Wau boda boda rider Dulu Remejo is upbeat about his new acquisition – a shiny white helmet and an orange reflective vest.
“It is true that a helmet will help in the riding of my motor cycle and prevent accidents,’’ he says, acknowledging something he most likely knew already, but hasn’t been able to enforce.
Dulu Remejo is one of more than 300 boda boda riders who participated in a recent peace and safety campaign in Wau, organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
‘’People on the streets will know that you are riding a motor cycle, and respect you, especially at night,” he says. “Other drivers and riders will know that you are riding a motor cycle,’’ says Dulu, detailing the benefits of wearing the UNMISS-donated safety gear.
And he is right. A lot of accidents that occur in Wau are attributed to reckless [WJM1] riding and driving, with all motorists competing for space on the only tarmac road that connects the administrative area to the nearby markets.
Martin Mudara Mudara, a 50-year-old fishmonger in Suk Jua, joined the crowd of young boda boda riders, waiting his turn to receive his protective gear. Like Dulu, he knows the advantages of using a helmet since, he says, he has ridden bikes all his life.
‘’The helmet is important when you are riding a bike, especially if anything happens to your bike and you fall,’’ he said as he waited patiently. ‘’It helps protect your head. Very important indeed,” concluded Martin, who was hoping to bag more than one helmet.
‘’If I get five, I will keep them and use them one after the other,’’ he said, rather over-optimistically.
It is easy to see why Martin hoped to get five helmets: they are a rare gem, as they are not available for sale in shops across Wau. As a result, before the UNMISS campaign, helmets were not visible anywhere in Wau, as none of the motorbike riders used them.
‘’We the poor boda boda riders who can’t afford to buy a helmet will be grateful if we get the helmet,’’ said Santino Akoldit, another hopeful recipient of the safety gear. ‘’The boda boda business is what we [base our] survival on, with our children,” he said, concluding, “I have nothing to say but to give UNMISS thanks for the helmets.’’
James Philip, the chair of the Wau Boda Boda and Drivers’ Association thanked UNMISS for bringing the riders together and giving them the survival kits.
‘’Let’s organise ourselves to become a better association so that we take advantage of initiatives like this. Nobody will come from outside to organize us, it is our role to do that,’’ he advised his peers.
The UNMISS Head of Field Office in Wau, Sam Muhumure, told the riders that the campaign was part of UNMISS’ mandate to protect civilians and build durable peace in the country. He said protecting boda boda riders from injuries was part of the mission’s mandate.
‘’This programme of ‘Riding for Peace’ is very, very important to us. All of you who are boda boda riders that’s your job,’’ said Mr. Muhumure. ‘’You are providing a service to the community, but you are also earning a living from the service you are rendering. It is very important that it is done in safety.”
He warned the riders about unprofessional driving ethics that put their lives in danger.
‘’You are young people. You have a lot of energy, but you know when I am in a vehicle and you are on boda boda, you have no helmet; you have no protective gloves; no protective boots, if we get involved in an accident, who is going to be hurt more? Is it me in the car or you on a boda boda?’’ he asked before handing out the helmets and the vests, with the help of Mr. Valentino Majuk, the Political Affairs Advisor to the Wau area governor.