The tale of the Ugandan Taxi

Most Ugandans have a love-hate relationship with taxis. This is why.


On a good day, the taxi conductor will help an elderly lady cross the road. Amazing!


On a bad day, that same guy will connive with 5 thieves to rob an unsuspecting passenger. (I was that passenger, but more on that later)

For my tourist friends who have no idea what is referred to as a taxi in Uganda, allow me to explain.


It is the weird-looking minivan that carries 14 or so passengers. A taxi conductor is the guy who collects fare from passengers.


In Kenya, a taxi is referred to as matatu, in Ivory Coast as gbaka and in Rwanda as twegerane... (yes, I googled the terms to prove I'm intelligent ;-)

The point I am trying to make is that different countries have a different name for it.


Then there is Uganda.


Well, we were too lazy to come up with a creative name. So, we settled for 'taxi'. Never mind that we have cabs which are technically 'taxis'.


So, what do we call the cabs instead?


Well, my dear friend, I am  embarrassed to admit that we call them "special hire". There is a story here. It involves a mzungu and a goat... to be told in future.


Back to this article.


Unlike our Kenyan counterparts, Ugandan taxis don't usually blast music that can be heard all the way from Kawangware to Thika.


On a normal day, the passengers will quietly listen to birango (death announcements) or to the latest local hit. Everyone is content.


Of course, it's not just the birango that keep the passengers entertained. Some passengers take it upon themselves to entertain other passengers.


(If you take a personal car into town on a daily basis, you have no idea what you're missing out on.)


This one time, I looked over to my neighbor in a taxi. She was reading texts from her sugar daddy. How did I know they were texts from her S.D? Well, he claimed he wasn't feeling well. The babe asked him to send a photo (people lie so you have to get that proof).


To cut the story short, I saw the photo. That's how I know. To be honest, that was the most disturbing conversation ever. And yes, I never read another one after that.


Onto the story of how I got robbed in a matatu/gbaka...well, in a taxi. Jeez!


It was a beautiful Sunday evening. I was coming from the Kampala Rolex Festival.


Before we delve further into my predicament, let me say this first.


I was born and raised in Uganda. I am supposed to know all the tricks in the taxi code of thievery conduct.


For instance, I know that I shouldn't sit in the front seat (it's the most vulnerable seat to thievery). I also know that I shouldn't adjust anything on behalf of the conductor.


Suffice to say, I did both these things. I got into the front seat. I adjusted something I wasn't supposed to.


Did I mention that on that beautiful evening, I was carrying a camera, a laptop and my old but valuable phone in my bag? I know what you're thinking.


In my defense, I had come straight from the airport hoping to capture a few photos of the 1st ever Kampala Rolex Festival,  for my readers.


Anyway, I get into the front seat of the taxi. No suspicions whatsoever. As soon as I close the door, the conductor tells me that it isn't properly closed. I need to do it again.


Like a good passenger, I try again.


Still not good enough.


He says that I need to use more energy otherwise, the door won't shut. Now, I am concerned. About my camera and laptop. I pull them closer.


'You need to fasten your seat belt,' he says in Luganda.


Nobody fastens the seat belt in a taxi. I know what he's planning. I am about to get mugged.


When he insists on the seat belt, I tell him to stop the vehicle. I need to get into the back seat. You know, the seats without seat belt issues.


I get out and wait for the conductor to open the passenger door. He doesn't. Instead, the vehicle speeds off.


At this point, I am grateful that I got out when I did. So, I stop another taxi and jump into the back seat.


Then I notice something.


My phone is awfully quiet. Not even a message? I check my bag for my old but valuable phone.


10 minutes later, it is nowhere to be found.


I ask the passenger next to me to call my number. It is off.


Then, it dawns on me. I just got robbed. At what point exactly? Probably when I was taking instructions from the conductor.


Typical taxi robbery story. I know.


On a good day like I said, taxis are the best.


For example, when the taxi guy allows four school kids to squeeze onto one seat at no fee. Or when they use panyas to get you to your destination fast.

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