By Andrew Mwenda
Last night, President Yoweri Museveni claimed boda bodas are not an effective means of public transport! Who decides this: the president, a committee of experts or commuters? Ugandan commuters have consistently voted with their wallets – for boda bodas as the most convenient and effective means of public transport! We need to listen to them.
Some of Uganda’s elites are detached from the daily struggles of our youths! So they focus on the personal inconvenience they face at the hands of boda bodas and ignore the convenience this mode of transport creates for so many people in this country. They are also blind to the contribution boda bodas make to our economy, both in monetary and also none monetary terms.
Look at the economic impact of boda bodas: Whatever your views about them, the total revenue generated by boda boda is Shs 13 trillion per year, 10% of Uganda’s GDP! And this is a conservative estimate. They employ 1.2m youths and provide livelihood to 6m Ugandans! And 90% of boda boda business is on passenger transport, not cargo!
If the president is not willing to let boda bodas carry passengers, he should provide a solution to the incomes of 1.2m riders and the livelihoods of over 6m Ugandans! If not, he should find ways to allow boda bodas to carry passengers while minimizing the risk of spreading covid!
I am involved in boda bodas through a social enterprise that seeks to help our unemployed youths own assets (boda bodas) from which they derive their livelihood! So I and my colleagues in this business have ideas on how to allow boda bodas carry passengers with little or no risk of spreading covid! Rather than make decisions alone, the government should have consulted stakeholders!
Museveni has taken an extreme view of covid, suggesting that what matters is only saving lives from this single disease and all else is secondary. Yet earning an income is life saving as it helps people meet their basic needs without which they would starve to death! It makes no sense to save anyone from the risk of being killed by covid only to meet certain death via starvation!
It also makes no sense for government to provide food for people who can provide it for themselves. In any case government has no resources to feed 6m people who depend on boda bodas for a livelihood, and neither does it have the resources to meet their medical bills for others illnesses other than covid.
The focus on preventing the spread of covid is commendable but the cost of the solution is increasingly becoming bigger than the problem itself. Uganda needs to find a creative balance between sustaining the economy and preventing covid! We cannot kill the economy in the name of a utopian vision of preventing the spread of a disease that has no cure or vaccine! Uganda needs to plan how to live with covid while minimizing its risk of spread!
So Mr President open Uganda to boda bodas NOW