In 2007, Kenya exempted motorcycles below 250cc from a 16 percent value added tax to spur job creation. in September 2016 a 100 US dollars exercise tax imposed in December 2015 was also lifted following lobbying from dealers and manufacturers. Following this, the importation of motorcycles surged by about 80% by end of the year 2017. This has enabled thousands of youth who operate low cost motorbike taxis (Boda bodas) and delivery services to eke a decent living. In addition, many men and women have taken up riding as means of commute and travel as motorcycles are affordable and to cushion themselves from the worsening traffic gridlocks and rising fuel prices.
The motorcycle culture is now part of the Kenyan people and it is driving the economy as well as reducing crime contrary to what the society perceives. There were over 500,000 motorcycles in 2017 and we could have over 700,000 motorcycles in Kenya by now. The sector also drives fuel sales and contributes to the government kitty from taxes levied on fuels.
What aggrieves the lot of us is how the government and the private institutions alike, have turned riding into the most sore experience for bikers. There have been introduction of inhibitive bylaws. The illegality of these laws and the bureaucracy has extended to individuals now enacting their own “laws”. Doing business as a rider or simply owning a motorcycle for your personal use is now almost illegal in Nairobi and we fear this will spread to the rest of the country if not addressed. Whether you are a moto taxi, delivery rider or private biker, being a biker in Nairobi has become a nightmare. Just the other day the residents of Muthaiga decided to close the road joining Kiambu road and Limuru Road from Mobil Plaze to Muthaiga mini market. Their reason – insecurity!!!! How they justified that bikers were their only security threat is a mystery.
A quick perusal of the all bikers Facebook group African Motorcycle Diaries will bring up many gut-wrenching incidents experienced and narrated by bikers. From harassment in the Central Business District, to denied access to buildings and facilities parking. Some have even been denied access to their own homes. Just to sample a few of these irritating experiences. Read the most recent experience by one of us, Wakili Timam at one of the big NGO’s – Red Cross facility in South C. All private bikers take their first aid training with Red Cross but that has not aided in bikers getting the same treatment as vehicle owners. We would think that being their reliable customers, we would be accorded entry to the facility with our bikes and offered safe parking. Such treatment has also been received in some malls and office buildings. Private bikers use their bikes to avoid the traffic and save on fuel, it has been difficult to achieve this because (1) Motorcycles are not allowed in the city centre, (2) your office building will not allow you to park there and (3) some roads on your way to work could be inaccessible by motorcycles.
If you ride a small cc bike, you earn zero respect. On the contrary, If you ride a big bike and especially a white one, you earn respect because the public associates big bikes with Police. They only respected biker is a police.
Efforts from both commercial and private bikers to have these illegitimate laws reversed have bore no fruits. In 2015, the Boda Boda Riders, petitioned, the County Government, the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General through their petition number 521 of 2015 following the ban of motorcycles (Boda Boda) operators from centra business district effected on 11th November, 2015. While the ban categorically indicated “Boda Boda operators”, the officers from the county government and the police department don’t distinguish between the private bikers and Boda Boda operators and therefore, the implications were no bikes whether private or taxis are allowed in the city. While this has been legally challenged and argued based on the constitution rights of bikers and the mandate of the County Government, it is not in dispute that the Petitioners are engaged in taxi services which fall within the purview of ‘public transport’ and therefore should receive the same treatment and rights as their fellow public transport providers, matatus and taxis. The existing laws should also include means to differentiate between the Boda Boda and private bikers just like it is with public service vehicles and private vehicles.
On 1st August, 2015 both private and commercial riders took to the streets to protest the harassment from city council. Issues highlighted included, harassment, detention and extortion of bikers by city council, amendment of bylaws and provision of parking for bikes in the city centre. Five years later, the bikers community (both commercial and private) is still fighting for their rights.
The recent incident where Muthaiga residents were able to close a road and even have police put and man roadblocks to ensure no bike had access to the road has left the motorcycle sector appalled. Does this mean that those of us whose the only means of income and transport is motorcycles, need to rethink our investment and choices of transport? This does not only affect the riders but dealers and manufacturers alike.
A protest by private bikers to demand the opening of Muthaiga Road was held on 9th October 2020 and attracted the attention of the OCS at Muthaiga Police station. We hope that we can collectively come together to ask for what is rightfully ours – Fair treatment!!!!!