As we seek to flatten the Covid-19 curve, we must do it in a way that does not create other problems.
The unregulated boda boda transport has become a popular mode of movement in rural, urban and peri-urban areas. It is flexible, reliable and affordable. Boda boda provide employment and a source of livelihood to a majority of the poor who make more than half of 47 million Kenyans. This has entrenched the sub-sector as a major part of the economy. It is imperative to note that the number of boda boda in Kenya had risen to over two million as at May 2020.
However, the sub-sector is faced with a myriad of challenges and the national and county governments must think beyond Covid-19 to ensure the riders continue to play their part in building the economy. For instance, boda boda operators have been accused of violating a directive to carry one passenger at a time, a measure the Government hopes will help achieve some level of social distancing. Some of them do not even wear masks or sanitise.
The national and county governments must also address growing concerns about crimes the sub-sector is being associated with, accidents, deaths and impunity which are compromising public safety. The sector is to blame for a number of increased social ills, including riders becoming a law unto themselves, thriving in lawlessness and openly defying traffic rules.
They have little regard for other road users’ right of way and ride on pavements and footpaths designated for pedestrians. This situation has been attributed to the fact that the boda boda sector largely operates with minimal regulations and control, weak registration, policing and oversight. The sector is dominated by youth with family obligations, most of who have low education, blamed for their recklessness behaviour that often leads to accidents.
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The problem is huge that many hospitals have set aside wards, specifically, for victims of motorcycle-related accidents, which are on the increase and alarming. This sub-sector also has some college and university graduates, pointing to the pervasiveness of unemployment in Kenya.
Authorities must shift focus to establish the prevalence of boda boda related crimes such as being conduits of increased burglaries, muggings, smuggling of contraband goods across our borders and ferrying of persons using 'panya routes' amid this pandemic. The Government must examine the existing control measures to establish their effectiveness and ways of strengthening them.
There is need to have a structured training programme for the riders, unique smart card identification badges, mandatory insurance policy covers for both riders and passengers and a structured sacco for the boda bodas. The riders have been train other aspiring riders, and in the quest to make quick money, some begin transporting people and goods even before they grasp the basics of road safety. This has resulted into increased and unprecedented road accidents and deaths.
A country survey report by Africa Community Access Partnership conducted in June 2019 dubbed “Enhancing understanding on safe motorcycle and three-wheeler use for rural transport” revealed that majority of riders in Kenya were untrained, had no licence, no insurance and were not members of any association.
It recommended the need for careful consideration to be given to the most effective legal framework for allowing motorcycle and three-wheeler taxis to operate on low volume rural roads, without leading to their unmanaged use on highways and in urban or peri-urban areas. This may involve the use of local by-laws. Driving schools’ capacity to operate in rural areas should be increased, for example through the provision of local government bursaries.
The Government should require that motorcycle, taxi riders belong to associations supported and overseen by local government authorities. Enforcement should be applied gradually coupled with sensitisation activities. Sensitisation has a role to play but is no substitute for training.
Efforts should be made to reduce the risk and severity of crashes, including through training and use of personal protective equipment, especially helmets.
Borrowing from such recommendations with strong law enforcement and regulation, taming corruption, impunity, drug and substance abuse will sanitise the industry for the good of all.
-Mr Wendo is founder/CEO, Integrated Development Network(K). [email protected]