The Boda boda industry has over the years grown to create employment for many young people in the country with unemployment rate soaring in the country each day.
The industry has emerged as one of the biggest revenue generating sectors in the economy, and proved to be a key contributor to the economy by generating a whopping Sh.219 Billion in revenue annually.
Figures released by the Motorcycle Assemblers Association (MAAK) show there are about 600,000 commercial motorcycles on Kenyan roads, each making Sh.1,000 on an average with the figures translating to Sh.219 Billion annually.
According to a research conducted by MAAK, around eight people in the country depend on each motorcycle operator for their daily livelihood translating to a total to about 4.8 million people.
Most people prefer motorcycles mode of transport because they are able to beat traffic jams in urban centers and poor roads in the suburbs and rural areas that keeps vehicles away.
Millions of youths in Narok County have ditched pastoralism and sold their parcels of land and livestock to find alternative investment in the boda boda business, giving rise to the thriving industry. Narok Town alone is estimated to have about 3,000 motor-cycle operators.
Recently there has been a more demand for motorbikes in the delivery of goods to both homes and businesses. Boda bodas have also been instrumental in moving produce from the farms to the market and all this come with challenges to the sector.
But even with the aggressive growth of the sector, it has once and again been faced by many challenges such as poor infrastructure as riders strive hard to fend for themselves and their loved ones.
Insecurity has for a long time proven to be a major threat to the industry as criminals prey on the innocent riders to rob them and their pillions. Many a time they target the motorbike that they sell across the border or dismantle and sell it as spare parts.
Victims of gangs in the boda boda trade have narrated harrowing tales of how they narrowly escaped death after encountering with the ruthless thugs.
Andrew Mukau, a boda boda rider operating in Narok town narrates how two years ago a passenger tricked him before delivering him to a machete-wielding gang.
“I picked up a passenger at 9.pm within Narok town and along the way to the suburbs, he said he had dropped his phone and requested that I stop so that he could get it.
“Upon stopping, two men armed with machetes emerged from the nearby bushes and pounced on me,” narrated the rider.
He struggled and escaped from the killer gang with deep cuts on his arms and thighs. He also lost his first motorcycle that night.
This is not the first or the only case of a boda boda rider being attacked by gangs and sustaining or even succumbing to injuries besides losing their motor cycles.
In March this year, a motor-cycle operator was injured and his motorcycle stolen. His colleagues in Narok took it upon themselves and pursued the suspects to Kisii a week later where they recovered the motorbike which had a tracker.
The riders have also accused police and county government inspectorate and the enforcement authorities of harassment, intimidation and extortion and sometimes collaborating with the criminals who steal their motorbikes.
“We are faced with many issues on these roads as we go about our daily business; from the police and county government harassment to the issues of insecurity,” Daniel Msili, another boda boda rider in Narok says.
But the tales are not one sided. There are also cases of boda boda riders who have turned into crime using their motorcycle to carry out their evil plans.
Another operator who declined to be named narrates how a woman from his neighborhood in Mwamba area in Narok who used to run an M-pesa shop was in January this year robbed as she was closing her shop by a gun-toting gang riding on a motorbike.
“She was just closing her shop when two men with helmets and on a bike showed up and pointed a gun at her. She screamed but they beat her up, took the money and sped off before anyone could come to her aid. She suffered minor injuries,” he said.
“Women and schoolgirls have been raped and many other innocent wananchi tortured by criminals masquerading as boda boda operators,” he adds.
Msili says such incidences are affecting their business since it tarnishes their image and make their customers lose rust in them.
He is now appealing to the government to work with the boda boda operators in improving security in order to help this multi-billion sector to continue flourishing and empowering the youth.
Msili says youth engage in crime due to poverty.
The 2019/2020 financial year budget released in June this year has posed another challenge to the boda boda operator as the government has proposed to tax them more.
In the budget proposals, the boda bodas will be required to have an insurance cover for pillion passengers among other issues all aimed at making the sector a safer mode of transport.
“This mode of transport has proven to be very risky to the riders, passengers and even pedestrians. Further, the accident victims who are mostly from the lower cadres of the society, are left to seek financial assistance for treatment from friends and relatives since these boda bodas are not insured,” said the then Cabinet Secretary in charge of National Treasury and Planning, Henry Rotich while reading the budget.
Statistics from the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) indicate that this year alone 1,293 people had lost their lives in road accidents by May 4 this year.
The move to impose the taxes and levies has been frowned and ridiculed by many with some politicians saying they will go to court to push for abolition of the proposal.
Boda boda riders in Narok have also expressed their displeasure with the proposal saying that it will only affect their business to a point of impoverishing them further.
“If they impose that tax on us, they will only deprive us our only means of survival. Most of us depend on this business to survive and so with more and more levies and high cost of fuel, most of us won’t even be able to cope up with the situation and some will now start turning into crime,” Msili said.
The Narok North Sub County Police Commander, Joseph Kisombe agrees that there are criminal elements among boda boda operators and that they were working with the operators to streamline the sector.
Kisombe says they have been training the boda boda operators on traffic rules and road safety and have also asked them to form an association.
“Anyone hiring a motor-bike in Narok should ask the operator his registration number as this can come in handy in case of anything,” he says.
The sub county police commander also warned all boda boda operators engaging themselves in crime that they will face the full wrath of the law.
All said and done, motor cycle industry is playing a crucial role in the economy and cannot be wished way.
By Mabel Keya-Shikuku