Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Three wheeled motorcycle taxis, known by their brand name – Bajaj, have been at the center of collisions between different forms of mobility in the rapidly growing city of Hawassa in Southern Ethiopia. With very little private vehicle ownership or publicly owned transportation residents cannot navigate the city without the Bajaj. City administrators, however, complain that Bajaj crowd the streets and slow the movement of four-wheeled vehicles. Based on the Hawassa case I argue that urban mobility must be understood in terms of the intersection between the particular qualities of transportation technologies, state regulations, and labor relations. The Bajaj’s low cost, flexibility, and unique style of movement create new opportunities for Hawassa residents to move through the city. However, this flexible seemingly chaotic movement undermines government administrators’ visions for progressive mobility towards a modern city. In terms of labor, Bajaj drivers lease the vehicles from owners and then keep any profits they earn from transporting passengers. Working as a driver represents an opportunity for urban young men to achieve economic mobility, but they face barriers in the form of strict state regulations on their movement and the high price of leases paid to owners. This paper follows the movements of Bajaj drivers through the city to understand the implications of the collision between technology, the state, and labor for urban mobility. This collision ultimately creates multiple forms of (im)mobility in relation to navigating the city, the life course, and state plans for the future.