From Kampala to Kigali

Getting to the airport isn’t easy. The internet is down. I call a normal taxi. It’s going to take hours to arrive. I’ll miss my flight. The internet is back up. I order an Uber. Philip arrives in minutes.

Philip has just finished a degree in Development Studies at university here. Is Uber good for Kampala? He’s sure it is. He says there’s no jobs in Kampala, and with Uber there are more jobs.

I tell him about Sheffield, and how there was a monopoly on taxis before Uber. How I believe it’s safer for lone women as the route is tracked, and safer for the driver as no money is carried. He agrees.

I also tell him how I considered becoming a driver with Uber, but couldn’t as you need a taxi licence, which involves paying money and passing a test.

This is where the benefits of Uber in Uganda become clear: a taxi licence, he tells me, is cheap and easy to get, but he’d have few clients: Most taxi drivers wait around with no passengers except their regulars, who call them. Taxi drivers here do not have meters or radios. With Uber, he just needs to ‘position himself well’, and he has work.

Alarm bells may be ringing for some of you: How do we know he drives safely? Does he have adequate knowledge of Kampala city?

Let’s be honest, taxi licences are extinct. They check there is knowledge of the city. Yet Uber drivers have a map on their phone based on Google. Maybe this even has live traffic on it. I guess taxi licences are also meant to check good character and test safe driving. Yet Uber tracks every journey: if the driver was erratic or too fast, and a passenger complained, this could be proven. Uber also need proof of driving license and insurance to allow a driver to work.

So, this is where we could learn from Kampala. We need to cut our red tape, recognise the benefits of technology, and move with the times. Then maybe we could start getting some of our unemployed young people into work, instead of protecting taxi firm monopolies and city council licensing incomes.

Anyway, that’s it for now. See you in Kigali.

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