangerous and nerve wracking when one has to interact with them on the roads. Do we know the monetary facts about the Boda business? What is the average gross income of a rider in Nairobi or Kampala? What is their take home pay? How do they compare with their counterparts who chose to engage in agriculture?

I must tell you that I was very impressed by the Boda Boda riders in Kigali, Rwanda. Very disciplined; all wearing protective helmets, riding on the roads and staying in the lanes and riding at reasonable speeds. Clearly it can be done.

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