In most of East Africa they are called Boda Boda. In the areas where French was the language of the coloniser, they are called Taxi Moto, which is a more descriptive name given that they are indeed motorcycle taxis. Legend has it that the boda boda phenomenon started somewhere in Busia with ‘entrepreneurial’ people moving goods and people across the Kenya – Uganda border line.
This border to border movement is where the name boda boda came from and caught on in even in places where the borderline was not visible for one standing in the tallest tree. The boda bodas have grown so ubiquitous in the region that if you threw a stone at a traffic light it is most likely going to ricochet and hit a boda boda person.
As in all situations, people with alternatives are easily irked by the behaviour of boda bodas and will call for them to be banned for the menace that they really are. I have lived in Rwanda and Uganda; I can tell you for free that I have seen the worst and the best of boda bodas.
In Rwanda there is a sense of order. Ndahayo, my trusted Kigali Moto guy will never set off before I have a helmet on my head and will not try out any extreme sport stunts with me on the bike. He will also never ignore a red traffic light signal even at night.
In Kampala however, the boda guys I use have no helmet for me and even their own is sometimes just sitting between the handle bars and not on their head as they dangerously ride around. The guys do not care about traffic rules and clearly don’t know what it means for a road to be a one way.
Of late the media in Uganda has been full of stories about one of the boda boda organisations called Boda Boda 2010. This organisation doubles as a mob for hire, a political militia and simply a law unto itself. It is the epitome of the impunity that these riders enjoy on the roads.
When driving a car you have to try your level best never to knock one of them because the chances that a mob of them will descend on you and beat you to death are so high that your insurer may not even ever bring it up in a conversation.
In Kenya, the situation is not as bad as it is in Uganda. In fact you can easily tell a Kenyan who hasn’t been to Uganda by simply listening to how they speak about boda bodas in Nairobi.
Nonetheless, they too are fed up with the fact that these bikes are now used a lot by thugs to snatch bags from unsuspecting ladies or to transport those with guns and offer them a quick getaway option. Many times when policymakers reach the end of their thinking the only solution they have for the boda boda menace is to call for a total ban.
Kigali once had them banned for a while. In Kampala it has been mentioned and laughed at while recently Nairobi’s governor Mike Sonko also banned them from the central business district. I always find it funny when someone says that boda bodas should not be allowed in the central business district for I feel that person is really ignorant of what is central and business in that district.
We just have to streamline the operations of these boda bodas or even make the entry into the business a little tighter. Eliminating them just does not work especially when we still do not have commuter transport systems that are time based. Many times people use boda bodas to make it to that important interview or meeting that they would have missed while on public transport.
If life in Uganda was not so politicised, there would not be a boda boda movement steeped in local politics and thuggery. If Nairobi did not have so much crime, we would not be blaming boda bodas for crime.
Kigali’s Motos are not perfect but they are much better than what you see elsewhere thanks to the hard work of the policymakers and enforcers. Where impunity thrives, boda bodas will epitomise it, where order is a thing they will fall in line. We can fix the situation without throwing away a whole mode of transport. Better regulation and solutions like Safe boda or Yego Moto are the way to go.
The views expressed in this article are of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.