From nightmare to sector success: Training boda boda operators is the key to a safer and more profitable future

Written by Erick Massawe, Country Manager, Watu Kenya

In Kenya, boda bodas have become more than just a means of transportation. They have evolved into the unsung heroes of our communities. Beyond ferrying people from one point to another, they play a vital role in delivering goods, contribute significantly to the economy and serve as a source of livelihood to many.

Boda bodas provide employment to thousands of Kenyans, especially the youth, some of whom may not have formal education or access to job opportunities. According to a report by the World Bank, the boda boda industry in Kenya employs an estimated 1.5 million people and contributes about KSh 202 billion ($1.8 billion) to the economy annually.

The enormity of the industry is demonstrated by its fuel consumption, which is estimated to be worth an astounding KSh 1 billion. By investing in the training of operators, we can ensure a safer and more orderly sector. This not only maximises the economic impact of the sector but also significantly contributes to the nation’s overall revenue.

Boda boda operations have expanded beyond transportation. They have transformed into legitimate businesses that generate income for their operators. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, over 1.2 million motorcycles were registered in Kenya in 2020, with a significant number of them being used for commercial purposes. However, there is still a gap when it comes to registration, regulation, monitoring, and the use of boda bodas as public service vehicle transport. This gap is a major cause for concern.

Professional training can instil a business mindset in the operators, emphasising the importance of professionalism, customer service, and adherence to industry standards. This can lead to increased profitability and financial stability for the operators. Training programmes elevate the professionalism of operators, attracting more people to join the sector, thereby creating additional job opportunities and contributing to the reduction of unemployment rates. Proper training enhances their ability to handle various types of cargo, making them even more valuable to the delivery world.

Beyond riding skills, training programmes emphasise the importance of forming self-help groups among the boda boda operators. These groups not only promote a sense of community but also encourage savings and financial discipline, cultivating personal development within the boda boda community. This helps to improve the operators’ living standards.

National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) statistics reveal a sobering truth—lives lost and multiple injuries resulting from road accidents involving bodabodas. The NTSA ranked motorcycles among the most dangerous modes of transport in 2023. According to data, boda bodas contributed to the high number of fatalities in 2022, recording 631 and 555 fatalities in 2023.

Therefore, professional training is needed as a proactive step towards reducing accidents, minimising the societal and economic impact on affected families, and fostering a safer transportation environment.

Kenya is currently at a crucial point where investing in the training of boda boda operators can lead to significant progress within the industry. Watu Credit, the company that owns Kenya’s first prefinanced one-of-a-kind school, WATU Shule, trains riders on how to use the road at a fee as low as KSh 300 per week. Currently, this service is only available in Nairobi and Mombasa, with plans to expand it in Nakuru, Kakamega, and other counties in the future.

Moreover, the school conducts road safety training sessions in collaboration with the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) and police teams to raise awareness about safety practices on the roads. During these sessions, they emphasise the rules and regulations that riders should follow, with the ultimate goal of improving safety in the sector.

In addition, the company has shown its commitment to safety by collaborating with the NTSA through the “Tujenge Msingi” programme. This initiative focuses on promoting road safety and asset ownership, and Watu assists its customers in transferring logbooks once they have completed their loan repayments.

Beyond mere riding proficiency, the programme strongly emphasises cultivating a culture of safety, underlined by the importance of regular health check-ups and a staunch discouragement of substance abuse. Additionally, it advocates for the formation of self-help groups among operators, recognising the potential of unity in driving both personal and collective development.

This holistic approach not only ensures safer roads but positions boda boda operators as key contributors to societal progress, with the capacity to quadruple the gains currently witnessed within the sector. In a nation where the hum of boda boda engines resonates as a pulse of urban life, this investment is not just in transportation but in the fabric of Kenya’s economic and communal vitality.

The transportation sector plays a vital role in our society’s progress. By unlocking the potential of this dynamic sector, we can achieve efficient transportation and create a truly progressive society. It is important to recognise the transformative power of training boda boda operators. This would improve road safety and contribute to the development of a more advanced and promising society. Encouraging boda riders to register with local Saccos and groups and obtain licensing is crucial to the government’s initiative.