A bodaboda driver and his beloved mobile | #mediadev | DW | 16.08.2016
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A bodaboda driver and his beloved mobile

As part of the #mediadev series on people and media, meet Bernard who loves his Smartphone. It not only allows clients to WhatsApp him for a ride, its built-in radio means he never misses a football match on the road.

It's 2pm on a hot Saturday afternoon and bodaboda (motorbike taxi) driver Mwanje Bernard sits on his motorcycle in Nabweru, a bustling, dusty highway town about 25 kilometers north of Uganda's capital, Kampala.

Despite the singing from the nearby Pentecostal church and the video hawker playing movies at high-volume nearby, Bernard is fully concentrated on listening to the radio commentary of a match involving his favorite soccer club, Arsenal.

The 24-year-old is listening to the radio on his iPhone, and the headphones dangling from his ears sway as he gets visibly agitated about the game. Bernard lifts his head every so often to see if he has a passenger, and once in a while he moves his finger across the screen to read something on his phone.

A passenger comes and Bernard pulls out his earpieces as they start negotiating the fare. When they disagree, it's a chance to ask Bernard about his media habits.

Speaking in Luganda, the main language of Uganda, Bernard says he listens to radio more than anything else. He rarely has time to watch TV, he says, because he spends almost 14 hours a day on the road, starting at 6am and working until 8pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, he sometimes doesn't get home until after midnight.

"From Friday through the weekend, party-goers travel all the time and I take advantage of that," he explains. "And this phone is my companion," he says, displaying the expensive iPhone that he bought second-hand. He has a power bank to keep it charged for the long hours on the road.

Bernard’s favorite program is World Conflicts on Pearl FM, a privately owned Muslim station broadcasting in Luganda. He loves political talk shows in general because he "wants to stay updated."

Bernard isn't alone in his love of radio; it's immensely popular in Uganda, where almost 70 percent of the population regularly tunes in to one of the more than 200 radio stations in the country.

Radio trustworthier than social media

Bernard feels that radio is more credible than other media, because the listeners can hear people's actual voices and people can speak for themselves.

"I don’t trust anything that comes out on social media," he says. "I wait until the radio confirms it."

For Bernard, listening to so much radio has the advantage of making him much better informed than many of his friends. He's also less likely to believe the rumors and speculation that sometimes pass for truth among his acquaintances, he says.

His only disappointment with radio stations is that he feels they do not tell the whole truth because of fear of the government or fear of angering their wealthy bosses (most of Uganda's radio stations are in private hands, relying on advertising and announcements for financing).

Political talk shows are closely monitored, and some media houses have been closed in the past for overstepping the line. Nevertheless, there is active audience participation and during debates on the radio and TV people always call in, send text messages or use Facebook to send their feedback.

Listening to sport on the radio is another major draw for Bernard. When a big match is on but he has to work, he listens to local commentaries of the English Premier League, Spanish football and the German Bundesliga.

Sport is also the main reason that Bernard buys newspapers about twice a week. Like many bodaboda drivers, Bernard bets on sport and likes reading the sport section and looking at the betting guides before placing a wager.

Struggle to find print or online news that's not in English

The most popular newspaper is a Luganda-language paper, "Bukedde", but the next two biggest-selling papers are in English, a language Bernard can't speak or read.

This is also a problem when it comes to getting information online. While Bernard uses his phone to access Facebook and WhatsApp to connect with friends, he's also interested in keeping up with the news. His biggest challenge is finding information in Luganda, as most Facebook users prefer to post in English.

But as well as keeping him up-to-date, Bernard's phone is also simply good for business.

"I have some clients at the university, they prefer sending me messages on WhatsApp when they need me to pick them up," he says.

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