Of course, with all new endeavors come new challenges. Since people are usually wary of boda drivers, Michael’s radical plan was initially met with a lot of skepticism from his peers. But by trusting his gut, Michael persevered with Tugende. He’s since proven to naysayers that the majority of his large boda driver clientele are indeed trustworthy, responsible individuals who make timely payments. As Tugende empowers boda drivers to take charge of their own future, they’re responding in kind.
So what does the life of a boda boda driver look like? Most of Tugende’s clients belong to one of the myriad boda boda stages scattered throughout in the city. A boda boda stage is a specific place, street-side, where a group of drivers station themselves to wait for clients. Each stage has a different name, usually based on the location. Further, each have their own executive committees, comprised of positions including chairman, vice chairman, secretary general, secretary of defense, and more. The committee holds regular meetings to discuss any issues that arise, such as poor behavior from a member, medical situations, and thievery.
Rest assured, not just any boda driver can join a stage: there is an initiation fee that varies according to the stage’s average earnings, and all new members need to be approved by the executive committee. Clearly, there is a lot of accountability and responsibility required from stage members, both personally and financially. But even so, being a stage member is appealing for two main reasons: earnings from stages are much higher, and there is increased protection and safety for all of the members.
For safety purposes, many foreigners and Ugandans alike will only take a boda driver who is part of a stage. The chances of the driver being responsible and trustworthy are much higher if they belong to a stage community.
John Kyabasinga, 50, is one of Tugende’s more outgoing boda drivers. Unlike the other city-dwelling boda drivers, John lives out in a village in Nalusuga, Nyangabo, in Kyandono, Subcounty Wakiso district. He lives there with his wife, Hadija Nansubuga, and their three children on a large piece of land purchased with his income from boda driving.
About a 15-minute drive from his village home is the Ntinda boda boda stage, where John is not only a member, but also the chairman. The stage is called Agaliawamu, meaning “˜combined efforts and energy’ ““- a name fitting for its amiable drivers. As chairman, John is responsible for holding meetings and dealing with stage problems (he is also working to pay off his first motorbike loan). For example, John has the right to revoke membership from any driver who displays inappropriate behavior.