Motorcycle taxi business popularly known as ‘boda boda’ is a thriving informal sector enterprise valued at billions of shillings and providing livelihood to five million Kenyans.
However, the chaos and impunity characterizing the sector undermine its long-term sustainability as an economic value driver. In particular, rogue elements in the sector pose a threat to national security and social stability.
To give context to this, the industry generated Sh212 billion in 2017, according to the Motorcycle Assemblers Association of Kenya, equivalent to that year’s total revenue of Safaricom, Kenya’s largest company.
It is now estimated that boda bodas collectively earn Sh980 million daily translating to Ksh 357 billion yearly. This is more than the cash transferred to all the 47 counties by the national government in the current fiscal year.
Extrapolated further, the tea industry earned Kenya Sh117 billion last year, tourism Ksh 164 billion and horticulture Sh142 billion. So, the total annual revenue of boda boda exceeds the combined earnings of tourism and horticulture. In short, boda boda is a huge sector of our economy on its own.
There are reportedly 1.2 million boda boda operators in the country majority of whom are young people, making it perhaps the largest youth-driven sector in the country.
Besides creating self-employment opportunities for youth, the sector supports an expansive sales and service ecosystem, creating more jobs.
The success of boda boda lies in being a creative solution for the transportation needs of urban and rural communities by providing convenient and affordable mobility for people and goods.
In spite of this positive impact on the economy and lives, the industry has acquired a bad reputation with operators blamed for escalating accidents and crime.
For instance, data by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) shows motorcycles were responsible for 1,400 deaths or 40 percent of road fatalities last year.
A 2018 report by the National Crime Research Center revealed the most prevalent boda boda related crimes to include causing death by dangerous riding, creating disturbance, robbery with violence, theft, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking.
To be fair, boda boda operators have themselves been victims of crimes like murder and robbery while working. Other challenges include harassment by police, lack of proper training and road safety skills. Many riders lack insurance are thus exposed to legal action in case of accidents.
To effectively resolve these issues, we need a re-engineering of the boda boda sector, to transform the attitudes and behavior of the riders by infusing a culture of discipline.
Perhaps, we should borrow a leaf from reforms in the matatu industry where the introduction of a Sacco-based model helped tame rampant chaos and impunity while enhancing regulation.
A similar approach would work for boda boda but with more emphasis on empowering our youth to harness the opportunities in the lucrative business. Tough regulations are not sufficient. A more youth-centric approach would yield better results.
This should happen at five levels. First, by entrenching a culture of savings and investment to encourage financial discipline among riders and make the sector more attractive to investors and other youth venturing into that space.
This is why the recently launched collective investment scheme for boda boda operators supported by the State and private sector represents a welcome shift to a more organized institutional framework to support the sector’s overall development. Such vehicles will also enable youth employed in the sector to gain better access to credit.
Second, investing in training and skills development will enhance road safety and improve relations between operators and the general public. Many operators lack formal training in entrepreneurship skills or customer service. Imparting such skills improves the overall sustainability and safety of the sector.
In this regard, the involvement of the National Youth Service in training boda boda in road safety will not only instill greater discipline among our youth but also help weed out criminal elements and reduce accidents.
Third, we need to promote self-regulation in taming lawlessness in the sector. Self-regulation encourages voluntary participation as opposed to a coercive approach which only fuels resistance and conflict between operators and the law enforcement agencies. Of course, rules on licensing and operational safety must be formulated but stakeholders should be involved in the process.
Fourth, we need to integrate boda boda sector reforms into the national youth empowerment agenda. Majority of motorbike taxi operators are young people aged 18-35 years. This calls for a collaborative approach between State, private and civil sector players. Youth Enterprise Fund and other agencies involved in economic empowerment of our young people should play an active role in boda boda sector reforms.
Saccos and other formal, organized entities are the best avenue for partnering with the State in advancing the foregoing agenda since they act as an effective platform for mobilization, capacity building, licensing and regulation. This will also create a sense of youth ownership of the reform process.
Empowering our youth this way also ensures they do not fall prey to political manipulation especially during elections when boda bodas are used by unscrupulous politicians to cause mayhem and commit acts of violence against fellow citizens.
Mr. Murumba is the Managing Director of Impulso Kenya Limited (email@example.com)