“We want to inform the public to beware of people pretending to be bodaboda riders who, instead of providing services, mug clients and take off with their valuables,” Bodaboda Association Chairman Kenneth Onyango. (January 2018)
“Today, anybody who needs criminals for hire seeks the services of bodaboda riders. During electioneering periods, majority of the goons for hire are from this lot,” Homa Bay County Commissioner Kassim Farah. (December 2017)
“Some of these bodaboda riders work with gangsters and organise crimes. We cannot risk allowing them to continue operating within the C.B.D,” Nairobi County City Hall Senior Inspector Peter Mbaya. (January 2018)
There’s no denying that the bodaboda industry in Kenya has come on in leaps and bounds since becoming popular in the border towns of Busia and Malaba well over a decade ago. The popularity of this quick mode of transport, particularly over shorter distances, has infiltrated cities and remote settlements in equal measure. With an estimated 500,000 motorcycles on the roads today and 14.5 million people riding bodabodas on a daily basis, riders are said to rake in a collective Ksh450 million on a daily basis.
However, the ease of acquisition of motorcycles coupled with lack of regulation of the industry has meant that the sector has been left vulnerable to criminal elements. The suggestion that the sector has been used by organized gangs as a front to cover up for their crime or to directly aid their activities has been floated in several parts of the country, particularly in recent weeks.
As per our database, 5% of the overall crime noted countrywide in the past six months involved the use of motorcycles or bodaboda operators themselves. This mainly involved the targeting of bodaboda riders for their motorcycles, thugs using motorbikes as getaway vehicles, bodaboda operators turning on their passengers (theft and rape/defilement), riots by operators and riders taking the law into their own hands (mob justice and arson).
This hit a particular high in November 2017, when 8% of the crime noted outside Nairobi involved the use of bodabodas. This crime has been linked to the deaths of at least 86 people (including suspected criminals), with 23 being injured and a further 22 suspects taken into custody.
Areas that were more prone to this activity include Kisauni, Mombasa County, Karen and parts of Eastlands in Nairobi, and parts of Kisumu County. Areas like Gilgil, Kaptembwo and Molo in Nakuru County, parts of Kakamega and Homabay Counties as well as Embu have also been susceptible to crime involving bodabodas over the past six months.
The authorities’ reactions to this menace has been telling. In Nairobi for instance, the county government banned bodaboda operations within the Central Business District, with riders advised to make use of alternatives such as Uhuru Park and Ngara.
An 8 pm curfew was slapped on bodaboda riders in Homa Bay County after unruly riders assaulted a bus driver and torched a bus valued at Ksh12 million in December.
Meanwhile, in Meru, authorities announced a crackdown on bikes without registration plates or with defaced/illegible plates, which were reportedly used by thugs to snatch handbags and valuables from pedestrians.
In the nation’s capital, gun-toting criminals have in the past month plagued residential areas such as South B, Kawangware and Karen. In Karen in particular, this could be interpreted as a resurgence of a similar crime pattern that we noted in October 2017, where a gang on a motorbike gunned down two women in separate incidents along Miotoni and Warai Roads. Last month, a gang was credited with instigating at least five attacks in the area.
According to the Securex Senior Operations Manager John Ogutu, residents would be well-advised to stay alert, particularly as dusk approaches, and avoid carrying around valuables that attract unwanted attention from opportunistic thugs if possible.
“More often than not, these thugs prefer to strike either late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. Given that most incidents are opportunistic, they watch out for cues that would indicate a huge windfall for them, such as an individual carrying laptop bag,” Mr. Ogutu said.
“Most attacks barely last a minute or two. If one is accosted, it would be wise to comply with the assailant’s demands. More often than not, they tend not to physically harm a victim who doesn’t resist,” he added.
One’s choice of bodaboda could also be the difference between staying safe and being part of an unfortunate statistic. As per Mr. Ogutu, one should prefer to have one particular, trusted rider as this helps to build trust.
“It would be preferable to have one trusted rider, as opposed to what most of us do today, which is either pick the closest bike or the cheapest. This would especially be helpful for those whose daily routines mean they have to arrive home late at night,” Mr. Ogutu noted.
In addition to this, Mr. Ogutu has touted for increased cooperation between bodaboda operators and security agencies as well as increased regulation of the sector to weed out the criminal elements within the industry.
“I believe that the industry’s reputation has been tarnished over the years due to a lack of regulation. At the moment, it is easy to hire motorbikes to perpetrate crime for instance,” Mr. Ogutu noted.
“The legitimate operators also need to collaborate with the police to ensure the gangs working within the industry are exposed. We noted such efforts in Thika and Nairobi being initiated after an upsurge of crime in the respective areas, and this is a step in the right direction,” Mr. Ogutu concluded.