On Thursday last week, the day supreme mufti Sheikh Zubair Kayongo was announced dead, I attended the burial of a boda boda cyclist in one of the villages in my constituency called Seeta, near Kasangati.
The cyclist, Bashir Ssesanga, was violently murdered by iron bar hitmen/ women not very far from his home. Ssesanga dropped out of school in senior six. He is survived by a widow and one child. The following day, as we concluded the sending off of our beloved mufti Kayongo, cyclists at Namboole Stadium stage near Jokas hotel, lost a member.
Umaru Ssempijja, a cyclist at this stage, was knocked dead on the Northern bypass by a truck carrying timber. The truck didn’t even stop after killing this young man. Hardly a week passes without a boda boda man being killed in an accident or by iron bar hitmen. The iron bar men, who on average kill a cyclist every three days, had scaled down.
They are on the loose again. Just imagine these two deaths in a space of one day happening in one constituency. Mukono municipality MP Betty Nambooze-Bakireke raised the issue of iron bar hitmen formally in Parliament. They took as many lives in Mukono as they did in Kira, Nangabo and other sub-counties.
Because they are boda boda riders and these incidents are taking place miles apart, the country has not woken up to the reality that this is a huge crisis. It is huge crisis because boda boda has become the biggest employer of our youths and consumer of their lives.
In Kira town council alone, we have about 8,000 boda boda cyclists. In Nangabo, which is the second subcounty in my constituency, I think I have about 3,000 cyclists. Therefore, in Kyadondo East alone, there are more than 10,000 young people riding boda bodas.Wakiso district comprises seven constituencies which means it could have 70,000.
You can add Kampala, Mukono, Masaka, Mbarara, Jinja, Mbale, etc. It is possible we have half a million boda boda cyclists in the country. Because of their daily interaction
with people, they have become a big election force. No politician wants to speak against them. They, therefore, go unregulated even for their own good.
They basically face two problems; insecurity and indiscipline. Many dropped out of school after primary seven or before senior four. The self-infl icted problem arising out of lack of discipline can be dealt with immediately. This requires regulation and enforcement. It is working in Rwanda. In Kigali, both the rider and passenger must wear helmets.
And because it is Rwanda, it is working. Reckless riding is also forbidden and there are sanctions. In Uganda, boda bodas don’t observe any traffi c rules. They are the rules. They have, therefore, caused many accidents and been victims of these accidents.
Of course our roads still carry the 1960 designs. The roads don’t have walkways or motorcycle lanes. We have to squeeze ourselves on the single lane. Yes they are our noisy supporters, but we must protect their lives by strong regulations. The second threat to the lives of boda bodas is insecurity and this has gone on for too long.
It points to a big systemic failure of this regime. Those hitting riders are interested not in their lives but motorcycles. These motorcycles are mainly sold here and only a few are smuggled to Congo and I think South Sudan.
Others are broken into smaller parts and sold as spare parts. We should license all motorcycles and require each rider to move with a logbook at all times. Dealers in motorcycle spare parts, including those for spares for cars and trucks by the way, should be required to produce relevant documents showing where they originated from.
This may not eliminate all the theft but will reduce it. unemployment problem. The ministry of gender estimates that by this year 2015, Uganda’s youth between 18-30 years should hit 7.7 million. This is a big figure that should worry all of us. In fact many in this age bracket are the ones riding boda bodas because our primary school completion rate at 30 per cent remains the lowest in the region.
In Rwanda, they are promoting one laptop per child; in Uganda we are promoting one boda boda per youth. And that is the foundation we are laying for our future. The Youth Livelihood Programme in the ministry of gender has become a campaign fund.
This money (Shs 265 billion to be given out in fi ve years) goes solely to patronize young people so they can vote for Mzee Museveni. And it is this frustration driving our young people to South Africa, Middle East and Europe. You have heard or read stories of abuse in South Africa, ranging from sexual violence, beheadings, to lynching.
All these stories are well known but the youths continue staking all to get the next visa to fl y away. And do you know what? The budget for the National Youth Council is Shs 1.5 billion – largely for salaries and fuel.
The author is Kyadondo East MP