KAMPALA (AA) – Pale, weak and shaky, 27-year-old Ndahirwe Innocent is on the path to recovery in Mulago National Referral Hospital’s casualty ward.
On his right leg is a metallic fixture tightened with plaster to hold his fractured limb. Just above his outer thigh on the same leg is a suction tube to remove unwanted fluids from his bone.
The thick, bloody content in the 1500-milliliter cylinder – with a blue cover to which the tube takes pus and blood – says it all.
Dressed in a light-blue long-sleeved shirt and covered with a flowered blanket, Innocent recalls his latest close encounter with death as a driver of the motorcycle known locally as a “boda boda.”
At around 18:30pm on June 13, he was riding his boda with a passenger when he found himself between three motor vehicles coming from different directions.
“To dodge the speeding vehicle, I parked by the roadside – but there was a deep trench,” he recalled. “I thought I had left enough of a gap for him to pass, but instead he just crashed into me.”
It is common practice for motorcyclists to ride in between and alongside moving cars with very little space to spare.
Passengers sitting on the motorcycle with legs parted, or what is known as “sitting like a woman” with both legs on one side, pray their knees won’t be struck by a vehicle in case of an abrupt turn by the driver.
For women, most falls end with one’s back and head on the tarmac, while legs flip up in the air.
Not far from Innocent, Henry Nsubuga sat on his bed nursing a head injury.
“His accident was self-inflicted,” said his fiancé. “He was riding fast and when he reached a road bump, the motorcycle threw him down head first.”
On a daily basis, the Mulago Casualty Ward admits over ten boda boda victims – including riders, passengers or owners who have been beaten by robbers.
Injuries associated with boda accidents include spinal injuries, head injuries, fractured upper and lower limbs and abdominal trauma.
“This is the leading cause of death and accidents in Uganda, and especially at Mulago Hospital,” Sister Nasuna Benedicta, a senior nurse, told AA.
“Last year,” she recalled, “we had a total of 121 deaths; and by this month, August, we had got 19 deaths.”
Kampala City is awash with bodas. Not a minute passes without one zooming past.
The boda is a common concern for motorists and pedestrians alike.
For between $1 and $4, the intrepid boda passenger can move from one part of the sprawling city to another – depending on his or her abilities to haggle.
According to Peter Kauju, Kampala Capital City spokesman, some 64,000 motorcyclists are registered in Kampala alone, although their numbers are thought to be closer to between 150,000 and 200,000.
“We have developed a code of conduct [for boda drivers] and an action plan, which will be in place by September,” Kauju told AA.
“We want all bodas removed from the city center to… cut down on the number of accidents that happen every day,” he added.
Kampala Metropolitan Traffic Chief Lawrence Niwabine, for his part, dismissed bodas as “messy and very dangerous.”
“If someone goes to a shop and buys one, how can traffic control its use? How do we manage that?” he fumed.
Motorcyclists often tend to ride on pedestrian walkways, misuse one-way streets and show no respect for traffic lights.
“We don’t control their driving schools; our [responsibility] is just enforcement,” Niwabine told AA.
Kanyike Kiviri, head of the Kampala Metropolitan Boda Association, said some of their members underwent training, but added that this was very expensive.
“It is true that most accidents are caused by those who have not taken any lessons – and these are the majority,” he told AA. “But we don’t have the funds to train them cheaply.”
A boda driver is required to take a one-hour lesson for 15 days before being granted a driving permit.
“It [the course] is costly; most are not patient enough to finish it and say they can’t afford the 90,000 shillings – or $34 – in fees,” Kiviri told AA.
In June, Agather Atuhaire was thrown off a boda when the driver who was taking her to work entered a road recklessly at high speed.
When he tried to dodge an approaching car, he instead sent her flying. She came to the ground on all fours.
“I was bruised on my knees and elbow and got a scratch on my face,” she told AA.
Nonetheless, Atuhaire continues to use the speedy – albeit dangerous – means of transport.
“When I’m late for work, the boda is faster and will get you there on time,” she said. “They are a huge necessary evil, but I personally can’t do with them.”
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