Oct 18, 2021

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Boda boda: Necessary evil that is allowed to be indispensable

In Uganda, shock triggers jokes. Most times, the jokes are cruel and insensitive. But once in a rare while, the joke may remain insensitive but reflective.

After the June 1 assassination attempt on the former Chief of Defence Forces, General Katumba Wamala, in which his daughter and his driver were shot dead, one such joke hit social media. It starts with a notice by a police spokesman reminding boda boda riders that the (Covid-19 pandemic) curfew on motorbikes starts at 6pm and any bike found on the road after that time will be impounded. It ends with a question of what will happen if another general is shot shortly after 6pm.

When Katumba was shot at in Kampala city in broad daylight on a Tuesday morning, it was a boda boda rider who put the bleeding general and his bodyguard on his bike and took them to the nearest decent hospital, where first aid was administered and definitely saved his life. The general paid glowing tribute to the boda boda, narrating the desperate situation he was in as many good cars, including government vehicles, passed by while he bled away.

By coincidence, Makerere University School of Public Health had just been conducting media sensitisation on road safety and related matters of injuries on the road (though not bullet wounds, but the evacuation of victims is about the same process).

Later, the country’s top injury/trauma surgeon who had been the lead facilitator of the sensitisation made an interesting social media post. She told the story of a promising young man, freshly graduated, who set about to build a formidable career and a fortune, as he waited for Miss Right to come along and make his life complete.

But because the natural urges had to be attended to, he took home a one-night-stand who turned out to be sloppy, untidy and a glutton. That didn’t bother him so much because she fulfilled the biological function. Since using her was convenient and without encumbrances, he started using her more from time to time. Then frequently. Then she became a habit. Then she got pregnant.

With the pregnancy, she became even more gluttonous and stopped bothering about anything to do with her appearance, domestic cleanliness and anything else except eating. By now she had moved in and was just waiting to go into labour. She did and delivered twins, earning the young man the coveted title of Salongo.

With her position as his Nalongo assured, she got worse in home and personal management. The young man had to settle for the illiterate, dirty glutton for life. And that, according to the nation’s leading trauma specialist, is the story of Kampala and boda boda. An evil that was allowed to become necessary and indispensable.

And what an irony that it has taken the tragedy of a diligent public servant and disciplined family man to put a crown of honour on the helmet-hating head of boda boda!

When the lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic was instituted last year, many had hoped that it had provided a wonderful window to also start instituting traffic order in Kampala. In the months that there was no movement of vehicles and hardly any pedestrians in the city, even the most popularity-seeking politician could hardly resist the opportunity to institute order, so that when people returned they would be required to follow the new rules. But it did not happen. It was back to the chaos that characterises Kampala.

Imagine this: many times when the police fire brigade are alerted to a fire, they cannot do anything about it because they cannot access the scene.

A big percentage of residences cannot be reached by any vehicle, let alone a fire tender, except boda boda, of course. Homes and shops are built haphazardly in disregard of any physical planning. The road reserves are all built in by both the weak and the mighty.

Even where the roads are not taken up by shops and homes, they are congested so as not to allow movement. So millions of man hours are lost every day in traffic jam. Ambulances are seen every day with sirens blaring but stuck in the jam. Everyone has sung and cried for bus lanes until it became such an old song and the public resigned to the chaos. Maybe the bus lanes could be opened to ambulances if ever they get designated.

In our situation, before order is instituted in the Kampala City road system, we have to accept the untidy, gluttonous, illiterate one-night-stand who didn’t go away and ended up producing the coveted twins for us – the ability to move from one place to another quickly while tens of thousands of vehicles are stuck.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [emailprotected]