Saturday,25 May 2024

Safeboda’s Ricky Thomson: “Digital technology is reviving Uganda”

5 min read

Interviewed By Emmanuel Daniel

Ricky Rapa Thomson, co-founder of Uganda’s first ride-hailing app SafeBoda, talked about how digital technology is helping the boda boda (motorcycle taxi) industry bridge the service gaps created by poor infrastructure and inadequate public transportation. As the company expands into other services like payments and e-commerce, it contributes to the recovery of Uganda’s pandemic-battered economy.

Safeboda’s 25,000 drivers are easily distinguished from the rest of the bodamen in Uganda and Nigeria. They wear bright orange vests with their names on them and obey traffic rules; they carry an extra helmet for passengers as part of their zero-tolerance approach to eradicating unsafe riding.

For company co-founder Ricky Rapa Thomson, professionalising the ubiquitous and cheap, but unsafe, mode of public transportation is already a step forward in Uganda’s evolution as a society. Its expanding rider and consumer network also aids in the recovery of Uganda’s economy that is still reeling from two years of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through extensive training, SafeBoda drivers also gain a sense of “social responsibility” and become “ambassadors” of transportation safety.

This vision to organise a network of drivers conscious of road safety and adherence to traffic rules has attracted funding from various institutions since SafeBoda’s inception in the early 2000s. This has enabled it to develop an effective platform to scale its operations. Among the early funders were the United States for International Development (USAID), Shell Foundation and Google.

Since its launch in 2017, the super-app had more than 1.5 million downloads, and facilitated millions of transactions, making it a preferred ride-hailing app in Uganda.

For Thomson, Safeboda’s success in Uganda and Nigeria is a reflection of the desire for change and innovation among Africa’s youth, who make up around 85% of the continent’s population. For most young people in Africa, technology presents a window of opportunity to learning and employment and is seen as a way to improve society.

In Uganda, the company advocates for the reduction of taxes on electronics and improved internet access to sustain technology adoption and encourage investment.

Thomson believes increasing public trust in the government is crucial to creating a conducive environment for fintech innovation and technology adoption. Investing in its people to give them the technical know-how is also key to leveraging the digital revolution for Uganda’s progress.

The following key points were discussed:


The following is the edited transcript of the interview:

Emmanuel Daniel (ED): Ricky Rapa Thompson, right? 

Ricky Thomson (RT): Emmanuel Daniel, the founder of the Asian Banker. 

ED: And Ricky Rapa Thomson, co-founder of SafeBoda, the company that is transforming Uganda. What are the countries that you’re in?

RT: We have a very special interest in the African market. We have a very strong belief that the problem that exists in Kampala has manifested in other countries, because boda boda literally invaded African cities. The planning was way behind, the growth was way too fast.

And so, population took over and young people needed to find what to do. You're talking about an industry of around 10 million boda bodas across Africa. And we think we can play a very good role.

We were born in Kampala. We've been in Mombasa, we've been in Nairobi. We pulled out of these markets because of difficulties that the country or the world went through because of  COVID-19. Right now, we are live in Kampala and we are also live in Ibadan, Nigeria.

ED: There’s so much to talk about with you. The reason I'm so excited about talking with you is because this boda boda phenomenon is where a country is at least at a certain point in its development. Everybody wants to have a boda boda.

Boda boda remains a dominant mode of transportation in Uganda

RT: Originally people were walking on foot. In our society where I came from, they used to have wooden means of transport, wooden bikes, wooden wheelbarrows and stuff like that. And then people acquired bicycles. In the village where I grew up from, having a bicycle was a sign of wealth. And people who have done well and succeeded now acquire motorcycles.

It’s like a start-up package for you to gain middle-income status. Bike and motorcycle clearly represent that. But now, there is also a lot of interest in acquiring cars. It's something that we have gone through and I think for every young person who was just out of the university, boda boda is the way to go with the traffic in Kampala.

Boda boda is the way to go with the transportation needs that people have. When you have to run around Kampala, when you do business here, you find yourself either on a boda boda or sending a boda boda to get your stuff delivered wherever you will be.  So, the need for boda boda is very high.

ED: Uganda’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is about $800 and Kenya’s is about $1,600-$1,800.

This is where these countries are at. And the moment it touches $800, everybody wants to have a boda boda. Everyone wants to have a motor something. And that phenomenon started in, what? 2012-2013?

RT: It started way earlier than that. I think boda boda manifested itself in the early 2000s. Very few had it in the ‘90s. People were using bicycles basically. People were using bikes for transportation, but then they upgraded to Japanese bikes like Yamahas and Kinkis.

ED: Which were expensive.

RT: Which were fairly expensive. And then the Indian and Chinese manufacturers  saw opportunity in Africa. In some of these places,  boda bodas and motorcycles became way too available.  I think boda bodas entered this country in the early 2000s and it's been growing.

ED: SafeBoda is the first institutionalized user of boda boda, as a business to organise the use of it, the value-added of it, the availability of it in Africa, right?

RT: Anyone who is doing it now will have copied it.

ED: I know where you're coming from, because you copied it from countries like Indonesia, which also had the equivalent of a boda boda.

RT: Actually, today people can say it’s because we knew about them, that they existed. But we didn't know about them at the time.  We knew about the problem we had, the need to organise our people, the need to get them better. And that was it. We didn't know we were copying anything from anybody. We kind of believe that we are very original in our approach and in our concept development, in the thinking of the entire organisation.

ED: I'm not trying to capture you to anything. What I really want to capture is the evolution of an economy and the relevance of a company like SafeBoda at the time of its development. So here, if we go to the streets of Kampala, we see thousands of people with boda bodas around. And SafeBoda has organised them into apps where you can book a boda boda, you can transport stuff, you can ask for somebody to deliver stuff and all that. So SafeBoda is the app, the first formal app. How many users do you have at the moment?

RT: Sometimes I don't want to throw these numbers. But before COVID-19, we were doing over 80,000 trips a day in Kampala.  But of course, we are recovering.  And right now, as I speak, we are much closer to that number.

ED: Back to the number?

RT: Much closer number. But the most interesting thing is we used the period of lockdown to actually make our platform better. So we were able to develop the e-commerce platform that allowed people to shop.

And we helped so many people, especially during the lockdown, delivering food out there, fresh items that go directly from the markets. And by doing that, we're able to help the people, the ladies who were selling in the market. Also help the bodaman have social responsibility.

It was important to do because we were in total lockdown. We got those started so no one dies of hunger. It was a real fix there. It was quite a difficult situation. We have had, I think in Kampala, over a million downloads, I think around 1.5 million downloads. We've been able to complete millions of transactions. With that network of community, we had a lot of pressure because customers were always asking us how we are going to get this done. We needed to work and we were hungry, we have four minutes, we need to be able to work and that was a very important one.

ED: Talk to me about Ricky Thomson, as a person and as an entrepreneur. At which point did it make sense to start this business? And did you start businesses before? You know you never finished school.

RT: Yeah. One interesting thing, Emmanuel is that when you talk about entrepreneurship in this day, this is different from 10 years ago.  To let you know about myself, I dropped out of school in 2006 after unfortunately losing my mom who was behind my education.  In 2009, I lost my dad, became an orphan and had siblings to take care of. 

ED: How old were you then?

RT: Twenty-two.

ED: Okay, then.

RT: But I have all the siblings to take care of. Now at that state, what I was doing was trying to survive. And then I left home and came to India, where I became a security officer, an Askari. And later on, as a boda boda rider. And all I was doing was trying to survive. But as I did this, I met friends who kept on empowering me and sharing with me perspectives about life, ideas of things I could do that could make my life much better than what it was.

And I remember one of the friends told me ‘Ricky, people want to see Kampala, they don't know how to do it. And there's no one doing it. Why don’t you start showing people Kampala on the back of a boda boda?’ That was the first battle. My second business in life where I started what we called the Kampala boda boda sightseeing tour. But before that, I was an Askari working at night.

ED: Askari means guarding? Security guard?

RT: Yeah, I hope I don't look like a security guard today.

ED: You look like Ricky Thomson, the groovy, calm, cool man on the ground. And that's what I really, really like about who you are as a person. You haven't lost any of that feel. So, at which point did it feel, you know?

RT: Because then, usually, when people talk about my story, so what is the first business I started? Growing up as a young person, I was a fisherman, manned my father's boat.

But I also used to help my mom make sure that we get the market for this. What I do is sell them and we're able to raise school fees. So, there's a little bit of that already in me. And when I started the boda boda tours, in 2012, it went well. That's when I sold to many friends, many people, a lot of experts.

SafeBoda was established because of the need for safety

The trigger now to start SafeBoda, around 2012, was when I lost a friend in a boda accident.

As business was booming, a friend who was one of my very good partners, got into an accident. He got into an accident around here. It was a very minor accident, actually. But then he got a crack, a small damage in his head. He went to Mulago, they gave him some tablets, and they said he was going to be fine. Two weeks later, the guy started to feel ill.

We took him back to the hospital and they did examination, they did the X-ray, then they did the scan. And the doctor came back and said the clot had moved closer to the brain.

So, the guy needed surgery needed an operation which amounted to almost $4,000 And we couldn't raise that kind of money; $4,000 even today is still not small money. It’s a lot of money.  We couldn't raise the money. Unfortunately, after four months, the guy died. I watched him live his life and I watched him die. And before that, actually, I'd seen so many people get into accidents, even myself.

I'd actually been involved in accidents before, like twice. If you look at my face very well, there's actually a bit of my face that’s not as smooth. The reason I survived was that I was actually wearing a helmet. I would only get a cut on the screen and stuff like that. But my friend had a simple accident but didn't even have a helmet on. Very small damage but that cost him his life. And also besides that, I've also seen other people die. My fellow bodaman.

I've never lost a very close friend like what happened. So what I did was simple: I started carrying a second helmet and I offered it to passengers during the tour. I started carrying it all the the time and made sure that every time I meet you, I offer it to you and tell you about my friend. And about the fact that if you ask anybody in Kampala, they must have seen or must have known someone who has been involved in an accident. And statistically, around 10 people die as a result of boda accidents in Uganda every single day. But people don't pay attention to this number.

These are human lives that are being lost. So what I did, I started an advocacy of educating people and offering them a helmet while they sit on my boda at any one moment. Now that has also escalated into the business.

It's just basic practice. So when I started carrying a helmet, people started wanting other bodas like me. People kept telling us about this young man called Ricky who was a very good boda boda guy. And also at the time, I had one big advantage which I think the public will also agree to. I used to speak very good English.

ED: Tourism industry, yeah.

RT: And also in the boda boda industry, literally most of the guys was speaking Luganda or speak very basic English.  But luckily, I don't know, I was surviving.  

ED: So, English was a selling feature.

RT: Because I was able to communicate. Communication is key to everything literally. Because I was able to communicate more, I got a lot of recommendations, referrals. I reached an extent where I think like 20 drivers were benefiting from just being my friend because I would recommend them to customers. Then when they work well, customers recommend them. I was just like: why can't I do something about this? This is an opportunity, because customers kept pressing: we need more people like you. A lot of friends kept telling me ‘you can actually become the chain, you can actually change the boda boda industry.’

And as I was trying to figure out the idea, I got introduced to Max, a Belgian national who was very interested in the safety of the boda boda riders and passengers as well. And Max, Alastair and I agreed to work together on an initiative that will be empowering.

ED: And Alastair is your co-partner.

RT: Max and Alastair, my co-founders. Max is from Belgium and Alastair is from Scotland.  I am Ugandan African, so we are a real diverse group.

We formed a team. And we were able to work on the idea after all that had gone through. And then when I met Max, we started working on it. We met today and we started working on the project tomorrow. Because I was really doing something and he was really doing something so we just needed to meet the different forces. We started working on the project the following day, we already had the drivers that I already work with so it was quite an easy thing. Sometimes it's important to sell big dreams to people. Because Mark sold me a very big dream.

And it made me realise how powerful this opportunity was going to be. And, of course, not everything has come as we've said it, but I'm sure we are on the right trajectory. By the end of 2015. We had 150 drivers. So we took another one year, by the end of 2016 we hit 1,000 drivers. By 2017, we hit around 3,300 drivers, and by the end of 2018 we hit around 8,000 drivers. And today we've been able to recruit and train over 25,000 motorcycle taxi riders in Kampala.

We’ve also grown the platform into a super-app. The super-app now is an area that we consolidated during the lockdown. We can’t depend on rides. Most of the ride- hailing platforms have been very profitable at the shorter period. We have a huge network of drivers, we have this huge network of customers and we can make them work fast as we collect them. There are also a lot of other services that they actually need and we can just use our platform and make it better today. And that's what we're doing.  We now have payments as part of the platform. We now have a bit of e-commerce as well. 

We are trying to do everything based on data, experience, and request of customers. We sit down and customize. We have new products that will be coming. We were only in motorbikes. Maybe before the end of this year, we might do cars as well. We might do other things like crypto. The future is bigger and we think we'll be able to add new products successfully.

ED: Tell me a little bit about how much of that funding for this business started with you. And then at which point investors become interested.

RT: When we started this, we had jobs, that was the most important thing, but we didn't have money.

And this is usually what you tell people: you're earning when you have a job, and you start to build something on the side. So, we were building SafeBoda. I don't want to tell you that we had $100,000. No, we didn’t. We didn't have money.  But we had the dream.

But all of us also had jobs. And we could take care of the small bills that would come, there wasn't really a lot of it. But it was fascinating. He and the development team we're working with started with the little income that we actually had.

ED:  You put it all on an app even from the beginning.

RT: Yeah, there was an app from the beginning. But an app that never really worked. Historically, there had been like, seven apps. But five of those never really worked. They were made out of lack of experience.

The concept, the way it was developed, was not progressive. It never worked and it cost us a lot of money as well.

From the beginning, we had an app. I will tell you what we did. Because we knew that our drivers needed a smartphone for them to be connected to passengers, we connected our system to a global positioning system (GPS) and to which the GPS was installed on the bikes.

And then so what would happen is you request and the app will show you the nearest based on the GPS location. And then you will see their faces and their names and the phone number, then you choose who to talk to, who to call to come and pick you up. That gave the worst experience ever. The GPS trackers that we had were very bad quality and they were very slow in reaction. So you didn't realise that a guy who passed by here two hours ago, the GPS is still locating him as he's still here. So you'd call them good match and they will ride across town. And average waiting hours was like 45 minutes. That was so bad.  We learned from it. There were also other things that we did.

One important thing that happened to us was all of us were very interested in the business. We were fully invested in it.

But also, we knew that there would be an opportunity for us to be able to access some funding out there. At that stage there was an investor who wanted to give us $50,000 for close to 50% interest in the business.

ED: Okay, there were investors interested but they wanted everything, they wanted half of it. What saved us was we knew what we had was good. And luckily enough, we had reached out to organisations like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Luckily, we also got funded by them. We got a $150,000 grant from them at the very beginning towards mid-2015. And Shell Foundation also came on board. They supported us through every state that we have gone through.

There's this lady called Lisa, who met us in the office we were renting. And we were looking for a grant of over $100,000.

We were looking for serious money. But then we didn't have anything. This lady comes to meet us. And we were busy. We had driver's training, and we only had one room. The office was one room and we had drivers in the meeting that’s going on. So, we put her on the veranda, with our small wooden chairs, and we had the meeting. The sun was actually on us all the time. All this time, she was sweating. But she showed a lot of interest in our work, in our idea.

After the meeting, I said ‘Max, I don't think we will make it. Because we didn't even give a good reception. We didn't even give a good chair to sit on.’ But, you see, she looked very interested in what we're doing. Her facial reaction showed that she was interested in what we're doing and we kind of feel confident that she's going to support it. And very soon, within three days later, we got the good news that they were going to invest in us. We had over the last couple of years, grants of over a million dollars. So, you have Shell Foundation plus a number of other organisations.

Through this crowd, we were able to prove a concept, prepare and get ready for investment. Usually, when people talk about building ideas, if you really have money, it's easy for you to put together the information that you have. It’s really the beginner stage where you don't have money.

You don't have money, you don't have numbers, right? You don't have the money to give me the numbers. So what you sell is a dream, right? So, usually, at that stage, I am literally trying to convince myself, that what I'm trying to do is the right thing. And I'm also trying to convince the people around me that what I'm doing is the right thing. And we have access to support my conviction. My thinking at the time, he accepted to be fooled by me. So there's a possibility that we could lose it all or we could succeed and you're big. So there is also benefit in taking a risk. So, that very early stage, those who invested in you is a true believer of your concept. Whoever doesn't invest in you at that stage.

ED: Never understood it in the first place.

RT: Usually what happens is people choose to invest in personalities. On the person, not business. Like I need this man to succeed. I need this girl to succeed. I need this old woman to succeed. Let me invest in the people. People.

I trust you. You don't have the right numbers. You don't have the right presentation. But I trust you. I trust you don't have the right experience, I trust you. So don't let me down. So the people that invested in us at the very beginning, I think they are the people that trusted us so much. Recently we had Google made an investment in SafeBoda. They have never invested in East Africa. And this is a true sign of belief. It's more spiritual that a big organisation like that chooses to come and invest in you. It means they have seen something very special about you.  And I feel like I better be part of this.

ED: What is this special thing about you that you think was attractive to investors?

RT: I think that was not just about me, but about us. The combination of three people from different parts of the world with no kind of connection.  It was a diverse kind of experience and exposure. I think what was the selling feature.

ED: Because you would have the execution, the ability to get it done. Because each of you bring different skills, and each of you keep each other honest.

RT: And you keep each other in check, as well. We have a very good working relationship. We continue to prosper together as a team, and we celebrate everything together as a team. And we have committed to walk this journey together. Because SafeBoda is not for us, we are doing this for the public, we're doing this for the people.  We're doing this for the bodamen, we're doing this for the food vendors. We've been in this for our merchants, we're doing this for our Uganda, that we so much love as part of Africa. We've invested our life into making sure that we are part of the solution that needs to be created.

ED: So where was Ugandan society at the start of your business? And where are you going in society today, in terms of its level of sophistication, and ability to absorb this kind of technology?

RT: At the time when we started this, people used to ask me: why would I need a boda? Why would I need an app for a boda? At that time, smartphone penetration was a little bit around 32%. Around 20% to 30%. Many people didn't have smartphones, this was around 2014.

And internet use was very low; it was still very expensive for you to buy data. I think at that time, a smartphone that would work would be like around $100 or so, which was high.

Today, as we speak, you could easily get a smartphone that actually works for half the price or even lower, or even on installment basis which was not there at the time. So they come in, companies like itel, Infinix, these have really helped in increasing adoption and penetration.

Also, the competition in the market especially with the data, you have MTN, Airtel, the telco companies.

Then comes Vodafone. This also created a bit of a competitive environment. And there was a little bit of a drop in the prices as well. Today, as we speak, we still advocate for better internet access, and pricing, especially in Kampala, and in the entire East Africa. It looks like we are still very expensive compared to a country like Kenya, Rwanda.

And we think that is something that can be played around with, can be lowered. And we are also advocating for the reduction in tax on electronics.  Putting a lot of tax on smartphones on computers affects the development of new projects and the people.

To the people on the street, technology is one part of the evolution. So, at that time really when we started, when you had a smartphone, it was more of a luxury. You would actually have to keep it very well, because it could easily be snatched away from you, and stuff like that.

Today, really, I think smartphone has become a necessity in people's lives. In, families the wife has a smart phone, the husband has a smartphone, the kid has a smart phone.  Especially among rich families, but also even in the middle class.

Even the boda boda riders today, they have smartphones, their wives have smartphones.  Smartphones have become a way of life. It's become a necessity. And it has ceased from being a luxury equipment to a need.  I need to communicate for business on my Zoom meeting, young people on Tik Tok do those Tik Tok videos, people on Instagram need to make their posts, people on Facebook, those on Twitter. They’re just a new breed of young people who got themselves opportunities by just tweeting. They wouldn't have existed otherwise.

It also breeds new opportunities and employment. So what's the next level? And a smartphone is also a big learning tool. A big learning platform. When people use Facebook, some people think that it's just a bad thing. But Africans, when they go to Facebook,  they find something that is interesting to read.

So, you realise that there is a transformation that is happening?

Unknowingly, you're getting to read, and only you're getting to listen to a lot of videos, even on YouTube. And all these things have an impact on you. And the way you think about life, the way you look about it and look at life.

Current state of technology adoption in Ugandan society

ED: And people want to have an idea of what's going on. So the reading culture takes it from there. But where is Uganda now in terms of the sophistication of reading, of using apps and being mobile?

RT: Today, we of course do better. The smartphone penetration has greatly increased in Kampala, you're looking at around 60% of the population based on the urban settings, in rural settings. We still have infrastructure issues, network issues are still very bad. And we keep advocating for that improvement. Of course, in some areas where you have the interest of government, so that tourists can access the internet and communicate and share the experience, which is a good thing.

But also on the other side. This has been a long development. You don't have a lot of companies. There are companies that are growing, that are popping up recently.

Uganda had over $80 million of investment. That's not something you compared to like Kenya which had over $300 million, but also that you can compare to Nigeria that had like over a billion  dollars worth of investment. And those attractions actually coming about because of the different appreciations, and the different development and innovation that was actually going on.

There you have even when you look at the fintech space, you have big players like SafeBoda. MTN telcos these days are really competing with the banks. And then all the banks are really trying to digitise their platforms.

And recently, Standard Chartered Chartered group, they closed most of its branches during the lockdown and I don't think they're going to reopen there. Lots of people have lost their jobs but then lots of it went digital. They make sure they have an app that works and then it's integrated with their mobile money so that you can easily access your money at any one moment that you want. Some of these things really is a reflection.  Most of the banks have a digital platform. That's a move to show that we cannot do without these. We cannot stay behind. Also the government has gone ahead to do these policies in making sure that we as a country will be ready.  When the government passed the National Payment System (NPS) Act, it allowed us to legally do our job. Without a license regime, we don't know.

Investors also, when they want to invest in this kind of space, they're like, okay, but what does the law say?

ED: Right. So now that the law says what it is, it's easier to make an investment because you're clear, which part of the regulation.

RT: And you're developing a lot of success stories, because you have companies that are also expanding, you actually have companies like Google, that is building all this cycle management system. It’s actually proving that it's raised over a million dollars.

You have companies that raised over $30 million, you have companies like Asaak that recently raised around $31 million. And these are figures that sound like it's not in this country. But it is in this country. And all these figures, reflect on the population, reflect on the operation, reflect on the economy, reflect at the national level, and then investors get to see it.

ED: You know, in China, and in Southeast Asia, was a period where the early days of platform, if you take WeChat, or you take Alipay they created an incredible ecosystem, incredible supply chain capability. In China, there's something called a Singles’ Day 11/11. Where everybody goes shopping on that day on digital, and it was Alibaba that initiated Singles’ Day.

Today, I forget the number, but it's in the billions of dollars. It's like 40,000, car vehicles, trucks, around the country, doing deliveries, thousands of flights, aeroplanes, and all the shopping is done in that one day. And it's got like 200,000, merchants, so it revolutionized the idea of shopping. And it created an entire industry, which never existed before, and brought together the buyers and sellers.

And there are companies that exist only on Singles’ Day, because they make all their sales on Singles’ Day and close the factory. When you look at a country like Uganda, and you say the GDP is of a certain number and the per capita is a certain number. The things that people buy and sell is a certain way and everybody is also very cash-centric.

Do you see SafeBoda as being the kind of a platform that can create a new economic reality in Uganda and in other countries in Africa?

RT: I think we are well-placed into making sure that comes into existence or into reality. It's not something that will happen in one day, or something that will happen in one year but something that will add up into efforts being put together into achieving the end goal.

ED: What did you say? It will happen?

RT: What I'm saying is that historically, we will be one of the biggest contributors in making sure that comes to reality. Because it's not a one off. Why are people more comfortable with moving money in cash than carrying a card or using a wallet?

It goes back to a number of questions. One is how do you get your money?

So people get their salaries transparently, you already paid tax on it. It's clear that they sold their products. They have products that they bring from their farms, and they sell it and then do they want the government to know that they have made this kind of money from selling this product? Definitely no because they will have to pay tax.

Also, maybe I got money by manipulating systems or kickbacks and stuff like that. It’s what you would call corruption, right? If I got my money the wrong way, would I really be more comfortable declaring it?

Government’s role in encouraging investments in financial technology

ED: So, corruption is the biggest impediment towards digitisation?

RT: It's one of those. But of course, the players are also limited. And you only have a window, you can’t keep playing it for the rest of your life. The law will catch up with you at a certain point. So we are advising the government on things that can be done, if we want to become digitally appreciated.

Today, mobile money movement is one of the most famous. Because people want to send money to their loved ones and to their relatives and old ones in the village. If you look at how many people are using the mobile money platform, or the digital money, digital platform to make payment, even on food and fuel, there are very few. The reason is that some businesses don't want to do that, because it has a cost, I think around 2% or 3%.

That is taken away from their collection. That's one, two is that it opens them to risk because now the government will know how much money you're bringing in and at what time you bring what amount of money.

And that kind would be a real situation for you as a business. Third, cash is still being celebrated and appreciated. And I kind of look at it as it's still double-sided. In other parts of the world, if you say you don't have money, people don't have a problem with it. But do you have a card? You have your credit card with you?

So you have your card, you have your money, right? But in this country, if you still don't have cash with you, you can actually go hungry in some places. I mean, you if you come here, into a nice place like this, you could easily swipe your card, right? But these places are very limited.

And for certain groups. If you travel deep in the village, you cannot use your card to pay for anything.  

Digital transformation is crucial to the recovery of Uganda’s economy

ED: What is your vision for SafeBoda?

RT: As I said early on, we are a community-driven organisation. We want to do anything, and everything that makes the lives of people better. That's it, nothing more, nothing less.

ED: And nothing more, nothing less. When you make the life of people better, what are the hundred different ways you can make life of the lives of people better?

RT: I will tell you, there is a bodaman who works with us. He used to be disrespected in society. When he comes to Safeboda, he gets training. And because of that, he’s a well-trained, certified, safe, affordable motorcycle taxi rider with his name on his reflector just like mine. And he has his helmet, he becomes an ambassador.

He starts to correct people that it's important to take care of yourself. He behaves in respect to traffic flow and it makes the life of a taxi driver or the other guy in the car better, he stops jumping on the pavement. He allows other people to walk and be healthier, to enjoy their freedom of being able to walk as one aspect of life.

Society doing what is right and society appreciating others and society working in unity is the best thing that you want to see.  It just gave me a one-stop shop.

ED: What is your dream for Uganda or Africa?

RT: I'm very proud, I love my country. We are one of the most beautiful countries, extremely green, you can see outside? Very nice people.  Beautiful smiles you can’t compete with.

Today, as we speak, we have the largest group of young people. A bit close to 85% of this population are young people. But then the reality strikes again, close to 40% of these people are unemployed. And we think we can do something about this.

And we have not been able to compete at international level with some of the work that we actually do. And I think it's time that we first stop importation of technology and start exporting technology, because we can do it. If other countries can do it, we can also do it. If India was able to do it, we can do it. If Asia was able to do it, we can do it. If China was able to do it, we can do it. If America was able to do it, we can do it. But how would we do it? By investing in our own people and protecting the interest and national interest of our country. Because Uganda belongs to us. Even if I travel to any other country in the world, and they give me citizenship, I will feel at home because home is home.

My name is Ricky Thomson. I am a Ugandan. And even when I'm in Kampala, I feel like I need to go back to the village. This is all I have. Uganda is where I belong. I have to make sure we are part of the history. You see when we read about some of the mystery histories, in other countries. We also want people to read about us and be like: is this fiction? Is it real?

That's what we want. And we are here, we will do it. We'll do it. Invest in us and see we will do it. We'll do it. We will. Watch us.

ED: Because of you and people like you and because of SafeBoda, Uganda will do it.

RT: We will do it. No doubt about it. I'm extremely confident because the amount of energy and the amount of knowledge that we are acquiring and the amount of investment that is going on in this country. They might be at a slower pace. But for me it's a very big step ahead. Because I see something better than what was there.

ED: Thank you for talking to me today.

RT: You’re welcome. And thank you guys, make sure to like, follow, subscribe to this channel. Make sure you are a friend and reach out to us through Emmanuel Daniel, The Asian Banker. Please come and invest in Uganda. Ricky Rapa Thomson says so.

Keywords: Digital Technology, Ride-hailing App, Transportation, E-Commerce, Financial Technology, Covid-19, Pandemic
Institutions: SafeBoda
Region: Africa
People : Ricky Rapa Thomson, Emmanuel Daniel
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