Coffee table book: documenting boda bodas in Uganda

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Uganda’s Boda Bodas are a perfect scenery for a great coffee table book: There are hundreds of them. Hundreds in this one corner of the street alone. In the city of Kampala, there are an estimated 100.000 Boda Bodas. – The Boda Boda Book is a coffee table book documenting the lives and bikes of the Ugandan motorcycle taxis – probably in one of the last years, before the boda industry will change dramatically.

Boda Bodas in Uganda: A coffee table book documenting development on wheels

The Ugandan Boda Boda industry is a story of self empowerment, independence and economic growth for individuals – but it is also a story of many accidents, government restrictions  and exploitation.
Boda Bodas are motorcycles providing taxi services. That turns them into the most important lifelines of Uganda. Public transportation is rare and expensive, cities are crowded and streets are jammed – but a motorcycle can navigate the worst traffic jams.
On the country side, motorcycles are the way to reach villages far away; they also provide courier and delivery services and sometimes, they even operate as ambulances. And they play a vital role in supporting the local economy: Most small entrepreneurs get supplies and deliver goods via boda boda throughout Uganda, employees and office workers use the motorcycle taxis to get to work or to catch appointments on time.
The dark side is: dense traffic and bad roads cause many accidents. In addition, riders don’t need drivers licenses and are hardly regulated or controlled at all. Some attempts by the city government (mainly in Kampala) to control or tax boda bodas failed dramatically and rather caused riots than secured the industry.
The good side: Ugandan citizens are not willing at all to renounce from using boda bodas. But they have become more picky, they pay attention to security issues and they are not willing anymore to take just any ride.
Riders answer that need and provide more and different services:
The Ugandan Boda Boda Association vets new members, riders are only allowed to become a member, if they can show recommendation letters and if they are willing to undergo supervision for the first week.
Safe Boda trains its riders in good driving and first aid and uses orange helmets and reflective wests to market its services to customers.
In return, riders get welfare and social services: The Boda Boda Association saves membership fees into a fund that supports riders who are in trouble (e.g. if they can’t ride after an accident). Safe Boda does a lot of work in marketing and even created an app of their own that allows to order specifically trained riders – which turns Safe Boda into a kind of Ugandan Uber.
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Them riders themselves use great and colorful decorations on their bikes to demonstrate their trustworthiness: flowers, signs with bible quotes, flags, painted exhaust pipes, stickers, seat covers ranging from colorful tissues or plastic crocodile leather up to fake Louis Vuitton patterns or even umbrellas – all that sets the stage for gorgeous pictures. 

Stories from Uganda: The Boda Boda coffee table book

We’ve spent about a year now on understanding the boda economy talking to riders  and passengers, reading research and taking pictures. Some of the results can be seen here, on our Facebook– and Instagram-channels; some have been published in magazines around the world.
We went back to Uganda to travel through the country for a few weeks, talk to drivers and passengers, spend some time with them, visit their homes and understand their lives.
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Boda Boda coffee table book - traffic and public transportation


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