Why Boda Boda Industry Should Not Be The Economic Empowerment Vehicle For Teso Youths Today

Omagor Dickson

The Boda Boda industry came to the fore in Uganda as a popular informal economic activity shortly after the saloon one had taken the country by storm. It is an activity where riders upgraded from bicycle transportation to the motorcycle transportation. When it started, it was indeed a lucrative business because few afforded the motorcycles. In the process first; civil servants acquired loans and bought motorcycles which they hired to riders who paid them a weekly premium.

Secondly, the riders realizing that they were being used to enrich the civil servants went back to the drawing board and sold their plots of land, the proceeds of which they used to buy the motorcycles. Therefore, the number of motorcycle owners grew from those owned by civil servants to self owned boda boda rider motorcycles.

The Industry however continued booming thus attracting motorcycle dealers to offer some sort of asset loans to those interested in acquiring the bikes for self business. The entry of dealers into direct loan marketing to boda boda riders congested the industry further.

As the industry continued growing to the extent of becoming politically noticed block, financial institutions such as Vuga Tugende (Drive to own) in Mbale District joined the fray and started offering motorcycles on loan. This group particularly targets riders who want their own motorcycles.  So as the older riders acquired their own bikes, more youths joined the industry as the original civil servants and businessmen had no people to hire their motorcycles.

The aforementioned background is to show how crowded the boda boda industry has become.

Unaware of the dwindling returns to capital in this sector, many youths are still attracted to it for obvious reasons.

One; they believe it as lucrative as it was a decade ago. Two; it offers an easier means of emigrating from the rural areas to the urban centers where existing amenities are enticing. Three, it is less laborious when compared to agriculture. However, these youths that are belatedly joining the boda boda industry are selling land bequeathed to them by their parents to afford the bikes!

Now recently, the ever well meaning Woman Member of Parliament for Serere District, Hellen Adoa carried a number of boda boda riders to Kampala for a tour and negotiation with Bajaj distributors for cheaper bikes and loan facilities. This initiative was applauded by many in Serere and other areas.

To me, this initiative needed some dissection. First to the MP, it brought her accolades because she is helping an organized group access its inputs easily and cheaply. Secondly, she gained political capital out of it after all who does not know the mobilization capacity this group has.

However, the MP’s action may be construed to mean that she encourages more youths to join the boda boda industry. Now if that be the case, where are these youths getting money to buy these motorcycles? If the youths are selling land in order to buy Bajajs, then the initiative is self defeating and calamitous in future. When land is sold off and there are no returns from the motorcycles bought, will the affected youths and their parents thank the Honourable MP for enticing or encouraging them into the industry? They will as surely as night follows day curse the MP who failed in her duties to guide them right.

Amongst the traditional four factors of production namely; Capital, labour, entrepreneurship and Land, the latter is the most important and inelastic. Because of its importance, the scramble for it has led to revolutions, governments have been toppled, civil wars have been fought and lots of blood has been shed.

The 1789 French revolution was led by peasants who felt that the nobility feudal system of the time was ripping them off especially from agricultural produce. The Mau Mau uprising of 1952 in Kenya was basically a land related uprising. The Kikuyu who had been displaced by the Whites from their fertile highlands and made homeless in a state  where 3000 European families owned more land than the one million Kikuyu driven into reserves. This situation, the culmination of decades of mistreatment and oppression under British rule, created an atmosphere of discontentment that fed into the various Kenyan nationalist movements, and ultimately led to the Mau Mau uprising that ultimately led Kenya to Independence.

Land still remains the most acrimonious issue yet to be resolved in Zimbabwe and South Africa. In Uganda today, land is the most sought after resource with those having the might grabbing land left and right. In fact in most constituencies, voting is influenced by land issues.

I have given the above examples just to show how important land is. If we can appreciate that land is priceless (it is difficult to put a price to it just the way you cannot put a price to blood), then it becomes obvious that to sell land to buy a Bajaj that will not bring back returns i.e be able to make money and buy back the land lost is not economically prudent.  Moreover land is one asset that appreciates with every passage of time.

Instead the honorable Member of Parliament should have taught these youths better agricultural practices that would have bought them the motorcycles and yet retain the land that they should also pass on to their children.  In this regard, I applaud Honorable Patrick Okabe of Serere County who instead has put up a demonstration farm from where his constituents learn how to earn big from agriculture. As more youths are emigrating to towns, food is getting more costly because the urban demand is increasing and yet the rural production where 90% of agriculture is carried out is reducing because the most active labour force has emigrated to urban centers.

Let the MP encourage these youths to embrace commercial farming, adopt irrigation practices, avoid growing stereo type crops simply because we found our grandparents growing them and to appreciate the fact that wealth is built overtime. Therefore Hellen Adoa, if you are going to help the youths acquire motorcycles for boda boda business, only help those who have tilled their lands and profited from it and are using proceeds from land to purchase the bikes. Even then, I do not see any reason why a successful farmer should buy a Bajaj instead of irrigation equipment! The boda boda Industry is crowded and its returns to capital are dwindling every other day. Ask around and find how many boda boda owners have been able to save and buy more Bajajs let alone buy land out of the boda boda business.

I rest my case.