With the easing of trade restrictions, the motorcycling market in Kenya has been booming since the past decade. It was in 2007 when the Kenyan government first decided to waive its import taxes on the commodity and since then, there has been an unprecedented growth in Kenya’s motorcycling economy with a 79.2 percent increase in its imports in 2016. Compared to 2007, the number of registered motorcycles-also known as the boda bodas- in Kenya increased by 600 percent. Increasingly a common form of transportation both in the rural and urban areas of the country, the boda bodas have varied implications for the Kenyan economy.
One of the major benefits of boda bodas to the Kenyan economy is the improved efficiency in the transportation system. According to the report “Africa Two-Wheeler Market 2011-2012”, the relatively “inadequate and poorly developed” public transportation system in the East African country is the reason why motorcycle use in both rural alleyways and urban roads have increased. The increased supply and consequently, lowered prices helps with the popularity of the two-wheelers especially with its perks like quicker acceleration, better engine capacity and easy maintenance when compared to traditional cars. In the rural areas, motorcycles have also become farmers’ capital as many have started to use it to transport their agricultural products to multiple markets destinations, some even reaching European markets through collection points. The two-wheelers have also become a means of relief for many in villages as it “enables them to work as long as they want without worrying about how to get home” says the Kenya Boda Boda Association. As Diaz Olvera finds in his study, motorcycles have become an “essential to access to social amenities like health care, schools, education”.
More than the increased mobility of people and goods, the boda bodas are also contributing significantly to job creation within the economy, especially in rural areas. Among the youth, the boda bodas have become a popular choice of employment as many use their bikes to provide motorcycle taxi services in the villages. The market easing has also allowed the emergence of motorcycling assembly plants within the country. These assembly plants, apart from releasing at least 100,000 motorcycles every year, have also created 500 000 direct jobs in Kenya. Around $3.8 million income is generated daily and the industry has contributed more than $21.3 million to the economy.
Despite these benefits, the increasing use of boda bodas, particularly in rural villages, is also becoming a source of worry. Youth employment in the motorcycling business also implies that many of them, mostly boys, are skipping or not going to schools at all. As James Nyaga discusses in his research, school dropout cases have significantly increased in rural areas schools as teenagers are often attracted by the potential income from the boda boda business. This trend is almost inevitable as many of the young drivers influence their peers by the sheer number of their earnings. The rate of school dropout among the girls is not unaffected by the trend as well. There have been various reported cases of girls bring lured by free rides and handouts by their male peers and the increasing cases of underage marriage and unwanted pregnancies are yet another causes of worry.
Since motorcycles are still a new phenomenon in the country, laws and policies regarding the use of the them are still in a preliminary state. With the lack of proper, let alone stringent policies, the boda bodas can be used indiscriminately by anyone without any training or valid driving license. Many do go for informal trainings but with the accelerating number of road accidents, it is evident that these trainings are far from sufficient to ensure road safety of the drivers. Boda bodas accounted for about 20 percent of the total fatal accidents in Kenya in 2016. The already tight health sector budget of the economy is further being chocked as the number of patients from motorcycle accidents are taking up hospital beds and services.
Although job opportunities have allowed many unemployed youth to earn a living, boda boda related crimes are on rise. As reported by Securex Agencies Ltd., in just the three months since June of 2016, boda boda crimes accounted for 13 percent of the total cases of armed robberies and theft incidents. In the study by Nyaga, it was found that sometimes a “boda boda have been used in robbery incidences where they are used to transport stolen items or even to transport robbers”. This is especially true as number plates on boda bodas are hard to distinguish at a distance and can navigate in places where most cars cannot-making it a perfect means of escape.
Looking at the effects of boda bodas on the Kenyan economy, despite their benefits, there is, undeniably, an urgent need for public policies to ensure the safe and healthy use of the commodity, especially among the youth. The unrelenting popularity of the boda bodas among the youth is becoming an epidemic as youngsters are increasingly dropping out of schools to earn an income from this business. Road accidents and the contribution of the two-wheelers to the crimes like robbery and theft are yet, other matters of concern.
One of the suggestions is that authorities should create a user-friendlier curriculum in driving schools so that people with lower/primary education level, as many of the drivers are, are able to take the classes. He also suggests making driving school fees, especially for the youth, cheaper as it helps ensure the safety of people on the roads. Although these measures will help reduce boda boda related road accidents, policies to curb school dropout and crime rates are far from easy and need the most attention from the authorities.