The film Boda Boda Thieves explores how the traditional motorbike taxis have become part of organized crime.
Known throughout the region as boda bodas, two-wheeled motorbikes and motorcycles are the most convenient mode of transportation in East African cities. It's not because the rickety bikes offer a more comfortable ride than a train or car. Rather, it's their skinny frames. Agile and lean, boda bodas and their passengers snake easily through sclerotic gridlock. In Kampala, the capital of Uganda, an estimated 200,000 boda bodas circulate the city as informal taxis. If time is of the essence, a boda boda will be your swiftest mode of transportation.
But the ubiquitous motorbikes haven't been all good for the cities of East Africa—one of the most rapidly urbanizing regions of the world. They're increasingly becoming part of a new wave of street crime. Reports of robberies at the hands of boda boda gangs are more and more common.
On Friday, police officials in Nairobi, Kenya banned boda boda drivers from carrying more than two passengers in an effort to stymie this activity. Last year in Dar es Salaam, the capital city of neighboring Tanzania, government officials barred boda bodas from entering the downtown business area. The edict came after a group of bike criminals robbed a bank of a reported $190,000. Similar crime sprees have hit Kampala recently.
The criminal underbelly of the boda boda world has now made it to the big screen: A criminal thriller based on the phenomenon was released in February.
The film, Boda Boda Thieves, offers a look at how these traditional motorbikes have become a tool for urban crime syndicates. The plot centers on Abel, an 18-year-old Ugandan who has the misfortune of losing his father's boda boda to a group of thugs. The motorbike was collateral for a debt his family owed; Abel must now navigate the city's criminal network to locate the family's bike. Beyond just profiling the ever-present boda boda gangs, the film offers, "an insider’s view to urban Uganda, its underworld, and the generation gap between urban migrants and their children," according to a recent review.