Boda bodas are proof it’s hard to hustle in Kenya

Bodaboda riders

This week, I’ve witnessed several cases of motorcycle taxis, or boda bodas, being loaded into ‘breakdowns’ in Nairobi.

I’m not sure where they are taken, but the presence of the police makes me assume they’re taken to police stations and to court.

I don’t know why the motorbikes are confiscated, but I’ve witnessed the anger and flight in the eyes of the mostly young male riders. Women are rare in this trade. When I asked a few Kenyans why boda boda riders were being arrested, they told me the riders are criminals.

This was a perplexing answer.

Just because a few criminals have used motorbikes is no reason to generalise. Lots of boda boda riders earn an honest living. The few bad elements shouldn’t lead to mass condemnation of the whole boda boda fraternity.

The boda boda business may have its negatives, such as encouraging school dropouts, but it’s here to stay. One question that rolled through my mind is how much riders are charged for the breakdown services, and who owns these vehicles.

From a business perspective, how long would it take a rider to make enough money to pay for breakdown services? Does this explain why police stations are overflowing with motorbikes?

In a country with such high levels of unemployment, we should do all that we can to create jobs – even if it means bearing some inconveniences, like boda boda riders on our roads.

After all, they offer services cars can’t, such as delivering parcels and fast food, and transporting those who are in a hurry to get somewhere or live in areas with a poor road network. Most of these young men will end up in crime if we fail to support them to earn an honest living.

The reality

We often think our cities should be clean and modern, devoid of ‘dirty’ people like hawkers and boda boda riders. That’s the ideal situation.

The reality is that a majority of Kenyans are not formally employed and earn their living the hard way. Paradoxically, the people who should support the informally employed should be those formally employed – because they escaped the hustles of being informally employed, including uncertain income, working under extreme weather and no pension or social security.

I’m sympathetic to hustlers because, keeping the textbooks aside, they run the economy, doing the dirty work, and constitute the majority of citizens (and voters). They would not be there if the market didn’t need them.

So, why not formalise the boda boda business like was done with M-Pesa, and create jobs for the youth. The chips the National Transport and Safety Authority is proposing to put on our cars should be put on motorbikes too to streamline the sector.

We should never kill budding entrepreneurial opportunities; we should instead nurture them into formality. After all, boda bodas keep lots of young men busy as they look for economic alternatives.

Disclosure: I don’t own any motorcycle and can’t ride one either.

XN Iraki; [email protected]