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Let’s talk transport

Purchasing a new best friend 

In 2013, 419.577 new cars were registered in the Netherlands, of which 6,86% were Toyotas. In the same year in Uganda, 2.465 new vehicles were registered, of which 45,2% were Toyotas. The market for new cars is not what you would call a cash cow in Uganda. Used vehicles however, are very popular. Also in 2013, 50.659 vehicles were first registered with the Ugandan Revenue Authority. This year’s numbers are not yet available but it is certain that one imported car will be added to the list: my black, three-door, Toyota RAV4. Think of it as a slightly more robust model than my previous Toyota, the Aygo. Produced in 1998, my new car is 16 years old and has 88.000 kilometres in mileage. Back home people would definitely question my sanity, considering that I paid almost €5.000 for this car. In Uganda, I can pride myself on completing some tough negotiations to finally settle on this price.

Two observations I find interesting: 1) half of the cars in Uganda are Toyotas, 2) ran down, old cars are sold for a lot of money. Alluding to the first point, apparently the choice of car here is determined by the ease of access to spare parts. For that same reason, people will strongly recommend to buy a RAV4, instead of a Pajero (although also a popular model). With regards to the second point, the process of buying a car was completely new to me, period. For the past three years I have been driving around happily in my Aygo, provided by EY. But before leaving the Netherlands, a lot of people had already told me that having a car would provide a wonderful sense of freedom and having moved around the city for a couple of weeks now, I totally agree. So I set out to the bond, an importing company, often run by people from Pakistan or India. A distinction can be made between bonds selling cars that have been out on Ugandan roads before, or cars that are imported straight from, in most cases, Japan. I opted for the latter.

Obviously, when I eyed the black RAV4, it was love at first sight. What followed were about five return visits during which a German mechanic performed a thorough inspection of the car, the same mechanic performed a second inspection after the power steering had been repaired, I handled some tough negotiations (lasting over an hour) to land at a price that the mechanic told me was right and then a few more visits during which I delivered bags full of cash. I have been told that there is hardly any depreciation on these cars so I expect to sell it for more or less the same amount in 12 months’ time. Before coming into my, or rather the bond’s, possession, the car already had had quite journey. An agent of the importer went to a car auction in Japan. There, it selected my RAV4 and after the auction and inspection clearance, it was loaded onto a ship to Mombasa (Kenya), taking about three months. From Mombasa, it was transported to the Ugandan border and then taken to the Coin Bond in Kampala. Because the taxes are high (15% import duty, 2% import commission and 4% withholding tax), the taxes for my car were not paid until we reached an agreement and I had delivered the first bag of cash to the bond.

Getting around

So how did I get around before? There are several modes of transport here, some more appealing than others. Most Ugandans use either a boda boda or a matatu to reach their desired destination. Boda bodas are motor taxis that take up to four people (I believe officially only one passenger is allowed additional to the driver). My only experience on a boda was during our weekend trip to Jinja, when eight of us got onto four bodas, offering UGX 1.000 (approximately €0,30) for the boda that was to arrive first. One needs to take a little risk to have in fun life I guess and we all made it out alive (although we were all more than happy to take a car on the way back). Matatus are taxi vans that, according to some scribbling on the side of the car, are allowed to carry a maximum of 14 passengers. Have not tried using one yet, but the concept of ‘we do not leave until we have a minimum of 14 passengers’ seems to apply here. Finally, there are taxis and/or so-called special hires, the only difference being that any taxi turns into a special hire once you have the driver’s phone number and know his name. The Clinton Health Access Initiative uses a pool of drivers, carefully managed by Paul, our head driver. They are all really kind, willing to take you anywhere, sometimes charge a little bit more than what is reasonable, but they are highly reliable and often hilarious. I am most definitely going to miss the rides to the office with Ibra in the morning.

Besides that, driving a car poses some challenges of its own. To name a few:

  • Driving on the left side of the road. Too bad my car is an automatic, otherwise I would have been fully proficient in shifting gear with both my right and left hand.
  • Boda bodas flying by on both sides. Traffic is not necessarily crazy, but the bodas are and I am still neurotically checking my side mirrors to prevent myself from bumping into one.
  • Traffic jams. Being built on seven hills, traffic in Kampala tends to concentrate on the few roads linking the various neighbourhoods. And there is a lot of traffic, all day every day.
  • Potholes and speed bumps. Between the two, do not be surprised to experience a height difference of one or two meters.


On the bright side, I can go wherever I want, CHAI’s fuel expense policy is generous and it is a lot of fun driving around. I cannot wait to take it out for a ride to the country side.

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