From Kigali to Kampala: The role of governance in boda boda safety reforms

Tom R Courtright
Published in
4 min readMar 12


By Geofrey Ndhogezi and Tom Courtright

Reflecting on The Wheels of Change-safe and sustainable motorcycles in sub Saharan Africa, a report by the FIA Foundation and co-authored by Lubyanza editor Tom Courtright, a reader can come away with a sense of optimism about our ability to solve road safety problems.

Out of the nine countries where the surveys and observations were conducted, according to the report, Rwanda comes away as a shining example of compliance with motorcycle taxi safety.

To see the variation in road safety compliance across Africa, I looked at Kigali, Kampala, and Douala.

As any faithful Lubyanza reader knows by now, motorcycle taxis are a major transportation solution across many African countries but requires public collaboration, political willpower, and popular ingenuity. In most cases, police and other traffic authorities tend to focus on enforcing the use of helmets by riders, possession of a driving license and third-party insurance. However, people in our three cities seem to respond differently to these efforts.

Source: The Wheels for Change. Surveys conducted in Jan-Feb 2022.

Much as age is a major determinant of how much risk one takes, the average age of boda riders across the sampled countries indicate that the boda riders share a common age bracket, so they are expected to take similar risks and responsibilities regardless of the population of their respective cities. But Kigali’s motari (Kinyarwanda for boda) operators are not taking the risk of running red lights.

High compliance with helmet use, observance of traffic lights, licensing and insurance, all together put Kigali’s motorcycle taxi operators distinctly ahead of their counterparts in other cities.

Source: The Wheels of Change. Surveys conducted in Jan-Feb 2022.

While on the surface of it Rwandan motari look like the paragon of peace and safety, their injury rate remains high, and similar to Uganda, Rwandan motari have been viewed as a threat to public peace and safety. In a 2017 study, anthropologist Will Rollason noted that:

In the media and in their everyday lives, motorcyclists are most commonly identified as a social problem, threatening ‘security’, umutekano, and have most intense relations with the police and the disciplinary wings of their own organisations. In these relationships, the state of youth, urubyuriko, is cited as a cause of ‘bad behaviour’ amongst motorcyclists: young people are often regarded by those in authority as impetuous, ill-disciplined and lacking the maturity to make appropriate decisions; they require control and guidance.

Yet clearly something is leading to higher compliance in Kigali. These questions point at the differences in governance as the only barrier between compliance and defiance, and this brings me to suppose that rectifying governance loopholes can help improve road traffic conditions. For example, in Uganda, where a crackdown on errant road users would reduce traffic troubles, the enforcement is largely a practice in extortion and maintains an environment for the chaos to thrive.

Motaris in Kigali. Credit: Tom Courtright.

Where the authorities and government agencies would apply policy to encourage proper road use, prominent politicians often side with boda riders in a way that promotes defiance.

Motorcycle-taxis are tough to regulate, but not impossible

Assessing Kigali’s success at bending boda riders towards compliance would be amiss without a look at the political environment. In 2006, the Kigali City Council (KCC) attempted to ban motaris, citing road safety issues. During the two-week period, motaris reported being shot and intentionally knocked by police. Intense blowback and criticism led to KCC pulling a U-turn on the policy, but they used it to get motari support to pass several regulations, including requiring each rider to “register with his local cell (the next-to-lowest political subdivision in Rwanda), obtain an
operator’s permit, and wear a proper uniform and helmet.”

Rwanda is a famously repressive and centralized state, and they were able to keep a ban (though poorly chosen) going for nearly two weeks longer than possible in Kampala. While the police violence towards motaris in pursuit of compliance is inexcusable, city regulators managed to turn a failed policy into a new success by improving helmet usage and registration efforts. Kampala should move away from the violence, and learn from the organization.