Now that the Pioneer Bus Service is back on the roads of Kampala City, we could hope that a step is being taken in the direction of ridding Uganda of the business of boda-boda as a mode of transport, but that would be displaying naivety.
It has taken me a while but I am now finally resigned to the reality that the boda-boda will be part of our lives here for a long time to come, because of our general ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’.
You see, even reading this there will be some people arguing that boda-bodas are extremely necessary because without them we would be “incapable” of getting around – especially because of the manner in which our roads and residential areas are laid out. Plus, the arguments will go, if we got rid of boda-bodas there would be an “employment crisis” in this country!
I call that the ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’ because it is a mindset that is characteristic of boda-boda operations themselves.
The reasons boda-bodas took over in the first place were: 1. the public transportation system of taxis was disorganised, uncomfortable and so haphazard that you never knew how long a trip would take you if you boarded a taxi to anywhere, since they would jerk to a stop every two seconds or so; 2. Most of our residences are embedded in places that have awkward access roads that make the walk from the house to the nearest ’stage’ uncomfortable, ungainly and downright risky; 3. It’s really the fastest way to get from one point to another without suffering a road rage heart attack due to impatient, mentally disorganised drivers and a traffic management system seemingly managed by people with large amounts of shares in the motor vehicle scrap industry.
Boda-bodas were therefore a compromise position that we arrived at to solve the problems above, and THAT itself is ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’ – taking a short term compromise position and allowing it to become a long-term response (not solution) to a major problem, rather than establishing the solution itself.
See, the poor taxi system should have been fixed by firmly establishing a proper timed service with designated stages; the lousy access roads to residences fixed by determined urban planning forcing everyone to respect road reserves and drainage systems; and traffic management by being professional at traffic management right from the point of issuing driving permits.
But because of a ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’, we can’t even invest sensibly in transport such as a bus system that runs on time and stops at pre-designated points in 2015, even though a country like Hungary built its underground train system in 1896.
For instance you and I, educated, well-heeled, knowledgeable elites though we may be, see an ‘opportunity’ in buying a boda-boda and monitoring proceeds from it over a six-month period till the ‘investment’ has ‘paid off’ and even given us ‘profits’ – even if they collectively account for the bulk of hospital admission cases due to accidents.
Whereas THAT is an investment opportunity by the very definition of the words, it is only so because of our ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’, otherwise we would have identified the bigger opportunity in pooling our money together to invest in an urban train or bus service.
In fact, were it not for the ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’, the educated elite of this country would have identified opportunities in the boda-boda transport industry such as helmets made in Uganda, or more comfortable boda-boda seats designed in Uganda out of Ugandan materials, and maybe even reflective aprons made out of local materials. But none of the tens of thousands of economists, engineers, designers and what not that we have churned out of universities in Kampala and elsewhere since 1922 have gotten to this point yet.
Boda-bodas even provide an opportunity for spare parts manufacturing if somebody stops to count the number of side mirrors they destroy when they whizz past our cars in our gridlocked traffic (do a snap survey and see for yourself the gravity of this particular problem).
We have a ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’ because we tend to think just like our relatives who operate those contraptions, whose operational mannerisms we should highlight at this point:
They tend to take shortcuts even going down the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic – the same way many of us approach business, taking those short cuts that put everything at unnecessary risk, like condoning corruption, but for short-term gain and getting to the other end having left behind us hundreds of people jeering and cursing at us.
They don’t bother with helmets even when they have them, and ride with them placed on the handlebars – the way we don’t do the ordinarily necessary and sensible things available to us, like insurance, preventive medicine, or even having smoke detectors or fire extinguishers in our own homes!
In fact, many believe that no rules apply to them, and will gather in a mob to deal with anyone who even shouts an insult at one of their kind – exactly like some people do on social media platforms should you say anything they don’t agree with.
Plus, your regular boda-boda chap, like the special hire fellow, will only fuel up enough for their next trip or two – I dare you to step outside and check your fuel gauge or prove that you fuel up on a regular schedule. But besides that, our ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’ in this regard covers the way we are so unprepared for eventualities – including not having an umbrella on hand in the rainy season…
And until we see boda-boda riders graduating to buses with designated stages running on timed schedules, we are all just boda-boda riders masquerading as serious people.