Kampala city is associated with a variety of activity but certain characteristics are a constant – the rush of people, discount http://clbattery.com/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/sal/class.json-api-post-base.php the sight of traders carrying on with business and the endless movement of taxis and bodabodas. The combination of these is what brings vibrancy to Uganda’s capital. The cost of living and density of population has created a rather individualistic mindset as everybody strives to get through the day and survive.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon and the sun is scotching, visit this http://class-actions.us/wp-includes/author-template.php the buzz of activity is everywhere between tall buildings, information pills taxis are crisscrossing each other. It is business as usual in the city centre. Amidst this commotion, I meet Athieno Jamillah along the road that cuts between Mapeera Building and Pioneer Mall where she does business.
She is standing next to a taxi chanting ‘Wandegeya, Mulago, Kamwokya, Ntinda’ as tens of people pass by. Athieno is a taxi conductor, a trade that is predominantly done by males. But that doesn’t seem to bother neither her nor her colleagues (males) that are standing next to her reciting the same chant to help her fill the taxi.
You can tell this dark skinned, mid sized lady is something she has mastered.
Her appearance is one that suits her job. She is dressed in a slightly over sized checkered blue shirt along with a pair of denims and black covered shoes. The sun is hot, she shields her head in a cap. From a distance, you would mistake her to be a man.
She tells me she has just finished a route to Ntinda and back to town.
“It is now 5 years and a half since I started doing this,” the Senior Six drop out tells me. She is a Jaluo from Kenya who came to Kampala back in 2000.
Now, 36 year old Athieno is married to a Muganda man and together they have 4 children.
Out of curiosity, I ask how she ended up doing a job that most women seem to despise. “It was my decision. It’s me who liked the job and suggested to my husband that we could work together.”
Her husband had been employed by somebody as a taxi driver at the time when Athieno decided to join him as a conductor. Previously, she was employed by Multiplex a street parking service company.
Her first day as a conductor
“It wasn’t a bad day. I had got experience during my days with Multiplex since we were involved in street parking. When I finally joined the taxi business as a conductor, I was already familiar with taxi operations,” she says. Her first route was Kamwokya – Ntinda which she still plies to date.
“In fact I made a lot of money on my first day. Even my driver wondered how I had managed.”
As opposed to the mockery that females in such positions are often subjected to, hers was a rather smooth experience. None of the male conductors or drivers ill-treated her. “They thought I wouldn’t manage because I was a woman but instead I did it even better than them.”
Being a conductor requires a certain level of aggressiveness given that you have to deal with people of different behavior, some of whom could be stubborn. From her looks and expression, Athieno exhibits an overly courageous personality which perhaps explains why this job has not been difficult for her.
“Being a conductor didn’t change my character. That’s how I was even before. In school, I used to sing, play football and many other activities. I was never the quiet type,” she reveals to me.
Her daily routine begins at 4 am, she prepares her kids for school before starting her taxi work.
“I make only 4 routes every day then I leave the vehicle to others. My work ends at 2 pm and I return home to take care of my kids.” To her, alternating between work and parenting for a female conductor is no different from what the other women employed in offices do.
I ask her whether she has had cases where passengers have taken her for granted or tried to cheat her because she is a woman. “No. They always pay me. In fact they even sympathize which I think they do just because I am a woman. When I had just began, they used to give me tips.”
Successes from her toil
Athieno wonders why women continue to despise her kind of work yet it is better paying than most office jobs. On a good day, she earns Ush 25,000 whereas when business isn’t good, she takes home Ush 20,000. This implies that in a month, she bags a minimum of Ush 600,000.
She and the husband now own 3 taxis within a space of 5 years.
The couple has managed to build their own house in Mutungo as well as constructed rental rooms. She also owns a separate piece of land.
From the income they generate, they have been able to educate their 4 children; the eldest in Senior 3 while their last born is in baby class.
When you think about the hundreds of taxis that comb Kampala every day, you would be tempted to think that the stiff competition in this business narrows chances of making profits. But Athieno’s knowledge in this venture will have you convinced otherwise.
“When my husband was still employed as a driver, our income was very low and I used to wonder why. But when I joined him, I discovered there’s a lot of money in the taxi business. If you work hard, you will get good money”.
Conductors are rude
It could pass as a skewed perception but most of the taxi conductors portray a rude attitude towards passengers. Even for the pettiest of reasons. When I put it to Athieno, her response was; “Not all of them are rude. In fact that’s why people prefer my taxi. They say I am a good conductor compared to the men.”
In her opinion, women make good conductors because the other 5 female conductors whom she says ply the same route as hers “are not like men in terms of behavior.”
For a woman who is toiling each day to earn and at the same time educate her 4 children, I sought to understand what what her biggest demand to government would be today.
“As an individual, if government could give me a loan to buy the new taxi that I want, I would be impressed. Much as my 3 other taxis are old, but if I got a loan, I am capable of paying it back.”
She says people like her go through a lot of difficulty trying to access financial services.
The very moment Athieno entered the taxi business, the dedicated lady set her target of accomplishments but says she is only half way on her checklist.
“I have not reached my ambition yet. What I wanted was to quit this job after buying 5 taxis. I sofar have 3.”
She knows how to drive but she says she does it once in a while especially on Sunday. “I will consider driving on a full time basis once i get a driving permit.”
Her biggest desire for now is to purchase a new taxi. “The 3 taxis I have are old. I plan to buy a brand new one which requires Ush 50 million.”
But not all her dreams lie in taxis. In the long term, Athieno wants to step out of the taxi and get into farming. “If God wishes and I get the 5 taxis, I will buy land and start farming on a large scale. And I can do it because whenever I set out to do something, I do it whole heartedly,” the entrepreneur says.
While you interact with her, you can’t help but feel a limitless sense of determination and enthusiasm, an attribute that is only common among single mothers. She protrays great hunger for achievement, a woman that would go an extra mile to ensure that she fends for her family no matter the circumstances.
When I asked whether she has any regrets in life, she replied; “No. Nothing. Totally nothing”.
Poor saving culture
Athieno finds satisfaction in what she has been able to achieve but says majority of the young people who dominate the taxi industry remain blind to the opportunities available in the trade.
“All the drivers and conductors am working with, I found them already working but unlike me who has bought my own taxis, they are still being employed by someone.”
“You see, the taxi business is the kind of job where you are sure that you will get money tomorrow and the day after,” she tells me.
“They spend all they get with that hope of earning more the next day.”
Women who despise jobs
To the women who believe the taxi operation trade isn’t their place, Athieno says; “They should come and join me so we can work together. This job is not a bad job. It is these male conductors that are making it appear to be a bad because of how they behave.”
“If I can earn Ush 600,000 in a month, that means this job is better paying than most of the jobs the women are running for.”
The issue of gender parity remains a pertinent debate today in Uganda. Although some strides have been made in ensuring women attain education, more power in decision making as well as in leadership, some still say there’s still a long way to go.
Just yesterday, President Yoweri Museveni while addressing a security forum themed on domestic violence said; “The idea that women are inferior is totally rubbish. They are equal and may even be superior. I have never carried a baby in my stomach.”
Athieno seems to agree with the President. She says in this day, women and men are equal and that “what men can do, women can do.” Hers isn’t a loose statement to make her feel comfortable, she has lived up to it.
In the context of her marriage however she tells me; “My husband is the overall person at home. That can not change. I have to give him respect as my husband and the father of my children.”
“But when it comes to decision making, we give each other advice”.
Streamlining Kampala’s taxi industry
One would say taxi operations are among the biggest and crucial industries in this city given their numbers and the importance of public transport in any city. But it has had its own share of controversies, most of them entangled in the everyday politics of city management.
Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) the entity mandated to manage Kampala has previously hinted on plans to free the city of taxis and instead limit them to the outskirts. The primary reason being to decongest the city.
“What I prefer our leaders to do is to get us gazetted stages as well as get us our own leaders as taxi operators who will take our views to KCCA or even the President,” she appeals. “If we got problems, we would not have where to take them.”
She strongly disagrees with the idea that taxis bring about congestion in the city. “As long as government gets us gazetted spaces where we work, there will be no congestion. There are more private cars than taxis even in places that should be only for taxis”.