27 February 2014

Uganda: View On Poverty - Uganda's Cheap Bike Problem

The Nano is a small, cheap car manufactured by Indian multinational Tata. At a cost equivalent to US$2,000, it promised to offer personal transport to Indians who previously couldn't afford it. Though that may be true, last month The Guardian reported that the vehicle achieved a zero-star rating in crash tests conducted by Global NCAP, a UK-based safety assessor.

Overall, the article suggested that the car's poor performance may have been due to its 'frugal engineering'. This approach, intended to keep costs down, meant the vehicle had no air bags and "poor structural integrity".

Joseph Magoola, currently studying for a master's degree in public health at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, writes a regular blog on road safety in his country. He says that cheap, badly designed vehicles are causing deaths and misery in his country. But rather than cars, he singles out the motorbike taxis known as boda-bodas as his particular worry.

People use the bikes because they are designed to be affordable, fuel efficient and easy to manoeuvre through the city's traffic jams, Magoola tells me. But little attention is paid to safety, he says, either when the bike was designed, or by the police and government who should have implemented safety measures.

"They are totally not safe," he says. "The riders are reckless. They are not trained on how to use the bikes. There is nobody that regulates them, so whoever can buy one can use it on the roads."

Boda-bodas are becoming the leading cause of crashes on Kampala's roads, Magoola says. And he points me to research showing that more than 62 per cent of the surgery budget at the city's Mulago hospital is consumed treating people who have been in boda-boda accidents. [2]

Magoola says there have been several politically initiated safety campaigns in recent years, but none has been backed up by a "proper, long-term policy".

"We know what needs to be done: measures like speed humps, wearing helmets and separating pedestrians and motorbikes," he says. But, so far, politicians have failed to formalise a policy to put these ideas in place.

To try and put pressure on them, Magoola regularly takes to his keyboard. "The thinking behind my blog is to use it as an advocacy tool," he says.


[1] Philip Oltermann and Paige McClanahan Tata Nano safety under scrutiny after dire crash test results (The Guardian, 31 January 2014)

[2] J. Kigera and others The Impact of bodaboda motor crashes on the budget for clinical services at Mulago hospital, Kampala (East and Central African Journal of Surgery, March/April 2010)

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