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Gulu bodabodas defy COVID-19 ban on passenger transport, blame ‘hunger’

Members of Gulu City Boda Boda Association have resumed carrying passengers, in total disregard of the ongoing moratorium against them, citing ‘hunger’.

When instituting the lockdown in late March, President Yoweri Museveni barred all passenger transport, including bodabodas, as one way to combat the spread of COVID-19. These restrictions have been renewed severally, the latest being in the President’s June 22 address.

Although the presidential directives allowed bodabodas to engage in cargo transportation, many in the trade now say this option does not earn them enough to support their families. 

Barely a month after the ban on bodaboda passenger service was announced, at least 5000 of the 15,000 members of Gulu City Boda boda Association had resorted to vending charcoal and farming to supplement their reduced earnings.

Now, several bodaboda stages that were virtually empty at the initial time of the lockdown are buzzing with activity as bodaboda riders, most of them in close proximity of one another and without face masks, openly ask clients if they want a lift.

“We cannot sit and die of hunger”

By 10 am today, one Thomas Anywar told theCooperator that he had already transported three clients, and was doing so because he has to eat.

“I am afraid of the virus. I also know that when police or the army arrests me, I will be in problems, but hunger is a terrible thing that can also kill, that is why I am taking the risk,” Anywar said.

To other riders, the thought that “the virus is not in Gulu” and news that the number of cases is going down, gives them the courage to transport passengers.

“I know this virus is not in Gulu that is why I am courageous. But also, I only carry passengers whose background I know, like my neighbors, not just anyone who comes asking for my service,” Walter Olanya, a bodaboda rider in Layibi Center, says.

Olanya adds that some of them have been promised food aid a number of times, only to see those promises not fulfilled, which is why they decided to start fending for themselves. 

“At my stage we were registered three times with the promise of receiving food, but we are yet to get it, so we cannot sit and die of hunger,” Olanya said.

Simon Wokorach, chairperson Gulu City Bodaboda Association acknowledged that although the restriction on them carrying passengers has not yet been loosened, they are being pushed to do so by financial challenges.

He reveals that the lockdown is taking a toll on the families of many in the Association.  

“Financial problems are pressing the fraternity and have forced many to go against the presidential directive. Since March to date, 80 bodaboda riders were left by their wives because they could not raise money to feed the family,” Wokorach said.

He prayed that the lockdown be lifted altogether, so that the bodaboda riders start operating legally, without fear.

Still forbidden

Tom Oree, deputy RDC of Gulu, also a member of the Gulu COVID-19 Task Force, says any bodaboda rider caught carrying a passenger will be dealt with, unless the passenger is a patient, with valid documents authorizing their movement.

“Nothing has been uplifted, so whoever is doing that [carrying passengers] is doing it illegally. We still maintain the standard operation procedures as directed by the President,” Oree said.

“Policemen are still on the ground to ensure that any bodabodas carrying passengers are brought to book when found,” he added.

President Museveni is expected to address the nation again on Tuesday, July 21, about the COVID-19 disease, of which Uganda has registered 1,069 active cases and zero deaths thus far.

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