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Boda Boda in Kenya: Economic Relief or Transport of Death?

The Boda Boda is a motorcycle used in Kenya as taxi transport. Although this has improved the socio-economic circumstances of some of the drivers, this has come at a price.

Boda bodas in Kenya:  economic relief or transport of death?

 Up to the end of 2007, the proportion of motorcycle crash victims made out 1% of Kenya’s annual crash victims.  All indications are that this proportion has grown exponentially.  This should not come as a surprise: the number of motorcycles in Kenya has grown from 3800 in 2005, to more than 90000 in 2009. Insurance companies in Kenya maintain that for the same distance travelled, the death rate for motorcyclists is about nine times more when compared to people travelling in a car.

In 2008 the government of Kenya removed tax on motorcycles to promote jobs in transport and some young people who joined this business have increased their earnings with 50%, using these as taxis.  Importing cheap motor cycles from China has added to the boom in motor cycle ownership.

The risk of death or injury to motor cycle drivers and passengers are quite high when compared to vehicle occupants.  This risk increases when motorcycle drivers and passengers do not wear protective gear and motor-cycle helmets.  People are aware of the risk, but still choose the boda boda as transport due to the ease with which these vehicles manoeuvre though congested urban traffic.  Compared to bicycle travel between towns, the boda boda is also much faster.

There are various social, economic and safety issues around boda bodas:

  • Even though it is against the law to carry more than one passenger, police turn a blind eye – a mother travelling with two children will not let them out of her sight on a separate motor cycle.  It is also much cheaper for all to travel on one motor cycle.
  • Not all drivers see the need for a helmet, although most would have at least one for themselves.
  • Many drivers have one extra helmet, but there is often more than one passenger.  Who should wear the helmet?
  • Where would the driver keep more than one extra helmet when on a trip – they don’t operate from any infrastructure but may be seen in gangs waiting for passengers next to the road.
  • Passengers do not necessarily want to wear a helmet worn so many times before by other people and see this as unhygienic.
  • Ladies do not want to spoil their hair-do with a helmet.
  • Women also feel it is inappropriate to hold onto the driver, often holding on to other parts of the motor cycle, causing the vehicle and themselves to be less secure and balanced.
  • There has been allegations of rape and sexual abuse by Boda Boda drivers in regard to female passengers.
  • The drivers themselves are at risk to be assaulted and robbed of their hard earned shillings.
  • Motorcycles are not well maintained, due to shortage of parts.  You may see that sometimes the front and back wheels do not even match.
  • Motorcycle riders and passengers usually do not have medical insurance.
  • Increasing competition implies that riders have to do more trips to maintain their income, contributing to fatigue and risky driving.

This situation shows how one decision taken in the economic realm, had an enormous impact on the health sector – where already it is estimated that road traffic injuries provide 60% of admissions in Kenya’s surgical wards.

It is also clear that the solution to the problem needs to be sought from different sectors and not dumped solely in the lap of traffic law enforcement officers.


Source: photos taken by author

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User Comments
  1. vijayanths

    On April 24, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Informative post.Brilliant pictures support the article so well.

  2. MaxBuceo

    On April 24, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I like this post. Interesting share.
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    Thank you

  3. Macherie

    On April 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    this is not a problem in Kenya only. Here in my country, people became quite innovative and added wings on motorcycle- its called habalhabal. it can carry as much as 8 passengers. Its scary, but its the only source of transportation when you go up the mountains.

  4. lapasan

    On April 25, 2011 at 12:50 am

    To reduce accidents boda boda motorcyles should not ply the thoroughfare or highway. They should only take interior routes less traveled by vehicles.


    On April 25, 2011 at 3:56 am

    nicely written

  6. Brewed Coffee

    On April 25, 2011 at 5:45 am

    I have heard of what Macherie was saying. It’s like a circus act, only it’s on a public road! This boda boda looks unsafe as well. I’d rather walk :-)

  7. Thespeakman

    On April 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    thank you for highlighting this

  8. Francois Hagnere

    On April 28, 2011 at 5:47 am

    What an interesting and so insightful post. thank you for sharing this.

  9. gaby7

    On May 3, 2011 at 6:19 am

    We have this boda boda phenomenon in Uganda too!

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