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.

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In The Media: A Day in the Life of Tugende Drivers

Boda boda stage, Ntinda

Tugende customer John Kyabasinga, foreground, sits with other members of his stage in Ntinda, Kampala. (Photo Credit: KIMBERLY L. BRYANT)

For many Kampala residents, even some who ride boda bodas, the drivers are a faceless collective. All drivers take the reputational damage of the few who drive recklessly, grab purses, and suffer or cause accidents. When one motorcycle makes an erratic move, it is boda bodas at large cursed by whoever is inconvenienced.

It will be no surprise to Tugende followers that we feel differently. The vast majority of boda boda drivers are hardworking folks simply trying to earn a living and support their families. In an October 7 photo essay in online magazine The Culture-ist Canadian journalist Kimberly Bryant spends time with two Tugende drivers, John Kyabasinga and Onesmus Ahimbisibwe. By visiting their workplaces and homes Kimberly digs deeper into the drivers’ positive teamwork and self-regulation at stages, and the great things our drivers are investing in with their extra earnings at home.

Take a look. We are proud to work with John and Onesmus (who recently took ownership of his motorcycle!), and all our other customres.

(PS hover your mouse on the photos to read the captions, and even though it is spread 4 pages, click all the way through–the photos are fabulous).

Tugende’s New Faces

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It’s been a while since we updated the blog, and I apologize, but things here in Kampala have been busy and exciting. We’ll have more updates about our growth and new partnerships soon, but first, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to some new members of Team Tugende.

To help manage our growing loan portfolio, increased admin, and the many projects we have in the queue, we hired Paul Sselunjoji, an incredibly talented university student to work full time.

We also recruited three fabulous summer fellows, Nicholas Rodrigues, Jonathan Saunders, and Christopher Harnisch. The summer team is helping is further improve our operations, develop and launch a social impact tracking system, do market research and many other great projects. More about each person below.

Thanks for the continuous support, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook for more frequent updates and pictures! –Michael

Paul Sselunjoji

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Paul is an alumnus of the prestigious Educate! youth leadership development organization (which also has Colorado ties) and he is studying industrial engineering at Kyambogo University here in Kampala. While still a high school student, he won a nation-wide business plan competition and has helped set up several small scale businesses–including selling fertilizer on credit–near his home village of Hoima.

Why Paul is excited to join Tugende: “I’m so passionate about transforming Uganda and [Tugende] happens to be one of the businesses I see that can transform the livelihoods of Uganda, especially the youth.”

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Own Your Own Boda is Now Tugende

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Welcome! We hope you enjoy the new look. Click “Main site” above to see our full site, and read on, to find out more about why Own Your Own Boda is now Tugende.

Our brand has been radically revamped with help from our friends at Siegel+Gale, but our core mission is still the same. We still help people own their own bodas and are still committed to promoting opportunity through ownership.

Letting go of our founding name, Own Your Own Boda, was not an easy decision. We decided to go with something shorter, sleeker and still authentic to our origins and our mission. Thanks to amazing support from global branding firm (and Unreasonable Institute sponsor) Siegel+Gale, Tugende (pronounced “Too-Ken-Day”) is alive and beautiful.

We look forward to growing dramatically with our new brand while retaining our core mission of helping self-employed individuals get the opportunity to take control of their own financial futures. The decision to change names wasn’t easy, though, and we wanted to explain how and why it came about–especially for those sad to see OYOB shelved.

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200,000 motorcycle taxis in Kampala?

That’s what the Kampala Central Division Boda Boda Association estimated in the Daily Monitor story in which Tugende was featured yesterday:

There is no way to accurately count the number of boda boda riders in Kampala and quoted estimates from authorities range between 50,000 and 800,000. Richard Kibikwamu, the general secretary of the Kampala Central Division, Boda Boda 2010 Association, said there are approximately 200,000 boda riders and 5,000 stages in Kampala.

There really is little accurate way to tell–though we might be partnering on some market research to take a more educated guess sometime soon. At the moment, sticking with our “more than 100,000 drivers in Kampala” seems like a safe bet.

Tugende Talks Safety, Driver Welfare in Uganda’s Daily Monitor

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Tugende was prominently mentioned in a feature article about the motorcycle taxi industry in today’s Daily Monitor. This follows an earlier profile of the company (as Own Your Own Boda) in 2011.  In today’s story, we got to weigh in on the challenges and opportunities, and how motorcycles are a logical response for drivers and customers to Kampala’s crazy roads and potholes.

Here’s (edit: now former) managing director Medie talking about the huge increase in riders:

Medie Sebi Ssuna was a motorcycle mechanic who used to earn around Shs70,000 per week, but in 2001, he discovered that he could make more money by riding the bodas he used to repair. Now, he has been in the industry for more than a decade and he is the Managing Director of Tugende LLC, a business that gives loans to drivers so that they can own their own motorcycles.

According to Ssuna, the industry has changed a lot in the past decade and greater competition has affected drivers’ profits. “You cannot make as much money as we used to make in 2001,” he says, “But at least no one goes home without anything. Although the riders are many, the passengers are more because of the traffic jam. It is very possible to support a family by being a boda boda rider.”

Here I am discussing the lax enforcement of legal requirements of riders (Tugende makes sure its drivers are experienced and law-abiding).

New riders flock to the industry because it is profitable and relatively easy to enter. To operate legally, boda riders need a driver’s permit, third-party insurance, a Passenger Service Vehicle license (PSV), and a stage so that they can register with the Boda Boda 2010 Association.

But in reality, many drivers enter the market without the required documentation and Thomson estimates that 30 to 40 per cent of drivers in Kampala are not registered with a stage. “You don’t necessarily need anything [to get started] because there is no enforcement,” Wilkerson says. “A lot of guys will just show up one day and start riding a motorcycle. I think that’s the cause of a lot of dangerous driving and bad behaviour.”

And here I am again explaining why motorcycles are a symptom, not a cause of crazy traffic and bad roads.

“When there isn’t heavy traffic jam, the fact that cars have to come to a near complete stop to navigate a disastrous pothole on a main road means that there is a ripple effect that slows down everything and creates a traffic jam when it’s not congested. The motorcycle can just go around and pass cars,” Wilkerson says.

“If motorcycles are ever going to be a less significant part of transportation in Kampala, there will have to be better and bigger roads and a credible alternative for public transportation.”

Last, I really hope we are helping people get a step up to something beyond driving a motorcycle for their entire life.

As passengers are forced to use boda bodas because of a lack of quick and convenient alternatives, many drivers also join the industry because they do not have other options.

Many riders are able to save money and exit the precarious boda industry, but for others, the process is slow. “Riding a motorcycle can be fun for a while, but no one really wants to be doing this for years and years and years,” Wilkerson explained. “All of our drivers have something they’re aiming for as a next step.”

For tens of thousands, the boda boda business could be a ticket to achieving their dreams, but it is also a difficult and dangerous occupation.

For us, ownership is that first step.

(Photo courtesy of the Daily Monitor).

40 Paid Off Motorcycles and Counting


As January closed, we had our 40th motorcycle fully paid off, with many more nearing completion, and more than 60 current riders on the road. In the next few months we expect to have more than 80 active clients and 50 completed loans–more than double where we were following the Unreasonable Institute’s close in August.

Our waiting list is pushing above 30 drivers, but repayments are close to 100% so many on the waiting list, like Ronald Semanda (pictured above) will be rolling on their own motorcycle soon.

If you have ideas about how we can grow even faster, please get involved or get in touch!