The Road to More Money in Uganda? Owning a Motorcycle

One local business in the capital is doubling profits for taxi bike drivers with its lease-to-own program.
Feb 6, 2015·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world, with almost 70 percent of its citizens under the age of 25. Despite representing a majority of the population, 62 percent of people under 30 are unemployed. Looking for work, many young men turn to driving motorbike taxis.

In the capital of Kampala alone, 100,000 of these bike taxis, known locally as boda-bodas, navigate the crowded city streets, weaving through traffic and zipping around tight corners. But life as a boda-boda driver isn’t easy or safe. Along with the dangers of driving on crowded, unpaved roads, financial instability forces many to rent bikes—leaving little money left over to save and invest in their future.

Enter American entrepreneur Michael Wilkerson, who created a sustainable enterprise with his local business Tugende, which puts more money in the hands of those who need it most. After a two-week safety course, drivers in the program receive insurance, a passenger license, and a brand-new bike equipped with metal safety guards. The best part: Tugende’s program allows drivers to eventually own their own bike with its lease-to-own payment plan.

The weekly payments take place over the course of 18 months and are only 15 to 20 percent above rental rates—and once drivers own their bike, they’re looking at double the profits. The financial benefits often result in repeat customers as well, as men sell their now-owned bikes to invest in land or education. The Tugende program has become so successful, Wilkerson is looking to expand into other cities. Currently, he reports more than 760 paying drivers—with an additional 300 on a waiting list.