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Homa Bay's love-hate affair with boda bodas.

So popular a job creator were boda bodas in Homa Bay that Governor Cyprian Awiti would preside over harambees for their saccos. The honeymoon ended after one bus was torched and another stoned by riders, leading to a ban on their night operations.

This headache is not unique to Homa Bay. Counties countrywide are struggling to tame what once seemed a panacea to youth unemployment but is now becoming a law unto itself.

The use of boda boda as a means of inland transport can be traced back to the 1960s, when it joined the more popular buses and matatus. It all began with the use of bicycles on the border of Kenya and Uganda, in the towns of Busia and Malaba.

This means satisfied the need for quick transport across the border through no man's land. The trade flourished and more bicycles plied this route.

More riders set up camp along this route, and they had to call out to clients from a distance. To do that, they shouted 'Boda! Boda!' - a corruption of the phrase border-to-border.

Years later, towards the new millennium, motor cycle boda bodas replaced bicycles. Though bicycles still operate in remote parts of the country, the motorcycle is now the king of fast public transport.

Thousands of youths are currently earning a living from this industry, since motorcycles have infiltrated all major towns, cities, villages and estates; boda bodas are everywhere.

The boda boda industry flourished in 2008, when the national government exempted tax on motorcycles under 250cc, prompting many young Kenyans to join the boda boda business.

According to Capital Business, the motorcycle business in the country generates an income of Sh400 million daily.

The Motorcycle Assembly Association of Kenya says an average of 14.4 million people ride boda bodas every day, signifying the importance of the sector in growing the economy.

MAAK chairman Isaac Kalua says the industry has contributed over Sh2.2 billion to the Exchequer in form of direct taxes, with over 500,000 motorcycles on the Kenyan roads.

'More than 90 per cent are boda bodas earning more than Sh1,000 per day, with 80 per cent of the riders under the age of 35 years,' Kalua says.


Homa Bay Boda Boda Association chairman Ken Dede says the industry helps many young people outside the formal job market.

He says there are an estimated 43,000 bike riders in Homa Bay county. 'We have around 12,500 bikes operating in Homa Bay town alone,' Dede told the Star.

The chairman, who has been in the business for about 15 years, says he has managed to put up a corrugated iron-roofed house in his rural Kanyada home and educate his three children to higher levels.

'From my savings, I have built a modest, two-bedroom brick house in our rural home. This business is not easy, but it has enabled me to improve my economic status,' he says.

Dede sees boda bodas as a lifesaver to youths not only in the county but nationally. 'Without the business, I do not know how many people without jobs would have fed families and educated their children,' he says.

Dede says in an effort to improve their lives even further, many riders have registered a savings and credit co-operative society. He says Governor Awiti has been in the forefront of supporting them. 'Awiti has presided over many fund drives for boda boda sacco groups,' he says.

The saccos give loans to members at an interest rate of 2 per cent, with the lowest amount one can borrow being Sh20,000. 'Many operators can now own their motorbikes in this way,' Dede says.


Despite the growth and benefits, boda boda business has brought forth a number of challenges to the country, as well as to other road users.

A number of boda boda operators are now perceived as a threat to security due to the actions they take regardless of legality.

Critics include Homa Bay Bunge la Wenye Nchi speaker Walter Opiyo and Kisumu Residents' Voice Association chairman Audi Ogada.

Opiyo says most cases of defilement and teenage pregnancies are linked to boda boda operators. He says the riders take advantage of the susceptibility of underage girls to engage them in early sexual activities, contributing to the spread of HIV and other STIs.

'Most of them make a good amount of money every day, which they should use wisely to empower their families economically, but instead use to induce teenage girls to sex,' Opiyo says.

The speaker says riders are fond of illicit brews. 'All riders should desist from taking chang'aa because they endanger the lives of their passengers and other road users,' he says.

Ogada says boda boda riders have become mourners for hire. He says the riders are 'bought' to participate in mourning dead people, even if they are not their relatives.

'Most of them throng mortuaries during removal of dead bodies and cry on top of their voices in major towns in the country,' Ogada says.

He says the behavour made the Kisumu government ban them from accessing Kisumu town. 'They caused traffic jams, while some took advantage to loot nearby shops,' he says.

Ogada says nowadays, anybody who needs criminals for hire seeks the services of boda boda riders. 'During electioneering periods, goons who are hired for assault in political rivalry are boda boda riders,' Ogada says.

The chairman says the hooliganism perpetrated by some riders could be associated with indiscipline and lawlessness.

He cites the recent burning of Otange Bus Service and stoning of Water Bus in Mbita town, which led county commissioner Kassim Farrah to ban night operations for the riders. 'If some behavours in boda boda riders are not tamed, then people will fear investing in some parts of the country, where chaos is rampant,' Ogada says.


In Nairobi, boda boda operators have been banned from transporting people to and from the city centre. City Hall senior inspector Peter Mbaya says the boda boda operators are rogue and do not respect traffic rules.

'Some of these boda boda riders work with gangsters and organise crimes. We cannot risk allowing them to continue operating within the CBD,' he says.

Mbaya says the ban on boda bodas helps decongest the CBD, making passenger movement easier. However, the ban has been ignored by the riders, who have previously resisted attempts to evict them.

In Kilifi, Simba Coach Bus suffered the same fate as Otange, after angry boda boda riders torched it, in another example of their unruliness.

Last year in Kisii, NTSA launched the Nyanza region road safety awareness campaign, targeting motorcycle riders. Director Lee Kinyanjui said most boda boda operators in the country do not have valid licences and don't know the Highway Code.

The aim of the campaign was to address the problems faced on Kenyan roads. 'One thing we have noted is the lack of basic skills among the motorbike riders,' Kinyanjui said. 'The best thing riders can do is to ensure they acquire proper training and licences.'
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Publication:The Star (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:Feb 8, 2018
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