Uganda’s taxi drivers strike paralyses capital


Ugandan taxi drivers kept their cars off the streets to protest high parking fees, paralysing transport in the capital and adding to a rash of strikes and protests in the east African nation.

Stranded commuters were forced to hop on motorcycle taxis, which quickly hiked their fares amid crushing demand, while tens of thousands of others walked miles to work in the capital Kampala.

The taxi drivers were protesting exorbitant parking fees charged by Utoda, a government-contracted private company that manages the city’s transport system, said leaders of the drivers’ association, Reuters repoorts.
“We have decided to put down our tools, which are our vehicles, for two days so that Utoda and the NRM (ruling party) can stop this thuggery and extortion that we’re subjected to every day,” Sam Semuwemba, a taxi driver participating in the strike, told Reuters.

Drivers say Utoda charges them about 160,000 shillings a month for use of taxi parks and that only a tiny fraction of that is remitted to the government. The rest is never accounted for, say drivers.
“When someone fails to pay that money they confiscate your vehicle, harass or detain you,” said another driver, Henry Mutebi.

Police arrested an undetermined number of “disruptive” taxi drivers who had pressured colleagues into joining the protest after they declined to do so, said police spokeswoman Judith Nabakoba.
“We told them if you’re striking, you can’t stop someone else who wants to continue working because that’s his right. So we arrested some of the drivers who were trying to be disruptive,” she said.

Anger over soaring food and fuel prices sparked opposition-led demonstrations across the country in April and May, provoking a government crackdown in which nine people were killed and hundreds others injured.

Last week, traders in Kampala shut their shops for two days to protest the depreciation of the shilling against the dollar, which they say has eroded their profit margins.