It is an indisputable fact that the boda boda sub-sector in the country has grown in leaps and bounds for over a decade now providing employment opportunities, source of livelihood and economic empowerment especially among the majority of our unemployed youths.
Without doubt, the boda boda sector is a significant contribution to the economy and plays an important role in the transport sector as alternative or complementary mode of transport.
The contrary is also true owing to both acts of commission and omission.
Due to lack of regulatory framework, the industry has become not only a nuisance but also a national security threat attributable to the budding gangland culture and blatant disregard of the law as the primary modus operandi amongst riders.
Thus, the boda boda question can no longer be viewed as a low priority political issue, rather, must be urgently securitised and amplified as a high national security concern.
The sector has been left vulnerable making it possible for criminal organised gangs to infiltrate with ease as well as the industry serving as a front to cover up for their crime or to directly aid their activities.
Over the recent past, the country has been recording skyrocketing cases of boda boda related crimes and accidents significantly compromising public safety.
This makes it even more difficult for the genuine, hardworking and law abiding sector players to operate with ease not to mention the risk they remain exposed to from within.
Without standing the risk of blanket condemnation as acknowledged above, rogue elements amongst the operators have mutated into the new face of crime and impunity.
They have become lynch mobs on the roads attacking other road users unjustifiably, knocking down pedestrians and moving in all directions including the wrong side of the flow of traffic as if they drop from heaven not to mention other related crimes.
However, all these inadequacies are not their own making, rather, the existing governance and regulatory gaps to streamline the sector predispose them to such conditions and behavioural traits.
According to a report by the National Crime Research Center dubbed ‘Boda boda motorcycle Transport and Security Challenges in Kenya-2018’, the sector is a both a boom and bane largely informed by prevailing economic frustrations.
“The boda boda transport sub-sector is dominated by a majorly youthful population of males with family obligations and responsibilities. Majority have low levels of schooling with majority at primary and secondary education levels. Boda boda also employ minors with serious implications for the development trajectory and safety of children. The sub-sector further employ people with university level education – speaking to the realities and pervasiveness of unemployment in Kenya.” The report says.
Exposed to such vulnerabilities and as the country heads to an electioneering period in less than twenty four months, the gullible sector players can serve as political mobilisation targets to balkanise the country and cause untold mayhem due to their high numbers and coverage across the nationwide.
Some of the highly rated prevalent crimes associated to boda boda riders include causing death by dangerous riding, general stealing, breach of public order and creating disturbance resulting to accident and related deaths, loss of property, health problems and insecurity in the country.
Last year, His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta termed the industry as an emerging economic giant and impressed upon them to embrace savings culture to avoid depending on hand outs and being misused by selfish individuals.
In September last year, retired Chief of Defence Forces General Julius Karangi was almost lynched by over 500 boda boda rowdy mob following an accident involving one of them.
This is what ordinary Kenyans are subjected to in their daily routine with some being innocently murdered.
It is no secret that regulatory bodies like National Police Service (NPS), the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) and the Boda Boda Association of Kenya (BAK) have not only failed to implement laid down regulations in terms of enforcement that would aid in the management and controlling of the now overpopulated industry but have been overwhelmed as well.
There is every need for the government initiate a shift of the boda boda sector from the current unregulated and informal set up to a more organised and formal economy.
In so doing, it would be easy to monitor and regulate and would go a long way in addressing the existing public safety risks.
Similarly, the pervasiveness of the threats posed by existing regulatory gaps require multi-sectoral remedies.
By so doing, this will certainly go a long way in reducing impunity and risk taking behaviours prevalent in the industry.
Thus, the need for a comprehensive policy framework regarding registration, regulation and monitoring of the boda boda industry cannot be gainsaid and is long overdue.
The author is a Diplomacy and Communication Consultant, Kinyuru Munuhe