In an audacious bid to regain control and win back acceptance, powerbrokers who used to feed off the tainted Boda Boda 2010 gang have rebranded the notorious group as Boda Boda Industry Uganda Ltd, writes BAKER BATTE LULE.
Abdallah Kitatta, the patron of the notorious Boda Boda 2010, may be incarcerated in Luzira prison but he is far from losing his grip on the boda boda industry.
Kitatta and core members of his organisation were last month rounded up by security operatives from the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and later charged in the General Court Martial for possessing firearms that are a preserve of the armed forces.
Following his arrest, an angry mob of bodaboda riders who accused his association of torture, theft, and extortion, among other crimes, stormed various Boda Boda 2010 offices in Bukesa and Nateete and torched them.
In the days that followed, revelations of Boda Boda 2010 transgressions caused a public outcry, forcing the remaining group leaders to disperse and the group disbanded.
However, The Observer has reliably learnt that notable Boda Boda 2010 figures have quietly re-emerged to spearhead its revival and are allegedly being helped by rogue elements within police.
A boda boda leader, who preferred anonymity and attended a strategy meeting on February 1, said it was agreed to rebrand the whole group by dumping the Boda Boda 2010 name and shuffling the leadership.
“We agreed to put our differences aside and integrate rival members of different groups into our new structure. Police also agreed to back us as long as we regain acceptance among the riders,” he said.
“We need this unity because Boda Boda 2010 was the biggest player in the industry but since the clampdown of operations, Boda Boda 2010 has lost hundreds of millions in revenue.”
Boda Boda 2010 has been renowned for working closely with the police and Gen Kale Kayihura, the police chief, defended their actions numerous times. Some sources further claim individuals within police were also beneficiaries of Boda Boda 2010’s vicious control of the industry.
Already, there are tell-tale signs. When The Observer visited the headquarters in Bukesa last week, renovations were underway and a new banner had been hoisted proclaiming Boda Boda Industry Uganda (BIU) had taken over.
Even the ambulance that President Museveni donated to Boda Boda 2010 has been rebranded to reflect BIU. The new group claims to be an amalgam of 32 boda boda associations in Kampala.
However, police spokesperson Emilian Kayima denies such a meeting took place.
“I’m not aware that they have formed a new association, but generally as police, we don’t mind if they form a new organisation or reorganise the old one; it’s their business as long as they follow the right channels,” he says.
“Our interest only comes in when there are security-related implications but if they are doing it right, we have no problem. There won’t be any confrontation with the police; it’s their business.”
Meanwhile, BIU leaders claim that all major associations in the city agreed to come up with a joint leadership to clear the image of the industry that has been dogged by claims of being a safe haven for criminals.
John Ssekitooleko, the BIU general secretary in charge of Kampala Central division, says at least 15 of their 32 associations are active in Kampala. Of the 15, he says Century Boda Boda riders association (previously believed to be a rival of Boda Boda 2010) and Kampala Metropolitan Boda Boda Entrepreneurs [Kambe] are part of them.
In fact, Muhammad Kasujja, who has been secretary general of Century, is the interim chairman of BIU.
“There are some people who think BIU is the new Boda Boda 2010 but it’s not true,” Ssekitooleko told The Observer in an interview.
However, Kanyike Kiviiri, one of the leaders of Kambe, claims BIU is the brainchild of Kitatta.
“It is him who registered that association using people he has been buying from our associations. That’s why when they formed it, they moved into the same offices of Boda Boda 2010. They are the same people and us as Kambe we have nothing to do with them,” he says.
He adds that there is no way one can join somebody whose interests are obscure.
“When they heard that the minister for Kampala [Beti Kamya] is organising to have one umbrella organisation, they rushed to form an association so as not to be left out,” he says.
Sulaiman Lubega, the leader of Century, however, flatly rejects claims that they joined hands with Kitatta’s people.
“Those are opportunists who have not been part of our struggle. They have been Kitatta’s men whom he has been grooming; he is their leader even in prison,” Lubega says.
“If you claim that you are coming to unite everybody, how then do you take over offices of criminals? What message does that send? For us we see this as a reincarnation of Boda Boda 2010. Actually, Kitatta once said that even if he were to be arrested, there would be other Kitattas he has been grooming. Perhaps he knew what was coming and came up with a plan B,” Lubega adds, observing that Kasujja was expelled from Century months ago.
The emergence of BIU comes at a time when Kamya, the minister for Kampala, together with her counterpart in Security, Henry Tumukunde, are working to have all boda boda associations under one leadership.
Previous efforts by Jennifer Musisi, the KCCA executive director, failed largely due to opposition from Boda Boda 2010 and senior elements within the police leadership.
However, leaders of various associations say they also have no problem in having a united leadership.
Kiviiri says: “We should get leaders right from the stage to national level. The problem why we don’t have an umbrella organisation is because every association that has been formed always looks for a godfather or patron. If we want to have central leadership, politicians and military men must stop meddling in boda boda affairs.”
For his part, Lubega, whose association is said to be working with army generals Salim Saleh and Tumukunde, says in order to organise the boda boda industry, there is need to invite all riders to decide their destiny.
On the other hand, Ssekitooleko wants some conditions fulfilled before elections can take place.
“We have no problem with having central leadership, whether it’s done by the minister for Kampala, or by anybody else but there must be procedures that must be agreed upon,” he says.
RELIEF, LOST REVENUE
Boda boda riders have got some relief now that there is no regulator on their industry. Until Kitatta’s arrest, which was triggered by the alleged involvement of several Boda Boda 2010 members in the murder of Case hospital accountant Francis Ekalungar, the group controlled and regulated boda boda riders in several parts of Kampala and Wakiso.
They were in charge of the registration, monitoring, levying of assorted fees, and deployment as well as taking punitive actions on riders. They did all this at a fee they set unilaterally.
There are no official records of Boda Boda 2010 operations but various industry players estimate that the group’s sphere of influence affected around 50,000 riders at more than 1,000 boda boda stages.
According to a boda boda leader who preferred anonymity, a rider would be charged between Shs 500,000 and Shs 1 million to work from a permanent stage.
“Ordinarily, this money wouldn’t go to Boda Boda 2010 but in the general pool of the stage for welfare. Actually even this amount depended on how much a rider with the least saving had,” he says. “However if a rider chooses to leave for another stage, part of this money would be given back to him.”
However, there are several claims that this money was actually collected by Boda Boda 2010 officials. Meanwhile, The Observer interviewed different riders who say Boda Boda 2010 used to charge Shs 20,000 for an ID on first issue and thereafter Shs 7,000 for renewal every year. Failure to adhere to these conditions attracted a heavy fine if Boda Boda 2010 pounced on a rider.
Ironically, the group had also usurped powers of the police to punish traffic offences. For offences such as being caught riding in restricted places like one ways, being found without a driving license, logbook, or even carrying more than one passenger, the fine depended on who, how and where you have been arrested.
These fines could range from between Shs 40,000 and Shs 500,000.
“Many of the riders actually would just abandon their bikes at the different Boda Boda 2010 offices,” he says Kiviiri.
It remains to be seen whether BIU can ably fill the void left by Boda Boda 2010.