For close to eight years, Charles Ndegwa has been a boda boda operator in Nyeri town.
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Being among the first people to venture into the business, Ndegwa commands respect among other boda boda operators, who have since made him their chairman.
Ndegwa has seen it all in his line of business — the good, the bad and the ugly. Despite all these, he still remains a firm believer in the business that has been putting food on the table and seen his children through school.
But of late, the business has been hit by a dark cloud of mistrust, with police blaming it for perpetuating crime and causing accidents.
“We face many challenges, one of them is infiltration by criminal gangs, there is also a negative perception that we are responsible for most of the traffic accidents on our roads,” says Ndegwa.
But are all boda boda operators criminals? “Not exactly,” he says.
“The truth is while a majority of the operators are legitimate and conduct their business without engaging in crime, the sector has remained unregulated. As such, you will find private motorcyclists in boda boda business,” explains the businessman.
It is with this in mind that an initiative to have boda boda operators in the county issued with unique identification badges and reflector jackets, to curb crime, was mooted.
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According to Ndegwa, the sector has for years been struggling to put in place self regulation mechanisms; such as setting up welfare associations and groups to instill discipline members, and keep them in line.
This has, however, done little to improve their image as operators continue to be the first target when security agents are hunting for criminals.
But this is about to end, after Bodaboda Safety Association of Kenya, (BAK) pitched tent in Nyeri to register all operators, and put their details in a national database of boda boda riders.
“Majority of the riders are legitimate operators but, unfortunately, there are a few who are using the motorcycles for criminal activities, and fueling insecurity in the county,” said National BAK chairperson, Kevin Mubadi.
Registered riders will have unique identity numbers and reflective jackets with Quick Response (QR) codes containing their details.
The numbers are emblazoned on the riders’ jackets.
The registration is also expected to weed out inexperienced underage riders, most of whom have been linked to accidents and aiding criminals.
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“We shall not register anyone without a national ID. It is one way to keep children off the roads, and it will also be possible to track legitimate riders and weed out criminals,” says Ndegwa.
On the new jackets, details such as the name of the rider, the owner, where they are registered to operate, and insurance status will be shown.
Currently, these details can be accessed by security agencies and members of boda boda associations, but there are plans to roll out the programme further to bring the public on board.
By scanning the QR code with a mobile phone, one will be able to see details about the rider. This is meant to make passengers feel safe, and also enable security agents to identify legitimate operators.
“The association offers the riders a safety net in case they are also victims of crime. For instance if a motorcycle is stolen and recovered in another county, it can now be traced back to the owner with ease,” says Mubadi.
The database will also offer the riders’ phone number and next of kin so that, in the event of a road accident, they can easily be identified and their family informed.
“Whenever riders were involved in hit and run accidents prior to the registration, it was difficult to know who they were. They ended up unclaimed in hospital or mortuaries, but now you can inform their family,” says Mubadi.
The initiative is increasingly gaining support from riders.
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So far, 600 boda boda operators have registered and have been issued with identity badges. A,n additional 1500 are in the process of registering across the county.
One of those who plans to registered is Phillip Mwangi, 23. He says he has been won over by the new database’s ability to contact his next of kin in case of an accident.
“When you get involved in an accident away from your home it is good when your family is notified of your condition so that they can act to get you the necessary assistance,” he says.
He knows better. Last year, he was involved in an accident that broke his leg, and was rushed to the hospital. His wife only found out a day later.
“For a full day, she did not know what had happened to me because I lost all my documents in the accident and was only rushed to hospital by Good Samaritans,” recalls Mwangi.
The association also offers training on road safety, customer service, payment of hospital bills, welfare of family members in case of injury and also financial management.
“We offer the riders insurance cover of up to Sh7,000 per year which is paid up within two weeks of a claim. There is also free legal aid if they are involved in traffic offences or end up in court after an accident,” says Mubadi.
So far, the registration has taken place in Nairobi where 6,000 riders have been registered. In Kajiado, 1,000 have embraced the programme, while in Busia and Nyeri registration is ongoing.
BAK are rolling out the registration across all 47 counties, in partnership with the National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA), Ministry of Transport and county commissioners.
“We are engaging the county commissioners, because they are the heads of security and will be in an ideal position to highlight the importance of registration for safety and security of the riders within each county,” Mubadi explains.
Security officials in Nyeri have welcomed the registration.
Crime in area has been in the limelight lately after the killing of a chief by an armed gang.
So far, up to five people have been shot dead and more than 30 arrested in a security operation to flush out criminals in a crackdown ordered by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.
According to County Commissioner Frederick Shisia, some of the criminals they were pursing escaped on motorcycles. He says the introduction of the electronic bio data system, for boda boda operators, will make it easy to access the riders’ information, and weed out criminals.
“It will help us distinguish legitimate operators from the bogus ones, and those using motorcycles to commit crime,” he adds.
The county commissioner believes the initiative will change the negative perception associated with boda boda business.