I have two colleagues who always have something wrapped under their armpits: a personal helmet! I have always wondered why they carry a helmet yet they have no motorcycles.
They aver that they try to avert a possibility of riding a boda boda and getting involved in an accident, what with most of the riders high on some substance! So to be sure, they carry their own helmets. Clever, I thought.
The last time I visited Mulago Hospital to check on a boda boda accident victim, I simply couldn't believe what was in this ward. Broken legs and arms, many suspended above their beds, was the only testimony about the dangers of making that quick ride on a boda boda.
In a country where the transport system is a jungle that determines who is the fittest, it comes as no surprise that we sometimes resort to other methods to manoeuvre around the city.
Now comes in the Police. With the gusto of a force that wanted to bring some semblance of sanity into the trade of ferrying people, the battles to arrest the cyclists turned into an interesting crusade. Hundreds of bikes were impounded.
At every Police station, the spectacle made one believe it was just another parking yard for motorbikes. Some sanity began creeping in. Both the riders and passengers began using helmets. I thought for once we were on the right track. Then boom!
The President decided that using a helmet was optional. With one stroke, the tables were turned. You see, we the naive passengers have no idea what happens in this trade. Have we ever stopped to ask ourselves in whose interest we have so many bodas?
Why has the business mushroomed to the level it has? And why does this trade come in handy every election year?
A friend intimated how one day he went to the market to shop. As he was looking around for a boda to take him home with his goodies, one rider came rushing to him. He asked whether he wanted his goodies delivered home.
This friend asked whether the rider knew where his home was. Without blinking, the boda rider said he knew exactly where. Shocked, my friend jumped onto the boda. He never said a word as they rode. At the gate, the boda man hooted.
It was my friend's home! Asked how he knew the home, the boda boda chap told the now shell shocked passenger that there is no home within the area they didn't know. It was part of their undertaking; to know who resides where. Yes, to keep an eye, just in case!
So, now that the President has spoken that bodas are free to ride as they wish, people, you need to tighten your helmets. They will indeed ride as they wish. They will obey all the traffic laws by turning them upside-down.
They will run down whoever obstructs their "right of way," even when it's on the wrong side of the traffic. Police has been warned not to dare disturb this very innovative means of decongesting the cities.
I wonder what Police chief, Kale Kayihura, will do after this directive. At one point he himself was seen at the ever busy Jinja Road junction helping with the apprehending of the errant cyclists. Now that the one who appoints and disappoints has spoken, will the good General continue making the city safer for us the passengers?
Soon, taxi drivers will also be exempted. They may be allowed to carry as many passengers as they wish. They may even use the roof rack to tie down a few people up there as long as they pay.
Money should be the motivating factor; other safety measures are just a simple inconvenience. I know afande Kayihura would have wanted to copy what has been done across in Rwanda. In Kigali, I hear you are as good as dead if found riding a boda without a helmet. It's a requirement that is strictly enforced to the letter.
There, the boda boda rider must have insurance both for the passenger and for himself. The bikes must meet certain standards. Short of that, you disappear from the neat streets of Kigali. Forget our bikes that bellow smoke and are literally DMCs.
Now, what's this boda boda politics all about in a democratic Uganda where order is ordered without knowing the implications it might have on the very people it's supposed to protect?
The author is a human rights expert and specialist on refugee issues