Boda boda drivers in Juba, South Sudan. Photograph: Akim Mugisa/The Niles
South Sudanandnbsp;has banned foreigners from riding motorcycles, popularly known as boda boda, apparently in an attempt to cut down on crime.
Hundreds of Ugandans said to be are fleeing the country to escape a crackdown after a government order called for an end to licensing motor cycles owned by foreigners. It added that foreigners were no longer allowed to provide a commercial taxi service using motorbikes, curtailing a popular method of public transport in South Sudan.
Anyone found contravening this order will have their motorcycle confiscated and will be prosecuted by the courts.
The announcement followed a spate of traffic accidents and crimes involving boda bodas. But analysts say it could be intended to prevent foreigners from taking away jobs from locals.
"The people who use motorcycles to go and rob, do not specifically ride boda bodas," said Abraham Jok, chairman of motorcyclists in South Sudan.
Without a means to earn a living and fearful of violence, many Ugandan boda-boda operators are trying to flee the country.
Nsumuga John, secretary general for the Ugandan community in South Sudan, said his office had received hundreds of complains from Ugandan boda-boda riders. Some said their bikes had been confiscated while others had been beaten, he said. Some criminals are now using the ministers' statement as an excuse to rob foreign boda boda riders, he added.
John said his office and the Ugandan embassy were negotiating with South Sudanese authorities to give foreign boda boda riders, especially those fromandnbsp;Uganda, at least three months notice before the ban is implemented, arguing that some of them had borrowed money to buy their bikes.
But police chief Andrew Kuol Nyuon said all foreign commercial boda boda riders had been ordered to stop their work to cut down on crime. "My minister didn't target only Uganda nationals but all foreign commercial bike riders," he said. "We need to curb down the ongoing insecurity and crimes in the country, mostly at night."
He warned South Sudanese nationals not to harass foreigners.
Taban Isaac Lule Tone, a Ugandan boda-boda operator, said he had been feeding his Kampala-based family with the money he earned from driving passengers. "I really don't know how my family will survive now we have been stopped from operating in South Sudan," he told The Niles.
The motorcycle organisation has details on about 5,000 registered motorcyclists, of which 2,100 belong to foreigners, mostly Ugandans, then Eritreans and Ethiopians.
James Mutazibwa, a Ugandan boda-boda operator in Melekia, described his shock at the announcement. "At first I thought it was a joke, but later I found all security forces were on road looking for and ready to arrest foreign boda-boda operators in town."
Mutazibwa said most of his friends were now fleeing the country. He added that more than 100 colleagues had had their bikes stolen by people claiming to be police officers, who stopped them on the road between Juba and Nimule, which links the South Sudanese capital with the Ugandan border.
"I lost two bikes which were taken from my house by some people who claimed to be police officers," he said.