By Joshua Kato
Two weeks ago, Kampala City Council (KCC) issued a directive stopping boda bodas from using some roads in the central business district.
The directive banned boda boda stages on Kampala Road and prohibited cyclists from using Yusuf Lule Road. The number of stages is also to be reduced from 200 to about 100 and the riders per stage from 50 to about 20. â€œWe want to make the city less crowded and boda bodas more manageable,â€ says the mayor, Nasser Ntege Ssebagala.
Many African cities and towns have boda boda cyclists. In Kigali, the big bikes are similar to those used in Uganda. However, the Rwandese cyclists are more disciplined: They have specific stages from where they operate and are taken through rigorous training before they start riding.
The authorities in Kampala authorities want to pursue a similar stand. And, unlike, on previous occasions where city leaders conflicted over the issue of boda-bodas, there seems to be a consensus.
Previously, every attempt at streamlining boda-boda operations would fail. The riders have, over the years, learnt how to play the victim and create confusion among the authorities.
However, this time round, KCC officers, including the mayor and the Central Division resident district commissioner (RDC) Rose Kirabira, worked together to demarcate stages. Even when boda-boda cyclists converged at the RDCâ€™s office to protest they failed to get a
The Police have also vowed to enforce the new restrictions, largely for security reasons. Last year, when KCC issued the directive banning boda-bodas from the city centre, the Police ignored it, claiming they had not been informed before hand.
But, addressing a press conference recently, the Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kaihura, said the cyclists would not be allowed to park on the prohibited roads and near strategic installations like hotels and government institutions. This came in the wake of a campaign by the Police to register riders and issue stage numbers.
Boda boda riders contribute to many problems in the city. These include traffic congestion, crime, garbage creation and pollution. The infamous â€˜katayimbwaâ€™ criminals used boda-bodas as their main mode of transport. â€œWe have discovered that many robberies are perpetuated by the cyclists, knowingly or without their knowledge. They transport the criminals to and from the scenes of robberies,â€ says Iddi Ssenkumbi, the Police spokesperson for the eastern region.
Anybody can become a boda-boda rider. â€œAll they do is get a bike, ride around two or three times and they consider themselves experienced,â€ says traffic boss Steven Kasiima. As a result, they pay little attention to road signs and seem to have their own unwritten rules.
Another problem KCC has with the cyclists is their failure to pay taxes to the council. â€œIt is not fair for somebody who has an investment of sh5,000 in tomatoes to pay a fee, while a cyclist who invested sh2.5m in a bike does not,â€ says Ssebagala.
The fact that boda boda cyclists do not pay levy hurts KCCâ€™s revenue targets. For many years, City Hall tried to make them pay an amount equal to the level of wear and tear they exert on the city. If it all had gone well, KCC would have collected at least sh200m per year.
Four years ago, KCC directed that every bike must have a number indicating the division from which it operates, and pay a monthly fee of sh9,000. The riders, however, held demonstrations and sought political support to avoid paying the fee. â€œThis time round, we should move as a united front. That is the only way we can handle such matters,â€ says Godfrey Ssebuufu, a KCC councillor.
On average, there is a boda-boda stage every 200 metres. For instance from Lugogo Indoor Stadium to Uganda House, 2km away, there are 12 stages. Nobody knows the exact number of bikes in the city. Some estimates put the figure at around 50,000.
However, Central Division chairman Godfrey Nyakana says there are over 7,000 cyclists in the central business district alone. Rather than totally banning them, Nyakana says, only 2,000 should be left. â€œThese will be well- monitored and regulated,â€ he says.
But Ibrahim Kabaaya, a leader of boda-boda cyclists, says the issue should not be about reducing the stages but reducing the numbers at each stage.
Boda bodas and politics
In 2001, President Yoweri Museveni rode a boda-boda to his nomination at Kololo Airstrip. A revolving fund for boda-bodas was started under State House to help them acquire bikes: Over 1,000 were distributed.
However, even if this was a genuine move to help fight poverty, the cyclists used this relationship with State House to disobey the city authorities.
In 2004, when then mayor Ssebaana Kizito tried to put them into line, Ssebagala, at the time a prospective mayoral and presidential candidate supported the cyclists. â€œThey cannot be chased away like that. They are our people,â€ he said. When he became mayor in 2006, his stance changed.
Since city leaders are working together, this should ensure the success of the directive.