Boda boda widows
Grim statistics from the National Transport and Safety Authority indicate 112 motorcyclists died in January this year. It was the highest in the different categories overtaking pedestrians who bear the brunt of road accidents the most. The riders have left behind widows, some too young, to fend for their families. A responsibility Eunice Akoth rues with every rising of the sun.
Three years ago, Akoth and her family were happy and optimistic about the future. They were not exactly rich but they were not complaining either.
Thanks to her husband’s boda boda business, they could afford three square meals a day and could clothe and educate their children. Then one morning, everything changed in the blink of an eye.
“As was his routine, he had dropped our children at school before starting his day’s work,” said Akoth.
He expected her husband, Edwin Onyango, to be home for lunch or to drop the children later in the evening. But that was not to be.
“I received a call from one of his friends who informed me that Onyango’s motorbike had been hit by a vehicle and he had been fatally wounded,” recounts Akoth who lives in Kisumu town.
That was 2018. Three years later, Akoth is yet to come to terms with the death of her husband who had been a boda boda operator for about 10 years.
Not only did Akoth, 29, lose her life’s companion and father of her children to the freak accident, her family lost its sole breadwinner.
Life has been anything but easy for the family and with one of her four children expected to join Form One in May, the situation can only get worse.
“Life has become extremely hard without him because he was the breadwinner,” says Akoth.
Although she has since started a hairdressing business, the income is hardly enough to meet all their needs.
As a result, they sometimes have to rely on friends to keep them going.
“I don’t make much from the salon. Sometimes I receive food donations from friends,” says Akoth.
Her situation is compounded by the fact she accommodates and pays school fees for a relative who is a secondary school student after a sponsor withdrew support because of the hardships occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Akoth’s story is a familiar one in virtually every part of Kenya where affordable motorcycles have in the past 15 years or so revolutionised transport.
But the two-wheelers have also come with their ugly side, prominent of which is the deaths of thousands of mostly young men in accidents, leaving behind widows and young children.
Last month, Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai put unruly boda boda operators on notice with a warning against the emerging culture of impunity and lawlessness that poses a grave risk to public safety and security.
Stung by the current upsurge of accidents and criminal activities, the police boss said he had noted recent incidences where victims of accidents which involve the riders have been assaulted and in other instances, their vehicles even set ablaze.
“I caution all boda boda riders and operators against such uncouth and uncivilised manner of addressing issues,” Mutyambai warned in a statement.
There have also been many crimes and killings associated with the motorbikes, including gruesome murders of boda boda operators. It was that kind of murder which ten years ago turned the life of Susan Wambui’s family upside down.
Wambui, 45, recounts how John Gichui, her boda boda rider husband, was killed together with a customer at Kangaita coffee plantation off Ruiru-Kwa Maiko road in May 2010.
“The killers bound them using ropes before strangling them and dumping their bodies in the coffee plantation,” recalls the mother of two who lives in Wataalam slum in Ruiru, Kiambu County.
Three days after they were killed, another boda boda operator found the abandoned motorbike, that Gichuhi had bought only three days before his death and the search for the missing men began.
“Their bodies were found near a river at Kangaita coffee plantation,” she said.
The disturbing images of her husband’s mutilated body are yet to be erased from Wambui’s mind a decade later.
Even more traumatising for her is that the killers have neither been arrested nor the
motive of the actions explained to her and her children.
“It is hard for me to imagine that his murderers are possibly alive and free,” she said. Gichui’s death drove his family into even deeper social misery.
Wambui, who ekes a living washing people’s clothes, says she struggles to raise the Sh3,000 rent for their one-roomed house in the slum, particularly following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Many are the times we go without food. We survive by God’s grace,” she says.
Wambui says her two children, one in Form Three and the other in Class Seven, are only in school because of bursaries and help from well-wishers.
If Wambui has had some closure of sorts in the knowledge that her husband was killed, Christine Wamaitha, who also lives in Ruiru has never known peace.
In February last year, life for the family could only get better. Her husband Lawrence Ndirangu Kimani, had just upgraded from a boda boda rider, to a taxi driver and the family’s income was expected to improve. A few days after Ndirangu took up the taxi job, he was hired by some people to take them to Naivasha. Ndirangu has never been seen since.
The vanishing of the man she described as a responsible father has visited misery and poverty to his family.
Wamaitha says that when her husband went missing, a business she was running collapsed, adding to the family’s woes.
To make ends meet, she occasionally enlists for the Kazi Mtaani, the government’s stimulus programme jobs.
She says the money from the work is too little to cater for all their needs, including paying rent for their two-bedroom home.
“I still hold on to the hope that my husband is alive despite the many theories and stories I have heard. Before he left, he was very happy because our first born was about to join boarding school,” she said.
In the same Kiambu County, another family is struggling to make ends meet after the breadwinner died four years ago in a motorbike accident.
Stella Wangari, a resident of Kiandutu slums in Thika says her husband was killed when his motorcycle, which was ferrying cabbages to a nearby market, was involved in an accident.
Wangari was left with the burden of bringing up their three children with earnings from her small green grocery.
“I’m doing my best to see to it that my children have a better future. For now, we have to live in Kiandutu because this is the only place we can afford,” she said.
Christine Nyangige Mbera, whose husband, Joseph Anyega died last year December 23 in a road accident along Kiamabundu- Menyinkwa road had just quit her salon job and was relying on the husband to take care of the family.
Anyega, 26, was involved in a head on collision accident with another boda boda and died on Christmas eve. He had promised to open another saloon for his wife through the savings he made from his meagre salary.
The father of two, Ian Memba, aged 10 and Joy Wanjiru, 3, joined the boda boda sector in 2010 after he completed standard 8. After ten years of hard work and struggle, Anyega finally bought his bike in January last year.
“He was the bread winner. Since I am jobless, I have been forced to depend on my mother-in-law, Teresa Wanjiru for all the support,” Nyangige, 29, told People Daily at her home in Bomwancha village, Bonchari constituency, Kisii South sub county.
She said life has become intolerable as she struggles to feed her children. She also appeals to well-wishers to support her with funds to enable her to start a salon business to eke a living and support her family.
“I never expected that my husband could die that abruptly. He was not in a savings and credit cooperative (Sacco) society and neither did she left any money with me to invest in a business,” Nyangige, who dropped out of school in Form Three told the People Daily.
Catherine Muya Ragira, whose husband died at home after a short illness as a result of being exposed to cold that caused him pneumonia at Riamakora village, Bogiakumu sub location in Kisii South Sub County is yet to come to terms with the death of her husband. Muya, 24, says her husband, Chrisantus Ragira Momanyi, 29 celebrated Christmas with the family at home before he fell sick on December 28 and died on the same day at around 3.p.m.
“We had lunch together and read the Bible. He started vomiting and efforts for a nurse whom we called to resuscitate him were futile,” Muya said.
She said Ragira had planned to start her business venture in chicken feed and dairy meal. Ragira had asked Muya and his father, Richard Momanyi to search for a wholesale shop from where they could buy the chicken feed and dairy meal.
Muya, flanked by mother-in-law Mary Kemunto and father-in-law, Momanyi during the interview, said she needed funds to start a business to enable her to support her two-year-old child, Stephen Nyakina Ragira.
“Life is hard. He never disclosed whether he had saved any money,” Muya said.
In Molo town, Rahab Nyambura has been forced to venture into the business of selling charcoal after her husband Samuel Githuku, died after he lost control of his motorbike and landed in a ditch along the Molo-Kuresoi road in 2019. She was left with four children aged between 16 and six years to take care of. Kenya ushered in higher motorcycle imports in 2008 when it zero-rated import duty to create jobs for the rising youthful population which witnessed 51,412 motorcycles registered up
from the previous year’s 16,293.
While Joseph Odhiambo is lucky to be alive, he lost a means of making a livelihood after a motorbike accident four years ago left him crippled.
Odhiambo, who narrowly escaped with his life, had to undergo a head surgery after he injured his skull in the Kisumu-Nairobi Highway accident. He was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
His hands were also operated on, but have, unfortunately, not regained their full functioning.
“I have no source of income and my condition cannot allow me to work and earn a living,” says Odhiambo who lives in Manyatta slum in Kisumu.
To make matters worse, his wife ran away a year ago.
The 38-year-old father now depends on his son, a Form Four leaver who is a cabbage vendor, and contributions from friends. He has not fully healed from the surgery wounds and has to go for check-up twice a week. Odhiambo warns boda boda operators against ignoring traffic rules.
“I learnt a lesson on the importance of wearing a helmet. The magnitude of the damage on my head could have been lessened if I had had a helmet on,” says Odhiambo.
Latest statistics from the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) show the low-cost motorcycles now kill more people than vehicles with 1,421 riders and pillion passengers having died in 2019 compared to 1,049 drivers and passengers who lost their lives from motor vehicle-related deaths over the same period.
By January 26 2020, 89 motorcycle riders had died in accidents, compared to 59 by the same time the previous year.
A survey conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed that some boda boda riders in Nairobi could make up to Sh2,000 to Sh3,000 a day while those leasing out the motorbikes demand a minimum Sh300 per unit.
The tidy earnings are irresistible to many unemployed youths—most of whom learn on-the-job. This has opened the unrecognised sector to a myriad of challenges from reckless road behaviour that is now blamed for rising medical costs on the treatment of motorcycle accident victims.
Major hospitals have since set up trauma centres to accommodate the rising number of seriously injured riders and pillion passengers further denting Kenya’s health budget.
According to statistics released by the National Crime Research the riders are involved in various crimes, the most prevalent ones being causing death by dangerous riding 79.5 per cent; general stealing 76.7 per cent; breach of public order and creating disturbance 66.2 per cent; theft of motorcycle and motorbikes parts
62.9 per cent ; assault 57 per cent; robbery and robbery with violence 52.9 per cent and riding under influence of alcohol 52.7 per cent.
Other crimes committed by boda boda include murder 38.7 per cent; kidnapping and abduction 26.2 per cent, bribery 23.1 per cent, defilement 17.8 per cent and rape 17.2 per cent.