There are always those exigent moments when one would perfectly appreciate the late Elly Wamala's Boda boda song. Generally speaking, the two-wheeled taxis (commonly referred to as boda bodas specifically in East Africa) play a vital role in allowing people to access services in an expedient manner.
We should, however, turn no blind eye to the fact that the greatest percentage of accidents on our busy and narrow Ugandan roads are still boda boda-related, regardless of the recent digitised boda boda trend.
One would wonder why this is still the case. Simple! It is because majority of Ugandans still utilise boda boda, especially during pressing times and some are yet to duly embrace and appreciate the digitised trend.
There are those days when we all get anxious about getting to work late, failing to make it to the job interview on time, making it to crucial appointments, et cetera. In such circumstances, any concerned individual would definitely think of jumping onto any bypassing or say random motorcycle.
Who would think of a mobile "App" at that moment, perchance none! We should also think of the "analog" Ugandan, who is yet to fully twig the digital world. He or she would simply stop any random rider on the road and get moving.
UberBoda, SafeBoda, Taxify, et cetera, have all launched in Uganda and our "dot.com" selves have gladly embraced the same. Excellent! Who wouldn't enjoy a ride with these seemingly "heaven sent" riders with a safe, trustworthy, reliable and affordable option for transport in Kampala.
Who wouldn't ride comfortably with these digitised riders that are selected and underwent road safety training? Who wouldn't feel at peace riding with these fellows well-endowed with safety equipment; reflector jackets and two helmets for protection of both the rider and passenger? Definitely none!
We have witnessed majority of these boda-boda App companies partner with several stakeholders, including the Uganda Police Force, to offer safety training to boda boda riders. This is all amazing and the results are so vivid. We would not deny the fact that these are the most disciplined on the roads and that it is on very rare occasions to find them involved in road accidents. I personally love police's enthusiasm in this respect!
But what plans does government have for ordinary riders, who are yet to embrace and duly appreciate this digital movement? How about the "Pauls" (pseudonym), who drop our kids to school, help us run a few errands around town and the like? I have interacted with many of them and the many of them have confessed to have never undergone any training before hitting the road.
Many say they have learned driving on the job. One rider stated that all that one needed was about Shs400,000 to have a riding permit processed for them. The big number of these them are oblivious to traffic rules and regulations. They practically ride left, right and centre, paying no attention whatsoever to traffic lights, pavements, and walkways, among others.
But truth be told, we still need the non-digital riders. Internet will not be perfect 24/7 and we are aware of those moments that would never give one a chance to order for a ride online.
How about ensuring practical implementation and enforcement of the traffic and road safety laws? We need proper enforcement in the areas of training, testing and licensing of all motorcycle riders. If all stakeholders can partner with the digitised boda boda companies, how about focussing on the ordinary riders too?
Tanzania, for example, officially launched a new training curriculum in 2016 purposely to improve safety for riders and passengers and it must be yielding results for the said nation. Could Uganda do something too? In 2013, a one Sam Masolo, director of Industrial Training (as he then was) disclosed that a training school for boda boda cyclists would be set up in Kampala to reduce road traffic accidents, we still await the manifestation. Ugandans continue to lose lives in the rampant boda boda accidents not because these ordinary riders are necessarily careless but because they lack training.
We are not going to compel all riders to go digital, are we? In my opinion, that does not seem practical. Government should just shift some attention to the ordinary riders too by ensuring that they are as well fit to operate on the road. Be it "dotcom" or "analog", we are all Ugandans and the government owes us safety. Opting to either use the digitized boda bodas or the ordinary ones should only be a matter of choice and convenience and not fear for one's safety.
Ms Namale is a lawyer. firstname.lastname@example.org