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Uganda’s ‘taxi divas’ rise from the economic darkness of COVID-19

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) – The women fought with each other inside the vehicle. The driver jerked to ease the grip around her neck and then turned toward the elbow of her attacker in the back seat. She threw the door open to make her flee and end the simulated attack.

“This one is too strong for me,” said the attacker, smiling and shaking his head. Then it was another woman’s turn in the exercise to prepare the drivers for Uganda’s new full-time service, Diva Taxi.

The taxi service, dreamed of by a local woman who lost her logistics job at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, was launched in June and has recruited over 70 drivers. They range from college students to moms hoping to make good use of their used Toyota.

“It started as a joke, supported by close friends and family, but eventually took up the idea,”

; said company spokeswoman Rebecca Makyeli. “They said, ‘Why not? As ladies, you know we can no longer kill on Instagram from the outside, so why not kill as divas with a case. ‘So we called it Diva Taxi. ”

It is unusual to find female taxi drivers in Uganda, a socially conservative East African country where most women work on farms or work in the informal sector.

Diva Taxi believes that countless women are looking for job opportunities in a time of severe financial hardship. The International Labor Organization has said that women’s employment in developing countries is likely to be hit harder than men’s. and the pandemic.

“I should say I was personally affected by COVID,” said Diva Taxi founder Gillian Kobusingye.

A regular traveler, she found herself grounded indefinitely as authorities imposed restrictions on movement to slow the spread of the virus. For several weeks, even taxis were not allowed to operate in Uganda.

Kobusingye still felt optimistic. “Despite every circumstance in the world, something will be needed to reach out to someone … And how does that happen? Through transportation, ”she said.

She believed that a woman seeking to become a driver would probably have the opportunity more than any man. And she supported women to be more reliable.

“Our ladies are extremely hardworking, very motivated and I like their sense of pride when doing this work,” she said. “They do it with a heart in relation to other people, and that’s the difference we have with our competitors.”

Some clients that include men agree.

“The divas are always on time,” said Kampala-based accountant Jemimah Bamwebaze, a regular user. She also feels more secure “by being driven by a fellow woman.”

A potential driver must have a car in good condition and a smartphone equipped with the mobile app that clients use, along with a valid driver’s license and a certificate of good conduct issued by Interpol.

With Diva Taxi, 85% of revenue goes from a trip to the driver, strikingly low in Uganda, but part of a plan to upgrade the market, Makyeli said.

Driver Donna Ochen, a FedEx accountant taken in March and caring for three children, said she had “done something” at home when she saw a Diva Taxi employee on television discussing options for women. With the consent of her skeptical husband, she contacted the company and was recruited.

“I decided to take it up because it would be an opportunity for me to serve and serve and support my family,” Ochen said. And “it would allow me to do something for myself instead of sitting.”

Another driver, college student Tracy Abola, said her mother, a teacher, had been out of work since schools closed in March. Abola had been driving a 1998 Toyota “to keep up with friends” until she learned she could make money with Diva Taxi.

“So I decided to do something so I could also help out a little bit at home,” she said.

The Diva Taxi app has been downloaded at least 500 times, and each of the company’s 72 drivers drives an average of 30 trips each week, Makyeli said. The company expects to have 2,000 active users by the end of this year, a modest target in a city of over 3 million people, where taxis and passenger motorcycles are the main means of transportation for the working class.

Despite safety training – every driver also receives a container of pepper spray – safety is still an issue.

Ochen said she only drives during the day to avoid getting caught in difficult situations, including with intoxicated groups.

Even as she hopes to return to her job as an accountant, she plans to remain a Diva taxi driver for as long as possible.

“We love what we do and it’s really fun,” said founder Kobusingye, an occasional driver himself. “I can’t wait to work with all the women out there who are willing to be a part of Diva Taxi.”

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