Meet Naume: Kampala (and Tugende’s!) First Female Boda Boda Driver

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Naume Awero on her first motorcycle, which she bought with help from an employer and a bank. See Naume on her new Tugende motorcycle at the bottom of the post. (Photo: Cassandra McColman).

Editor’s note: Long before Naume Awero was featured in a (terrific) October 13 Daily Monitor story, intrepid Tugende intern Cassandra McColman bonded with Naume and wrote a blog post for Tugende’s site. Due a terrible, unresponsive editor…cough…the Monitor published before Tugende’s boda boda blog. Still, Cassandra’s piece is great, and not only were we planning to run it anyway, we are proud to announce that on October 25, Naume became a Tugende customer!

This couldn’t have happened without Naume’s brave pioneering or Cassandra’s incredible recruiting. We are excited to help Naume on her path to owning a second motorcycle. When I spoke to her today, Naume asked that we share her phone number so that those of you in Kampala can call her for rides–she’s based near Kamowkya market: 0782 247 839. (We’ll remove it if she gets any strange calls). I also asked her why she named her kids Saddam and Gaddafi–my favorite detail from the Monitor story. Her answer: “I wanted to show that they were tough like their mother.” 

Enjoy Cassandra’s full article below. –Michael Wilkerson

One Tough Mother

by Cassandra McColman

The streets of Kampala are constantly congested with cars and taxis locked in endless jams, but somehow the city’s more than 100,000 boda boda drivers navigate the traffic to deliver passengers to their destinations. Driving a boda boda can be a dangerous profession, with accidents reported every week. Cultural pressures, busy streets and uncertain passengers scare most women away, but Naume Awero, 25,  is trying to change that.

“When you’re interested in  something  you should put all your mind to it and you should learn it,” Naume told me in September. I met her during my Tugende internship, and by the end of the summer was hiring her to drive me almost every day.

To say that boda boda driving is a male dominated profession would be an understatement.  There are a few reports of female motorcycle taxi service in rural areas of Uganda, but Naume is currently the only female driver in the capital. Each day she shifts between her job as a security guard and carrying passengers on her motorcycle.

Naume is a single-mother with two children, 7 and 12, and works three jobs, including driving the motorcycle, to make ends meet. Growing up Naume learned to take care of herself, living with family friends after her mother left her on her own at an early age. After moving back to Kampala she was faced with the challenge of supporting herself and her children on her own. Instead of begging on the street or looking for a man to provide for her family, Naome started working as a security guard and cleaning houses on the Sundays. According to her, “you must use your brain, and not just sit there wondering what to do.” Each day she would ride her bicycle across the city to get to work, sometimes taking up to 1½ hours, until 2012 that she considered getting a third job as a boda boda driver.

One day, Naume was riding her bicycle to work when she crashed. Although she was unhurt, her bicycle was too damaged for her to ride to work. A friend offered to let her drive his motorcycle, and with no training and having never driven a motorcycle before, she drove to work through the manic traffic. “I loved the feeling and decided that I had to ride,” recalled Naume.  From then on, she made it her goal to become a boda boda driver herself and began the process of applying for a loan to purchase a bike. She chose to take a loan from Cairo International Bank, but was forced to wait as she saved up the 3 million shillings needed to make the down-payment.  In January 2013 Naume received her motorcycle and went for training to receive her license. A quick study, she learned to drive in only two days, and joined a stage to begin riding.

Naume loves riding boda boda and wants to continue because it pays well and is more secure than her other jobs. She explains that even if she is fired from her other job as a security guard, she will always have her motorcycle to fall back on. She views her boda and her business and knows that the harder she works carrying passengers around the city, the greater the rewards.  She takes both men and women as passengers, but still attracts attention when she’s riding; other boda boda drivers can hardly believe that a woman has chosen to become a boda boda driver. She has even become involved with the Kampala Boda Boda Association to become better informed about new regulations and make her voice heard at meetings.
Naume’s determination to improve her life and those of her children are inspiring. Despite her difficult upbringing and challenging life, she perseveres, struggling everyday to make things a little better.

Even though she is not a Tugende driver (ed. note: she is now!), Naume wants to help promote the business as an opportunity for other drivers to start working towards owning their own motorcycles. Tugende welcomes any female drivers who want their own bike, and would encourage any interested ladies to come to our office.

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Naome, driving out of the metal shop on her new Tugende bike.