“You can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.”

― Erol Ozan

‘Nai-robbery’ is one of the most common adjectives used to describe the security situation in Kenya’s capital city. While security levels have historically fluctuated between good and bad, in the recent months it has slowly gotten worse, with an article by Kenyans recording an increase in crime rates; especially during public holidays as many of the people are looking money to celebrate with their families.

Motorcycle taxis, commonly known as Bodaboda or Boda, were first used to commit crime in the 1970s when they were used to smuggle Ugandan coffee into Kenya, and later by Ugandans fleeing from conflict after the coup. Due to the history of how these taxis were Introduced to the country, there is a general mistrust of the operators (even though they are very commonly used).

‘I never trust any Bodaboda riders since that incident, when one appears to be coming too close I panic’ says Stephanie: She has, on several occasions, witnessed and been a victim of the crimes committed by Motorbike riders in Nairobi. In her first Incident, they tried unsuccessfully to attack her, while in the second incident, “It was 5am and, after hailing a Boda to drop me off at my University gate, this rider refused to get me to my destination and started riding towards the opposite direction even though I kept on requesting him to turn. I therefore choose to jump off the moving bike and luckily I didn’t sustain any serious injuries” states Stephanie.

This scenario is very familiar for a good number of women in Nairobi who use this mode of public transport. It is either a rider would accept your ride request and refuse to go towards your destination, or they were not sober, as in Stephanie’s situation. For many men who have had such encounters, robbers disguised as taxis riders would attack them with weapons such as a knife or a gun. This was the situation with Abraham who was accosted by three men on a Motorbike as he had just walked out of his house on his way to the bus stop. They robbed him of his phone and money; and according to Mr. Njenga it is his lack of resistance that allowed him to go his way unharmed.

He went ahead to state that cases like this have happened to his friends as well, but they opted not to report since not much can be done, as it happens so fast and one would not have lost that much.

Most of the victims of such crimes are students and people who cannot afford private transport. In most cases they are not able to defend themselves or get justice from the Police because it is difficult to trace the crimes. According to the Officer Commanding Station (OCS) in Lari constituency, there is peer pressure among the riders which pushes them to not report one who is involved in illegal activities. Mr. Okoth mentioned that the Police officers in his division have an initiative that engages with leaders in the different regions of their division to pinpoint the perpetrators but there are still some logistics that make it hard to streamline the sector. Similarly, from an old conversation with an officer at the Parklands division there is a similar initiative in Westlands, but the situation remains the same in many other police posts. Mr Okoth also mentioned that one of the crimes riders are involved in is aiding and abetting crime as they provide quick getaway.

Due to the traffic in the capital, use of motorcycle taxis are at the heart of Kenya’s public transport as opposed to Matatus (Minibuses) which come in a close second; they manoeuvre through traffic quickly and easily and often disobey traffic rules as they go.  They are also providing employment opportunities, seeing that the employment rate in Kenya is high with unemployment doubling 10.4 per cent according to the IMF as quoted by Nation Media.

They are also cost effective changing from around $0.50– $2 and contribute to the alleviation of poverty (this is because most of the taxi riders come from vulnerable or economically challenged homes). As such, Bodaboda are an increasingly important means of transport, which means that it is intricately important for this sector to be well regulated before the situation is completely out of hand.

According to the 2019 report by the National Crime Research Centre (NCRC) motorcycles account for over 50 per cent of robbery, violence, crime and assault. The crimes have also in some cases gone unpunished as there is major peer pressure among the riders who are mostly young men. As the Lari Officer Commanding Police (OCS) pointed out, in a situation where a crime has been committed, they gang up to intimidate the victim and consequently tamper with the crime scene. As quoted [ii] Daniel Sitole 2020, Boda-boda drivers use their knowledge of the terrain to make trips that would otherwise be impossible.

Towards the end of 2020, the Government through the National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA) announced that they will soon start offering training to Bodaboda riders as part of their efforts to streamline the sector. The training, which reportedly started in February 2021, was launched by the Ministry of Public Transport, Youth and Gender Affairs as stated by [iii]Kosgey 2021. There were previous talks of training when NTSA stated they will be partnering with Toyota Kenya to enhance road safety four years ago according to [iv]media reports, but there was no implementation of sustainable training as the situation in those for years has worsened. I made several attempts to reach out to NTSA but there was no feedback, except from a promise to get back to me. In my interviews and communications with personnel from the National Police Service, they said there has been improvement on the part of mobilizing and engaging the riders. They too acknowledge that it has been a hard task to curb these types of crimes but it is from their own initiative that they provide an engagement platform that involves both Bodaboda riders and the police. This is not the case for many National Police branches across the country.

[i] Why Bodaboda related crimes peak over 4 months – Report, 2021

[ii] Sitole 2020

[iii] Ministry of Public Transport Youth and Gender Affairs, Kosgey 2021

[iv] Impact Hub Media, 2018

One response to “THE RELENTLESS CYCLE”

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