Jo put this post up onto his Facebook page last night and my first response (and it’s rare that I respond to Facebook posts) was to copy the link to this article I wrote in September 2013 and paste it in.
But the article was NOT online!
Potentially long story cut short, here it is online:
My dislike for boda-bodas and their operators should be common knowledge by now, but I am learning to live with them and mourn people who die falling off them.
Now there is one specific aspect of the boda-boda business that presents an irony which I implore our economists and managers of this society to spend energies on.
A couple of months ago, at a gathering of mobile phone enthusiasts we call ‘Mobile Monday’, I met Michael Wilkerson, a young American fellow running a company called Tugende, whose primary focus is financing for boda-boda operators to own their own motor bikes.
I was surprised to find this Stanford- and Oxford-educated American had relocated to Uganda to apply himself to this issue.
“Imagine if the laptop you did all your work on…,” he said, to the group of mostly IT, nerdy types, “…if that laptop were owned by somebody else. Imagine if at the end of every day you had to pay that person some money as rent? Suppose at any time that person could take your laptop away and leave you with no income for the day or week?”
That is the reality for many boda-boda owners, and which Wilkerson’s company seeks to change through a funding programme that transfers ownership of the wretched mopeds to those irritating road-users.
It’s a noble initiative.
But I also know a guy called Patrick Omare whose closest encounter with Stanford University education has been leaning against Andrew Mwenda’s vehicle for a photograph when it’s occasionally parked outside The Independent offices. This Patrick is an entertaining fellow when observed at work because he earnestly indulges in occupational buffoonery that I classify under a file titled, “Office Clowns”.
But this Patrick has bought up a couple of pieces of land in his Eastern Ugandan village and near Kampala City itself by way of his version of the Tugende concept.
It started with him asking his employer for a loan to buy land. His employer, not clear on the collateral Patrick presented, instead bought a boda-boda and put it under Patrick’s management. He explained that Patrick would get a rider, have the fellow operate the machine and pay back 50% of profits or a minimum amount of money every single day till the original cost was paid back, plus an extra two months, and the rider could take the machine as his very own.
All money would be put into a second boda-boda, and so on and so forth.
The concept eventually sunk in, and Patrick bought his piece of land a year and a half later, and now runs a fleet of boda-bodas. He isn’t stinking rich by ordinary standards, and has had a couple of the things stolen from him, but he is doing alright.
So, at this point, an American with the world’s best education and the humbly-schooled Patrick from Eastern Uganda have figured this out and are operating more-or-less at par.
Which is why I’m seeking an economist to figure out why this can’t be replicated for other stuff that would make more sense for us as a country overall and cause less death and disorder. Why, for instance, aren’t we buying our cars in this manner the way the rest of the world does, which enables them to afford brand new cars and provides the capital to invest in manufacturing or assembly? Why can’t the Pioneer or UTODA buses be funded in this way so that our transport system gets cleaned up?
More importantly, can’t the same philosophy be used for tractor purchases countrywide to change the lives of millions of farmers…and the country? What about somebody funding agricultural pre-processing plants in every district using this very same formula?
What’s the missing element? Or, what’s that magic element in boda-bodas that draws in the Stanford and Oxford educated American and my man from Eastern Uganda?
Over to the economists and managers of society.