East Africa

Boda bodas are equally loved and despised, but they are necessary.

In the latest in our series of letters from African writers, Kenyan broadcaster Waihiga Mwaura reflects on the latest alleged outrage perpetrated by motorbike taxi drivers and wonders why it seems so difficult to take action against them.

Motorbike taxis, also known as boda-bodas, are a common sight in Kenya’s capital.

You might first notice something in the mirror – the familiar glow of the hi-viz jacket or a bright yellow helmet – as the engine pitch changes as the driver accelerates. Then they’re all around you – close to your car’s side, darting in front, crossing your path.

If your car is hit, they may go before you can challenge them – or, worse, there may be a conflict.

It’s claimed to be a disagreement stemming from an accident and subsequent assault on a female automobile driver, which prompted the latest round of condemnation of the so-called boda-boda threat.

A widely-seen video of the event shows the woman crying for aid as she was stripped of her clothes and molested.

Arrests, condemnations, and requests for action to properly control the boda-boda sector have all been made.

However, this is a case of déjà vu in two senses. First, in the government’s determination to address violence against women, and second, in the government’s determination to address motorcycles.

The fact that the assault occurred so close to International Women’s Day served as a reminder that women in this city still don’t feel protected.

On Tuesday, there was a march with women holding signs with slogans like “hear me scream.”

However, this wasn’t the first time such a well-publicized incident had occurred.

Protesters gathered in Nairobi in 2014 to show their support for a woman who was allegedly beaten and stripped by a bunch of men because she was wearing a miniskirt.

Thousands of women marched behind a banner reading “My dress, my choice” during the protest.

A minibus cab driver and his conductor were sentenced to death six years later for the assault.

However, this indignation is frequently limited to incidences captured on camera – there are numerous off-camera incidents that do not become viral and go unnoticed.

Indeed, it appears that the police only intervened until the video sparked outrage – three days after the crime.

This apparent lag could explain why some women believe that reports of assaults to the authorities are either not taken seriously or are not thoroughly investigated.

And when it comes to dealing with the motorcycle taxi sector, lawmakers have publicly demonstrated their usual commitment.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has ordered a nationwide crackdown on boda-boda businesses.

“We must defend our roadways from such disgusting and terrible activities,” said Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i.

But two years ago, he received a report from a taskforce formed to examine the business and promised to take action.

He established the boda-boda information management system in August 2020, with the goal of keeping records on all operators across the country and so bringing some rationality to the sector.

I’m not sure what happened to that.
And now he seems to be hinting at yet another taskforce, and another set of resolutions to act.

One of the challenges is that boda-bodas are a convenient, quick, and inexpensive way to go around for many people. Customers benefit from their services, and thousands of young men are employed.

In addition to a nationwide database, the research proposed that drivers get refresher training and testing.

There’s also the Rwandan approach, which mandates that every licensed driver be given with a GPS trackable smart meter.

Despite this, we are still in this predicament.

The issue of domestic violence against women, as well as the issue of the motorcycle taxi industry, are well-known.

The time for hand-wringing is surely passed, and now is the time to act.

However, I’m afraid we’ll have to wait. For the time being, I hope that the woman who was assaulted is surrounded by people who care about her and can assist her during what must be a difficult period.

 

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