Agony of youth who lose boda boda bikes to cunning lenders

Impounded motorbikes at a dealership in Kapsabet town, Nandi County. [Edward Kosut, Standard] 

Eliud Kipkemboi was excited when a friend came with what he thought was a life-changing piece of advice.

He had spent five years after school at home, and had not had any meaningful way of earning a living.

So when the friend suggested that he joins the boda boda business, he jumped at the idea.

And even though he had no money, his precious goats, he thought, would not offer him more than this seemingly lucrative business. After all, boda boda operators in his Nandi Hills neighbourhood were every jobless man's envy.

Kipkemboi sold three goats and paid Sh20,000 down payment for a new bike.

He also presented his guarantor or contact person, and their national identity card copies were taken.

"I signed the terms and conditions of the payment. I was issued with the motorbike but the logbook was retained and I was assured that it would be issued once I completed servicing the loan in 18 months," he says.

Things went well until Kipkemboi fell ill. He had to take two weeks off on medication and he couldn't settle the mandatory Sh2,500 weekly repayment.

"The officers tracked the motorcycle to the village and forcibly took it away, four months after I had acquired it. I pleaded with them to give me time but my plea fell on deaf ears," says the father of one.

"Earlier, they had frequently made phone calls asking me to settle the instalments but despite my pleading with them about my unfortunate situation, they still came for the bike." 

And just like that, he lost his bike, rendering him jobless with no money to support his family.

A bodaboda rider being assisted to his feet after he was involved in an accident in Nakuru city, May 5, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The business, he says, is competitive and too saturated, and the daily proceeds cannot service weekly instalments.

Hundreds of young people have fallen victim to such lenders, who now deal in motorcycles fitted with tracking devices.

The youth are counting losses following the decision by such firms to indiscriminately impound the motorcycles, including those belonging to diligent owners with only 10 per cent outstanding loans.

The lenders have opened outlets in prime market towns such as Eldoret, Nandi Hills and Kapsabet, where they can easily access boda boda industry customers.

In Nandi County, the youth found it convenient to go for the Sh150,000 motorbikes on hire purchase to start a business

Mr Jonathan Chepkwony, a resident of Chesumei in Nandi, said he took his small savings to one of the lenders in Kapsabet, where he made a down payment to acquire a bike.

"Even before paying my first instalment in the first week, I was involved in an accident. The cost of repairing it was about Sh10,000, forcing me to ground it for two weeks while seeking funds for repairs," he said.

Chepkwony said when he was told police officers and sales agents were trailing him, he took off. The agents went to his home and took the grounded motorbike.

"There is nothing I gained from that motorbike at all; I lost Sh20,000 in less than one month. The terms and conditions are so tough and exploitative since the companies cannot be lenient with their clients in case of any eventuality," said Mr Chepkwony.

According to reports from boda boda saccos in Kapsabet and its environs, 15-20 motorbikes are impounded on a weekly basis for default.

Police officers impound a boda boda abandoned at a crime scene in Nairobi West. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

In Kapsabet town, there are three motorbike lenders which have established outlets. 

They offer affordable lending services and the aspiring boda boda businessman is parting with between Sh15,000 and Sh20,000 down payment.

And depending on the motorcycle capacity and payment duration, hire purchase instalments can range between Sh2,500 and Sh3,500 weekly.

Julius Birgen, a bodaboda leader in Kapsabet, claimed motorbike lenders were exploitative and had stringent hire purchase terms not friendly to bodaboda businessmen.

He claimed that lenders doubled the original market price of a motorbike and makes over 100 per cent profit.

Aaron Kipkorir, a dealer, says they impound close to 10 motorcycles per week. 

"Like any other business, we have challenges where the clients fail to pay their weekly installments. Once impounded, the motorcycles are held for about a week before they are resold to recover the lenders' money.