Freetown’s Poda Poda Deliver

By Aaron Kaye, Kiva Fellow, Sierra Leone

In Kenya they’re known as matatu.  In Turkey they are referred to as dolmus.  Here in Sierra Leone they’re poda poda.  Whatever they’re called in whatever place you’ve traveled or lived, the simple minibus represents an effective, if crowded means of basic urban transport.  Additionally, these vehicles represent an instance of private enterprise performing a role that’s often filled by municipal governments in more developed countries.  And in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, minibus transportation meets an urgent need for the city’s population.

Freetown’s streets are perpetually filled with traffic.  The city’s sprawling population and basic road structure ensures this. To the untrained eye (that of a new Kiva Fellow) the poda poda appear to operate with no particular routes or order.  But it gradually becomes clear that in fact the poda poda run on a number of fixed routes which are clearly painted on the buses’ fronts.  And a trip to the end of the line even reveals that mutual understanding among the drivers ensures that the buses depart at regular intervals.

A loaded poda poda. The "Manchester United" name announces the driver's loyalties. The route is painted in yellow just above.

A driver’s assistant, or apprentice, as he’s literally called, mans the sliding door and yells the poda poda’s route to let pedestrians know there are open seats, and to alert anyone who isn’t able to read the route name.  For example, ”Lum-lum-lum-lum-lum!” from the apprentice means the poda poda has some space to take you to Lumley, or anywhere along that well-known route.  A cry of “Abbady!  Abbady!” means they’re headed to Aberdeen.

With a city government coping with far more basic needs than public transportation, the poda poda minibus successfully meets market demand for basic transportation to and from work for thousands of Freetown’s residents each day.

Where have you seen a privately-run minibus system that meets a population’s transport needs?  Leave a comment and share your experience.

Aaron is working with Association for Rural Development (ARD) and encourages you to find a loan being made in Sierra Leone!

About the author

Aaron Kaye