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  • Timothy Laku

Disrupt or be disrupted. Here is why everybody wins when Boda Bodas embrace technology.

Ten years ago, it was impossible to see a future where Boda Boda riders embraced smart phones to do business. Ten years from now, it would be hard to find a Boda Boda rider who isn’t using a smartphone.

Busia border is a busy town. It is one of East Africa's busiest borders. No matter what time of day or night, you will find small-scale business people selling water, soda, juices, biscuits, chapati and roasted chicken. Busia is an interesting place with fascinating business history.


Busia is where Boda Bodas originated from.

Back in the late 1980's, small traders in Busia town needed cheap transport to ferry cooking oil, soaps and other consumer goods from Kenya to Uganda and second-hand clothes from Uganda to Kenya.


Boda Bodas came in handy as cheap, convenient means for ferrying the business people and their goods from one border to the other, hence the name Boda Boda.


But the origin of the name goes way back to the 1960s.


The name Boda Boda has been traced to bicycle riders that sneaked passengers and petty traders across the Uganda-Kenya border in the 1960s, before it spread throughout Uganda and the region.


Today, the Boda Boda is mostly a motorcycle taxi, popular for beating the traffic in urban settings and reaching remote areas and villages with no regular commuter taxis.

With the explosion of Boda Bodas on the road, there is good news and bad news.


The good news is that Boda Bodas provide transportation options to riders and job opportunities to drivers. That is the good news. The bad news is that this has resulted in an increase in road hazards and collisions and unnecessary injuries and deaths.


In 2010, an investigation by Kampala’s Mulago hospital found that 40% of its trauma cases involved a Boda Boda. Around 7,600 people are killed in road accidents in Uganda every year, according to the World Health Organization.


In another recent study carried out by the Africa Community Access Partnership, only 2% of riders had attended a driving school and only 10% had riding licenses. In East Africa, Ugandan motorcycle riders have the lowest ownership of helmets with only 25% reporting that they always wore helmets. Ugandans riders also had the highest proportion of injuries in the region.


The industry has been informal for a long time. The majority of the riders have not had formal training on how to handle customers. Many are secondary school dropouts. The majority of customers have had horror stories to tell as regards their experience interfacing with Boda Boda riders.


Two years ago, police spokesperson, Andrew Felix Kaweesi, his driver and bodyguard were shot dead by unknown assailants on a motorcycle, about 100 metres from his home in Kulambiro, Nakawa Division in Kampala.


Three years ago, gunmen shot dead Sheik Maj. Mohammed Kiggundu, at Masanafu, a Kampala suburb. His bodyguard, Sgt. Steven Mukasa was also shot dead. The two were driving to the city in a UPDF pick-up truck at about 7:30 am. According to the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Paul Kangave, the assailants were moving on a motorcycle.


Four years ago, unidentified assailants riding on a Boda Boda motorcycle gunned down Joan Kagezi, the senior principal state attorney in Kiwatule, a Kampala suburb, where she had made a stopover to buy fruits.


These have all raised concerns amongst the populace, municipal officials, and government. There is need to organize these Boda Bodas into formal groups. What should be done and by whom? What about registration and licensing? What about Training? What about Tax? What about enforcement of traffic rules?


There has been an attempt in the past to formalise the Boda Boda sector but none of these attempts have worked. Riders prefer to operate outside of formal structures and certainly would prefer to operate unconstrained.


With the emergence of ride-hailing apps in the market, we have seen a positive trend towards organizing this sector. More riders are signing up and using these apps to pick customers and make money. Today, apps like SafeBoda are organising the Boda Boda sector - disrupting the Boda Boda transport sector as we know it.


In 2014, SafeBoda opened the door to the ride-hailing industry in Kampala, Uganda. SafeBoda started with five riders. Ricky Papa Thomson, a co-founder of SafeBoda and a former Boda Boda rider was the sixth. SafeBoda is the most prominent ride-hailing company on Kampala streets and has over 10,000 riders on its platform.


In 2016, Uber, which had been in Africa for three years, made Uganda its third country for continental expansion after South Africa and Kenya.


In February of 2018, Taxify became the first competitor of SafeBoda before Uber also realised the sprawling potential in the Boda Boda industry and set its footprint in the sector one month after Taxify.


Dial Jack, founded by Jacob Mathew, a New Zealander, who says he’s “deeply interested” in disruptive technology, launched in Kampala on June 21. It has so far enrolled around 300 riders, according to a recent interview with Mathew.


Mondo Ride, founded in 2015 by Troels Andersen, kicked off operations in Kampala in March of 2018.


Today, there are five BodaBoda-hailing companies in Kampala: SafeBoda, Uber, Taxify, Dial Jack and Mondo Ride. Collectively, with over 20,000 riders on their platform, they are organising the Boda Boda sector.


These app companies are disrupting the transport industry and doing so in ways that are safe, convenient, and fair to the passengers.

For example, SafeBoda drivers all receive extensive training to make them the safest and most professional drivers on the streets. They are all trained in road safety, first aid, bike maintenance and customer care. They are all equipped with hairnets and a spare helmet. All riders are identifiable and trackable through the SafeBoda system. When drivers join the SafeBoda community they see significant increase in their business providing impact to themselves, their family and the wider community.


Ten years ago, it was impossible to see a future where Boda Boda riders embraced smart phones to do business. Ten years from now, it would be hard to find a Boda Boda rider who isn’t using a smartphone.


Be part of the conversation on Twitter @timothylaku and follow the hashtags below:


#BodaBodas

#KigoThinkers

#DigitalThursday

#DigitalTransformation

#XFM

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