By Dennis Orengo & Lena Anyuolo
The wave of this two wheeled transport began in the 1980s in Busia and Malaba borders of Kenya and Uganda. This form of transport satisfied the need for quick transport across the border through no man’s lands, hence the trade flourished and more bicycles plied this route. More riders set up ‘bases,’ that is ferrying points along the route, and they had to call out to clients from a distance. To do that, they shouted “BODA! BODA!” which is a corruption of border to border. Today it has become a reliable means of transport and spawned an industry from which millions derive a livelihood.
Such is the success of the boda boda industry that a group of boda boda operators organized themselves and formed a cooperative society that has evolved into a multi-million shilling housing project in Mathare area number 10. To emphasize the seriousness of this form of transport, the word “boda boda” made its way to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017. Collins and Macmillan dictionaries define the term as a bicycle taxi or a bicycle rider in charge of a motorcycle.
According to the National and Transport Safety Authority (NTSA) there are 1, 631, 314 motorcycles in Kenya as of March, 2020. NTSA data shows that the economic contribution of boda boda’s is estimated at an average of slightly above 190 billion annually. Today, many Kenyans have preferred riders to send on errands. In remote and inaccessible areas it’s the major form of transport, while in cities like Nairobi, residents use it to beat traffic jam. Many Kenyans both in cities and rural areas prefer to use boda boda because they maneuver easily where taxis and buses cannot. Their arrival has also saved lives for instance when Daniel Mburu, a twenty-four year old boda boda rider, saved a young girl who was drowning in Korogocho river and rushed her to Mama Lucy hospital where her life was saved. Unfortunately for Mburu, he was shot dead by the police within the same hospital premises after saving the young girl’s life. Boda bodas have created jobs and transformed the lives of young jobless Kenyans. But, there is a darker side to boda boda implosion as our research found out.
The boda boda riders in Nairobi, especially in Mathare Sub County and the larger Nairobi Eastlands, have accused the police of harassment and using crude methods to arrest them. The police officers who are supposed to deal with security issues are putting up road blocks and laying ambush at Dandora and Kariobangi roundabout along Outering road. The same brutality and extortion happens along Thika road next to Mathari mental hospital and within the Mathare villages. During these times, the officers demand bribes between Kenya shillings 5000 to 30, 000. During certain times the boda boda riders have been forced to flee just as the customer was about to pay when the (rider) notices policemen walking towards them to lay an ambush. In some instances during the ambush, both the rider and the customer gets thorough beatings from the police despite the fact that it’s not illegal to operate a boda boda business. Whenever any rider is arrested and demands to be arraigned in court instead of paying bribes, the police threaten to file charges on them for offences they didn’t commit such as drug trafficking.
The government must therefore compel the police to stop the harassment because the boda boda sector offers employment to a large constituency of youths in the country and it’s a major contributor to the country’s economy. Youths who invest in this sector do not want to engage in unlawful acts such as robbery and that’s why they take up loans from financial institutions to purchase the motorcycles. The cardinal question the young boda boda riders pose to the government is: “how will they manage to repay their loans if the little they get is taken away by the rogue police?” The government must protect the youths and provide a conducive business environment.
The youths also appeal to the Nairobi County ward representatives to develop and come up with a Nairobi County boda boda policy. This will help owners and operators whose current reputation has sometimes been linked to insecurity. This policy must promote the security of the motorcycle industry amongst all stakeholders and ensure all adhere to traffic laws.
The boda boda operators and owners also thanked Mathare Social Justice Centre through Lenah Anyuolo and Dennis Orengo who visited them in their bases, and taught them about the rights of arrested persons (Article 49 ) and freedom and security of persons (Article 29) in the Kenyan constitution. They acknowledged the knowledge of the law in the constitution empowers them in fighting against police extortion and brutality.