Tuesday, 19 March 2013

"A miracle". The mzungu who survived FIVE years in Uganda without a boda accident. FIRST GUEST POST!

Hang on, isn't that a Boris bike? Pic courtesy of Nigel Ball.

I've been bugging former mzungu in Kampala and boda fan, the inimitable Nigel Ball, to write this blog's first guest post for a while and last week he finally came good. Nigel, 29, an ex teacher came to Uganda from London in 2008 and was instrumental in the establishment of two new secondary schools in the country. He later helped found Mara Foundation,non-profit social enterprise for emerging African entrepreneurs. Nigel has worked with 100 startups so far in his career. It's perhaps fair to say that during his time in Uganda he also may have dealt with as many, if not more, er, breakdowns, as a boda passenger. But as this Einstein told Bodabodababy, after half a decade in the "Pearl of Africa" he finally figured out the cause of most boda accidents:

"It is a miracle, or at least bloody lucky, that I survived almost five years in Kampala without either falling off, crashing into, or otherwise erroneously interfacing with a bodaboda. Perhaps this is because I was behind bars myself very early on in my tenure in Uganda (handlebars I mean, although I did come quite close to being imprisoned after trespassing on Wandegeya barracks one evening.) This first-hand experience of riding a motorcycle through Kampala taught me to see things from a boda's eye, so to speak. I also decided to give crashing a go, and did an unintentional but spectacular Evel Knievel at Kakira Sugar Factory back in 2008. (It’s a much more interesting story than this one is likely to be so you should read it first, here.)

Despite being terrifically convenient, I eventually had to admit to myself that bodabodas are, by any account, sodding dangerous. Not because the riders are dodgy - on the contrary, each one of the hundreds of bodaboda men that I interacted with over the years seemed to be a thoroughly good egg. They really do a wonderful job of whisking Kampala’s notoriously unpunctual residents across the city even in the stickiest of traffic jams. And though the negotiations can sometimes turn fierce, the riders tend to drop you off at your chosen destination without a grumble.

Nigel in Kampala. Pic from the Appfrica International website.

Pic courtesy of Nigel Ball (he voluntarily gave this to me).

This decency must have deeper roots, given any young teenager or old mwami can wake up on a fine Kampala morning, get on an Indian-made motorcycle, and start making money using the ancient formula of getting xyz from a to b. (Note that it is not quite so easy in neighbouring Rwanda, where the bodaboda men or ‘motos’ of the neat and tidy capital Kigali are registered, and wear green overalls and something called a ‘crash helmet’, a device inspired by Lawrence of Arabia which is reportedly able to protect the head in the event of an accident.)

Pic courtesy of Nigel Ball.

To me, the cause of many bodaboda crashes is fairly obvious, and it is this: most bodaboda riders actively choose to loosen their brakes. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist, or even a mechanical engineer, to know that this is probably bad. I found it out when I borrowed a bike off a boda man in Jinja one time to take a trip out of town and discovered I couldn’t stop. Now - I don’t want to turn my guest blog into a polemic, and nor am I trying to launch a campaign, but this does strike me as a little - well, foolhardy. To make matters worse, if you watch carefully, you will almost certainly never see a bodaboda man touch his front brake - preferring to employ only the back brake, which by the way doesn’t work either. Inconceivable though it may seem to be, there is a general preference for letting the truck / road / oblivious goat stop you in the event of emergency.

I am still hoping one day to hear of a bodaboda woman, not least because they might be less fatalistic on the issue of retardation. I suppose it seems a ludicrous idea amongst the communities from which bodaboda men usually originate, for whom a woman is cargo - or perhaps it is an issue of personal security for the women themselves. But it would appeal to my sense of possibility, were it ever to happen.

Back in Blighty. Wonder how the No.38 stacks up against a boda? Photo from

The funny thing is that the day before I was due to leave Kampala for ever, me and the bodaboda man who was dispatching me very nearly got T-boned at a terrific speed by a dopey motorist who decided for no conceivable reason to pull in front of us. It would have been quite ironic, in an Alanis Morissette kind of way, if I’d been hit."

Nigel's Twitter handle is @nigel_ball. He's now conducting a London versus Kampala #LonVKla which is worth following. On St Pat's Day he Tweeted "Just seen 7-day weather forecast for London. 3 more days of rain then 4 days of cold. 6-9". Yours truly did tell him that although she absolutely hearts Kampala, London does get a few extra points for Selfridges alone (and they're just for the beauty counter), only to get a massive telling off.


  1. Nice post. I saw quite a few women bodaboda drivers in Accra a few weeks ago. But I think I've only seen one here in Kampala.

  2. I have never seen a woman boda driver in Kampala but I did see one in Kigali. It seemed no one wanted to use her. They would head towards her bike but as soon as they realized she was a woman, they would walk away to another bike. After a few attempts, someone finally chose her. Very interesting blog. I found it through a pic on Instagram. Love reading your stories about bodas. They are definitely an interesting time. I got left in the middle of the road once when my boda crashed into another. I was in shock and couldn't believe he left me!!