The Boda- boda business in Kenya is mostly dominated by men. However, one woman in Kitengela, Kajiado County has beaten the odds and embraced the male-dominated industry to earn a living and realise her ambitions in life.
Esther Wanjiru Makhanu, a motorcycle operator based in Kitengela town learnt how to operate her motorbike out of frustrations from one rider whom she had hired.
“I took out a loan about four years ago and bought a motorbike to bring in extra income. I then hired a young man to operate the bike for me as I was a hotelier at the time and all he had to do was bring in Sh300 per day to help with offsetting the loan,” she says.
Makhanu said the rider he had employed frustrated her as he often switched off his phone and hardly brought back any income.
When the rider could not pay the amount, she decided to take the bike from him and keep it in her house as she thought of a way forward.
Since she got the bike from a loan, staying idle and not bringing in any income used to give her sleepless nights as it could be repossessed anytime but thanks to mobile banking loans, she was able to take a loan of Sh20, 000 and pay off the loan for the motorbike.
She then decided she needed to learn how to operate the bike.
“I learnt how to ride the bike through my good friend Titus, we went to a field and there he taught me the basics and I was able to go to driving school and get my motorbike license,” she said.
Makhanu then used her bike as a means of transport from her house to her work station which she says was challenging as she had not gotten used to riding on a busy road. She added that her inexperience saw her get into her first accident and she had to quit her job.
“When I was admitted to the hospital after I broke my leg, the doctor told me to quit my passion as it was causing harm to my health, but I refused. The joy I got from ridding was unique and the money I was making was quite decent,” she says.
Mukhanu then employed someone to operate her motorbike when she was recovering from her injury but this time, she was smarter and the rider had to bring the bike home after the close of business.
When she got better, she went back to her motorbike riding and this time she was more confident but she unfortunately got into another accident again and broke her other leg forcing her to stop riding for another six months.
The setbacks did not dampen her spirits, as she was determined to make it in the business. When she got better, she got back to her trade.
Her customer base is made up of women as they feel more safe and secure being ridden by her.
Being in a male-dominated industry Makhanu says she encounters many challenges but she strives on as the money she makes helps pay the bills.
“There was a day a police officer roughed me up! He thought I was a man and by the time he looked at me and saw that I was a woman the damage had already been done. I felt really ashamed that day but it only made me stronger and toughened my resolve to keep going,” she said.
She added that another challenge she encountered when she first got into the business a few years ago was chauvinistic slurs from some men who felt that the job was only a reserve for them.
She however says that she grew a “thick skin” and such slurs no longer affect her.
“Some of the men who saw me operate the bike during my first few years used to utter slurs to me and that used to break me since they hadn’t seen a woman do what I was doing but with time I grew a tough skin and now we are okay. They respect me and am like a mother to all of them now,” she adds with a smile on a face.
Her colleagues describe her as hardworking and disciplined.
“Working with Esther has been an awesome experience, seeing her grow and the commitment she has to her work is inspiring and we give her the respect she deserves,” says Milton Ochieng a fellow rider.
Makhanu business has grown tremendously and has seen her buy four more motorcycles this creating employment.
The business has also seen her educate her four children.
She urged more women who are looking for decent employment to join her and she will be happy to teach them the ways of riding a motorbike for free and the ropes of operating in a male-dominated industry.
The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) reported that there were 1,393,390 motorcycles registered in Kenya as of February 2018. However, the exact numbers of these motorcycles operating as ‘Boda Bodas’ in the country are not known and documented.
These motorcycle taxis have provided jobs to people across Kenya, in both rural and urban centers and consequently able to alleviate a considerable amount of poverty and dependency.
By Rop Janet