Many of us have that moment when a boda boda is the quickest way of chasing an errand or being on time for an appointment, catching a bus, or simply avoiding Kampala’s crazy gridlock.
Indeed, apart from providing several young people with jobs, many would attest to the the vast ways in which the boda boda industry has patched the gaps in our public transport system.
But, in typical style of too much of a good thing, we have allowed boda bodas to turn into an urban nuisance. Yes, we want people to have jobs, but how on earth can a sane city of narrow roads have all these bikes moving in all directions?
At traffic lights, on some moments when they will respect the red, you can’t believe the number of bikes lined against each other at just one spot of the city. Something like a swarm of locusts! Their rule is to practically follow as few road rules as they can and to break as many as they can get away with.
You can’t really blame traffic police, for it’s practically impossible to regulate this multitude of unruly riders in such tiny chaotic space without running mad. It is largely our populist politics that is dawning all this madness upon the city in the name of not disturbing voters.
I’m told that Mulago hospital’s casualty and orthopedic departments are choking on cases of bones broken by boda bodas. Yet still, these have no not been enough to cause action towards a safer more organised city! We let them continue to increase and ride as they please - even on pavements or wherever they can find space.
In this congestion and their random crisscrossing, it’s almost impossible to drive a car in Kampala city for a week without sustaining scratches and dents. Yet, in their mob logic, scratching someone’s car is something that should be understood by the victim and let to pass - that is if the cyclist hasn’t succeeded to flee.
It is considered as marginalisation of the weak for a car driver to seek justice against boda boda recklessness. Before you know it, in their solidarity in offense, they have surrounded you, defending their own - at times slandering the victim. They make it seem like driving in Kampala without expecting to be scratched is unreasonable.
I sat on this one last week, and I really like their conversational service. While at it, I asked what he felt about the cars they damage. He said, “mwana naffe tuba tweyiiya” (we are also struggling to make ends meet). But how about the victims! “Abo baloodi, bageenda bugeenzi wali nebazifuuwako ka langi” (those are well off, they just go and spray their cars).
Inside I was burning, for I still had a fresh memory of the one who had bumped into my car side a few weeks earlier. He had simply picked up his bike, waved at me, and driven off as I struggled to park.
Fellow boda bodas parked by the roadside stage were cheering him on and laughing as he disappeared! I assessed the damage, with a traffic officer who could only say ‘sorry, that’s how they behave’. And even if you apprehended the culprit anyway, often they can’t afford to sort their damage!
Meanwhile, my rider was continuing with the annoying conversation: “mwana bwotomera omanya nti giwunye, olinyako bulinyi’ (when you knock you, just know it’s trouble; so, you take off).
He said it’s not easy to identify who is responsible since they are very many. One just indistinctly rides into a ‘herd’ of others and acts like nothing has happened. And even if you have identified him, dare touch him!
Because we are always advised not to insult the crocodile until we have crossed the river, I just listened on with no comment. Much of the recklessness is because they are trying to rush and make as many rounds as they can in a day. After all, there is nothing to impede them.
Their logic hardly differs from that of taxi drivers, only that the size of their means and number makes their effect worse. Taxi drivers would have wished too to stop, turn, and squeeze anywhere if their size allowed. That boda bodas can do all this with ease and in multitudes makes them a bigger menace.
The Baganda say atakubalirira naawe tomubalirira; enyanja ekutta omira (you don’t consider those who have no consideration for you; a lake kills you as you swallow it too).
Accordingly, knowing that relevant regulatory authorities abandoned us to this chaos and that you can hardly get a thing out of these offenders, motorists devised some desperate measures too - at least for some psychological relief. Many move around with canes in their cars.
Good enough, we have gotten adequate public lessons from the police and army on how to use kibooko to resolve disputes. So, if you can quickly park, or through your car window, get hold of the lunatic and cane him appropriately until you find some tentative internal relief. Cry at the garage later.
If such destructive chaos can be allowed in the city, then in such a place kibooko passes too – for it is just but a concrete jungle.
Private initiatives like Uber, Taxify, and Safe boda have demonstrated to us that, even in our poorly planned city, the boda boda industry can actually be disciplined and organised if there is will to do so.
These tend to respect traffic regulations, they exercise due patience, and can be seen to be above the typical boda boda that hurls insults at any slight provocation, even after injuring. These are not the kind to throw humiliating words at pregnant pedestrians. What more lessons are we waiting for?
The writer is a teacher of philosophy.