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Boda boda: The good, the bad and ugly all in a decade

By Macharia Kamau | October 28th 2021
A boda boda rider ferries charcoal and a passenger along Kisii Kilgoris road on September 9, 2021. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

While Kenyans have significantly reduced the acquisition of motor vehicles, as individuals or commercial entities, the uptake of motorbikes has seen a steady growth.

The number of newly acquired motorcycles posted a 16 per cent growth in the last one year, which meant a rise in the number of boda bodas on Kenyan roads.

The increased use of boda boda for transport has seen the number of accidents and deaths attributed to motorcycles grow.

Last year was no different, and the number of reported road accidents linked to boda bodas increased 58 per cent while fatalities increased by 56.7 per cent.

“The number of newly registered motor cycles increased by 16.2 per cent from 217,425 in 2019 to 252,601 in 2020,” the 2021 Economic Survey published by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) reads.

“The increase was mainly attributed to a 17.4 per cent growth in motor and auto cycles registered from 210,103 units in 2019 to 246,705 units in 2020. Three wheelers reduced by 19.5 per cent to 5,896 units in 2020.”

The double digit growth in the number of motor cycles on Kenyan roads came during a year when spending by individual Kenyans and companies was heavily curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This, in turn, saw number of newly registered motor vehicles decrease by 14.2 per cent. Minibuses, mostly used in public transport, recorded the highest decline at 43.9 per cent.

Panel vans and pickups reduced by 40.5 per cent, while buses and coaches decreased by 32.8 per cent.

Boda bodas have, over the last decade, become a popular mode of transport in the country. And just as they have eased movement of people, they have also put lives in danger.

Many of the accidents recorded last year were fatal. Many of those killed by boda boda accidents are the motor cyclists.

According to KNBS data, nearly one in every three deaths that resulted from road accidents last year was caused by a boda boda.

In 2020, 1,136 motor cyclists died on the road, which accounted for 28 per cent of all reported road accident fatalities that stood at 3,975. The number of motor cyclists who died last year from road accidents were 56.7 per cent more compared to 725 that were reported in 2019.

“For all types of casualties presented, motor cyclists category had the highest growth for all classes, with increases in those killed, seriously injured and slightly injured recorded at 56.7 per cent, 59.7 per cent and 57.0 per cent respectively,” said KNBS.

The total reported traffic accidents rose 24.3 per cent to 8,919 while reported road traffic casualties increased by 7.8 per cent to 16,970 in 2020.

Other than the accidents attributed to motor cycles, there has been growing concerns about their use in perpetration of crimes. Motorbikes sold in Kenya are a mix of imports and locally assembled units.

Motorcycles have become a popular mode of transport due to their affordability and capability to beat traffic jams in urban areas and navigate areas not served by public transport. They are also popular in rural areas where matatus are few.

The Motorcycle Assemblers Association of Kenya has in the past estimated that over 99 percent of motorcycles are used for public transport or boda boda business.

More than 15 million people ride boda boda every day. The 2018 estimate by the association said the industry earns on average about Sh400 million in a day.

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