ONE may wonder where boda bodas came from. This is a puzzle, especially those ones who were born after the 1970s.
Vision Reporter
Journalist @ New vision
ONE may wonder where boda bodas came from. This is a puzzle, especially those ones who were born after the 1970s.
By Sarah Ulotu

ONE may wonder where boda bodas came from. This is a puzzle, especially those ones who were born after the 1970s.

Boda bodas are motorcycles that cause all sorts of havoc in traffic. A boda boda is known by many names, depending on where one originates from. It is called piki piki in Swahiili and okada or achaba in Nigerian.

But boda bodas have not always been these motorbikes that we enjoy jumping on because they can take us anywhere in the shortest time possible.

The first boda bodas were not as pleasant. These were bicycles ridden across Uganda-Kenya border town of Busia to smuggle coffee.

Boda bodas are part of the African bicycle culture. They started in the 1960s and 1970s and are still spreading from their origin on the Kenyan-Ugandan border to other regions.

The name originated from a need to transport people across the “no-man’s land” between border posts without the necessary travel documents.

The bicycle owners would shout out boda boda (border-to-border) to potential customers, which loosely meant transporting people from one side of the border to the other. From then on, people started referring to motorcyle taxis as boda bodas.

Simon Mayende of Bunyadeti village in Busia, says: “Motorcycles remind me of the occurrences in my village in the 1960s and 1970s. The smuggling of coffee across the border in Busia. Close to 50 bicycles with bags half-filled with coffee tied behind their carriers would ride across the border like a whirlwind.”

While the boda boda is still spreading to other areas, in Kenya and Uganda, the bicycles are being replaced by motorbikes. In the 1980s, boda boda riders changed from plain metal hard seats to cushion ones to transport passengers and goods.

Most bicycles used are the Indian or Chinese Road Master brand and the new Indian TVS Apache, TVS Victor, TVS Scooty, TVS Centra and TVS Fiero motorcycles are highly favoured among the cyclists.

This is followed by a Bajaj, the newest motorcycle on the market. Motorcyclists particularly like this one.

These are big high motorcycles that boda boda cyclists love because they consume little fuel and are very fast.

The Kampala Union of Boda Boda Cyclists (KUCODA), an umbrella body for boda boda riders in Kampala, says they aim at minimising the risks (dangerous driving, not well-maintained bikes, molesting of women-passengers) by registering and licensing their members.

According to Saudi Kirumira, the KUCODA chairman, the union’s job is to ensure that boda boda riders behave well and follow the traffic rules. He added that over 5,000 boda bodas are registred in Central Division, Kampala district.

But KUCODA faces a lot of challenges such as conflicting directives from political leaders.

Kirumira says in 2003, President Yoweri Museveni ordered all boda boda cyclists not to pay road licence but the then mayor, Sebaana Kizito insisted they should pay. This has caused disagreement between the cyclists and the union. Everytime the union asks the cyclists to pay road tax, they quote the President.

According to Kirumira the Uganda highway code which controls all the vehicles on the road, has rules that cyclists must follow when on the road. But the Police have failed to enforce the code and this has made boda boda cyclists think that they can misbehave on the road and get away with it.

It is surprising that newspaper and food vendors pay for space on the street to work on but boda bodas do not. They just form stages haphazardly. Kirumira says this is a bad attitude because it influences the riders not to pay for anything.

Since there is no system in place and anyone can wake up any day and decide to be a boda boda rider, this has increased thefts and robbery on the road. Kirumira says a big number of thieves masquerade as boda boda cyclists.

But some of the cyclists are genuine and love their job. David Mbowa, a cyclist has ridden a boda boda for over three years and he says he has not found any problem with his work. “I love my job. I have been able to save and buy my own bike. I have built a small house and I am able to pay school fees for my two children. I can’t leave my job for another.”

Vale Atwiire who operates on Sir Apollo stage has been a boda boda cyclist for only a year but he says if he got another good paying job, he would change. “I never went to school so where will I get the job?” he asks bitterly. “The boda has caused me a lot of troubles. I had to be operated on and the doctors said it was because I ride at night. I don’t love this job ”

Fred Mutebi who operates from the Makerere Hill Stage, and has been a cyclist for four years, has a similar problem to Atwiire. “I lost all my respect the moment I sat on that bike. Everyone calls us thieves and dirty but I have to survive,”he says.

According to statistics from the Central Police Station 1,964 boda boda and 520 bicycle accidents are registered in Kampala every month. To reduce on boda boda accidents, KUCODA is training 50 women boda boda cyclists.