A motorbike pulls into the driveway of Mulago Hospital in Kampala, a woman held onto the saddle by one man while another drives. The first man steps off, helps her to lie across the bike while he pays the driver. She grips her side, an orange kanga pulled around her, and then shuffles to the door with the man’s help.
The boda-boda – motorbike taxi – is everywhere in the Ugandan capital. Carrying a coffin balanced across the saddle, two small trees strapped pillion-style, layers of eggs stacked in cardboard, and people. Most people say not to ride one because they’re so dangerous in the chaotic traffic but still they come.
Soon after Independence in 1962 Kampala’s population was about 330,000, and the narrow, hilly roads reflect that time. Today it’s 1.72 million. Driving through the streets feels like being funneled along and it seems drivers feel driving in the opposite lane is the best way to escape the pressure.
And in the middle of the buses, 4x4s and mini-vans, the small boda-bodas aren’t exactly visible.
So why take one? Money, it’s all about the money.
Petrol costs 3,500 Ugandan shillings/ litre (€1.105) which is more than the cost of a SIM card for a phone here. The boda-boda guys outside my hotel say they get up to 10km per litre while a car won’t go too far on that.
And that’s mostly why some people hop on while others just shudder. You can take a family – mum, dad and two or three children – home for the price of a meal.
But you do sometimes see businessmen and others hopping on just because the traffic-snarls make taking the risk worth it. A taxi-driver I was travelling with shouted out ‘Muzungu’ (white person) anytime he saw them on the back of a little boda-boda, always adding in a wise tone: ‘Ah, he (or she) must live here a long time, he is not afraid anymore. But I think it’s a mistake’.
So, fast and cheap could come at a price if you’re unlucky. But at least that woman made it to hospital thanks to her boda-boda.