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As Kenyan leaders take to the skies, we’ve to tackle bodaboda menace alone

Some of the motorcycless seized at Kisii Central Police Station yesterday during a nationwide crackdown on boda boda operators. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

I’ll depart from the regular sketch to comment freely on a pressing national matter.

First off, a belated happy Women’s Day to all the womenfolk. Secondly, if no one has considered it, a cleansing ceremony should be performed at the scene where a female diplomat was assaulted by boda boda riders last Friday, but which only came to light this week.

Through this dastardly act, they desecrated the life work and struggles of Professor Wangari Maathia, for whom the road is named.

What we saw in that clip is a symptom of a larger social, economic and political issue. I have been a victim of the boda boda madness, twice, when I was hit from behind.

On the two occasions, a swirl of riders descended on the scene to ensure the interests of their member were secured. In a few moments, I realised I was addressing a political rally!

The hoodlums fled the scene when they realised their buddy was on the wrong, and I was on the phone calling for police assistance. I know my country well enough to know Kenyans’ righteous fury will not yield much. The reason for my scepticism is simple. In the coming two weeks, if not sooner, this matter will blow over and be replaced by other crises.

What’s needed is a calm reflection of how we got where we are, and seek to extricate ourselves from the mess.

Let’s concede; wananchi step in where the State fails, and that’s true of the boda boda sector. It is also true of the matatu sector. They stepped in to plug a gap in public transport system, which was crippled due to greed and avarice by our tumbocrats — they think with their stomachs, not heads.

President Uhuru Kenyatta proposed this week that some technocrats should go to Rwanda to benchmark how boda bodas are managed. It’s a waste of time. Kigali is a relatively small city, with a relatively small population.

The ideal case study would be Addis Ababa. It’s a bigger city and at 5 million, its population mirrors Nairobi’s. It also happens to have benefited from Chinese-funded infrastructure projects.

But that’s where the similarities end. Ethiopia built a superior and longer rail, for much less money than Kenya, because they have fewer thieves in Addis.

Their rail connects Ethiopia to Djibouti. For intra-city commute, they use light rail and rapid transit that course through the city every 10 minutes. It’s electric powered, on two-tracks and brand new coaches.

By contrast, our rail is diesel-powered and single-track rail, using mitumba coaches from Spain! It starts in Miritini and terminates in the middle of nowhere. For intercity commute, we use boda boda. That’s what tumbo politics does to a nation.

The talk of Bus Rapid Transport to congest the city ended with red paint on Thika Road. We’re still talking about it.

You can’t blame the youth who see bikes as a pathway out of rural poverty. That means rural-urban migration is inevitable and new slums will emerge. And selling bikes is so lucrative to our moneyed class, it fetches better returns than Treasury bills. Unsurprisingly, 60 per cent of riders don’t even own those contraptions.

You know the rest. Desperate, dehumanized youth on two cycles are a devil’s doomsday device. We saw it detonate last week. It won’t be the last. Meanwhile, rich Kenyans imported 325 choppers recently, leaving us to deal with the boda boda menace, as they take to the skies.