Why are boda boda riders no longer sanitizing clients, taking records?

Boda boda riders waiting for a traffic light signal. Courtesy photo.

Having been in the lockdown for months, “the guidelines were implemented for sometimes”—says Hajji Kisembo, a boda boda rider in Kampala.


Kampala–14, December 2020: In Uganda, boda bodas remain the most common form of public transport for carrying passengers to a distance of up to about 20km or less.

The sector has employed many youths and has bettered their standards of living—including contributing to the country’s economic growth. The country has more than a million boda bodas, but 50 percent of it are unregulated, according to Immaculate Natukunda, a principal licensing officer in the Ministry of Works and Transport.

In March this year, after Uganda registered her first Covid-19 case, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on 18 March directed that public transport, among other sectors like education, religious institutions be closed as government battle to curb the novel coronavirus.

In many of his subsequent addresses to the nation, Museveni said boda bodas would only carry (deliver) cargo (food items)—and not human beings.

The directive affected boda boda riders financially, since cargo delivery was not making for them enough money.

Before his address on 18, March, on Monday 16 same month, the Cabinet sat and decided that a number of directives be put in place.

Addressing the nation for the first time three days after the Cabinet had sat and decided, the president, after issuing directives on other critical sectors like education, religious institutions, and others, said, “The next frontline with this virus is public transport ─ the boda-bodas, the taxis, the buses, the mini-buses and the trains.”

“Everybody can see, the clear danger here, is of many people sitting next to one another in the confined space of the vehicle from Lira to Kampala, etc. Therefore, the advice here is: “Do not travel unless it is absolutely necessary, if you are using public transport.”

Additionally, he said, then “the companies that operate these means of transport should be given mandatory SOPs by the Ministry of Health: hand-washing, not allowing sick people on board, temperature monitors, etc. With these pre-cautions, public transport will continue. However, in the event of an outbreak in a given locality, public transport in that area will be forbidden and the area will be isolated”.

Days after his national address, same month (March), the country registered more cases leading to a total ban on public transport countrywide. Only stickered private vehicles “labelled essential service providers” were allowed on roads.

Boda bodas, ‘primarily used’ by middle-income earners and used for emergencies like transporting mothers to hospital for childbirth; antenatal, among others, was made redundant.

The ban attracted condemnation from some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) like Health Gap, an organisation dealing in Global Health Project.

On April 20, 2020, the above organisation, jointly with other CSOs issued a statement in response to President Museveni’s directive that pregnant women were not banned from using transport to seek health services during Covid-19 lockdown.

“The transport ban in Uganda caused immense harm, even death,” said Nakibuuka Noor Musisi of Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD).

“Pregnant women and all people in need of health services never should have been subjected to it. While we welcome this development, it has come far too late for many who have already died or suffered preventable complications as a result,” she added.

Among many demands to government, the CSOs demanded for a “removal of ban on transport for all other people who are sick and/or have urgent health needs (such as HIV or TB treatment refills)”.

Boda bodas resume operations with strict guidelines

In July 2020, government allowed boda bodas to resume fully four months after lockdown with strict guidelines.

For a motorcyclist to carry a passenger, he and the passenger must wear a mask; the rider must record the passengers’ details, check his or her temperature. Both were directed to keep some distance between them.

Having been in the lockdown for months, “the guidelines were implemented for sometimes”—says Hajji Kisembo, a boda boda rider in Kampala.

“I had to look for money, bought a record book, sanitizer and pens,” he told TND News on Monday.

Mr Kisembo says two weeks after it was hard for him to convince his customers to have their details recorded. “There was a day I lost five customers. I told them first thing was to record their details, sanitize put on the mask and go, they all refused especially in giving details and all left like that,” he shared his experience.

This boda boda man is just like Deo Assimwe (not real names) who says he never bought a record book, temperature gun “because he had no capital”. “I was in lockdown for four months, my family gave me enough sufferings and I was only praying we resume work,” he said.

In Lira City last month, Okello Sam who has been in boa boda business for 10 years said he never followed the guidelines given to them from “day one”. He added: “For four months i was in lockdown, i never had more than shs5, 000 in my pocket every day; buying the requirements became impossible, so i had to risk.”

The price of a temperature gun ranges from shs100,000 and above, a notebook (for record) is shs3,000 and above. A pen costs shs500, and a price of a sanitizer varies; from shs20,000 and above, depending on the manufactures.

For a boda boda rider to operate during Covid-19 pandemic, he must first spend not less than 150,000 to buy the required items for virus’ regulations.

With Covid-19 cases in Uganda at its deadliest phase, boda bodas once directed to follow strict guidelines have remained adamant. The same with taxis and some buses, this publication has discovered.

Many taxis and buses no longer take temperatures of their passengers. They, however, have made it mandatory for travellers to wear a mask and to sanitize on arrival at taxi and bus parks.

Covdi-19 data

On 12 December 2020, the country recorded 461 new cases and one death. There are 27,532 cumulative confirmed cases of Ugandans to date with 221 deaths; 9826 recoveries and 680,709 total Covid-19 samples tested to date.

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