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Review: The Boda Boda Thieves


In Uganda’s notoriously gridlocked streets, boda bodas (motorcycles) are used to navigate and reach one’s destination quickly.

This vehicle becomes the crux of The Boda Boda Thieves, a low budget but fascinating coming of age film at the Durban International Film Festival.

Abel (Hassan Insingoma) is an unemployed Kampalan teenager who lives an impoverished life in a ghetto. His father, Goodman, is a boda boda operator and laments “all the bad influences around these days”. Abel, we witness, spends his time gallivanting with his friends, smoking cigarettes and gambling instead of searching for work. When Goodman is injured, Abel takes his place as a boda boda driver and uses the nimble vehicle to commit robberies with his friend, Lex. Abel quickly succumbs to the thrills of making easy money and impressing a girl he likes with free rides. When the boda boda is stolen, Abel learns the hard truths of life in his search for this crucial piece of his family’s livelihood.

At the festival screening’s Q & A session, producer James Tayler revealed that the intention of the film was “to shine a bit of light on the predicament of these [Ugandan] urban migrants and their children”. Abel finds himself caught between the expectations of his parents to be an honest-living provider and his desire to live his own life by his own rules. Additionally, the film depicts his challenges beyond his family unit. Motivation by peer pressure and a naïve nature make for a dangerous combination in Abel. He places his trust in the wrong people. This is best displayed when the expensive television set he proudly buys for his family’s home actually turns out to be broken. When the boda boda is stolen he deals ineffectively with corrupt and incompetent policemen and a businessman who values money over compassion.

Clever filmgoers will note and appreciate the film’s ties to Vittorio De Sica's classic film, The Bicycle Thief.  In The Bicycle Thief a father desperately tries to reclaim his stolen bicycle, the crux of his livelihood, while accompanied by his son. Along the way they face several obstacles not unlike the many hardships Abel faces during the film.  “We watched that film [The Bicycle Thief] about a million times”, acknowledges Tayler. We consider it one of the greatest films of all-time and wanted to pay homage to it”.

The highlight of The Boda Boda Thieves is undoubtedly the acting of the cast, many of whom were livings inhabitants in the area and, naturally, provide a sense of authenticity to the film. Insingoma is effective in his portrayal of Abel; the audience is provided with a real sense of the joy, anger and frustration he experiences in his journey. However, it is Michael Wawuyo who provides the star turn in this film as Abel’s father, Goodman. When Abel finally confesses to his father that he has lost the boda boda, the scene is quite painful to watch. “It’s all we have”, Goodman whines piteously and the audience here is given the full extent of a man who is overcome with shock and despair at the carelessness of his son.

Another enjoyable aspect of the film is its use of dancehall, reggae and traditional music in the film’s score. Tayler drew from Kampala’s “crazy, beautiful cacophony of sounds” and the result in the film is wonderful. Whether it is Abel’s forays at beer halls or a shot of the ordinary working lives of the ghetto people, each scene is enhanced by appropriate tracks.


Rasvanth Chunylall is a Media and Cultural Studies Masters student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. After surviving Catwoman, he has made it his mission to help people watch good movies.


The “Student Media Lab” is a training workshop and writing-support mechanism implemented by Professor Keyan Tomaselli in order to equip third year and honours students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) to report on the Durban International Film Festival. In its third year running the Student Media Lab is facilitated by The Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS) students. CCMS is the Southern African region's premier graduate research and educational unit in media studies.