Kisumu’s Diego Maradona keeping the spirit of ‘bicycle transport’ alive

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When Habert Asava quit his job as a security officer in 2005, he had a business idea in mind.

His Sh2, 100 salary could not sustain all his need and so he sought for a better place, the boda boda business.

Bicycle bodaboda business was one of the best income earning blue collar job.

The 45 year old originally from Bungoma could not be left behind in this then lucrative business.

I started the business in 2017 but the business has been going down more so after Covid

Lawrence Otiende

“At that time, the boda boda business was booming and so I joined,” said the father of three.

Initially, he earned about Sh800 a day.

But 17 years later, massive transition has occurred in the transport business.

Many of Asava’s former colleagues in the bicycle transport have moved to motorised forms of transport like tuktuk (motorised tricycles) and motorcycles.

These have provided more efficient forms of transport to the travelers who require faster and more convenient means of transport.

Asava has seen some of his former clients now ignore his services, and choose motorcycles.

This has greatly dented his income. He barely gets Sh200 on a good day.

Sometimes he gets as low as Sh100 a day.

But he is determined to keep alive the spirit of bicycle transport alive.

He chooses to continue waking up daily and get to town, hoping that he will get people who require his bicycle transport services.

Boda Boda

Bicycles have a long history.

Historians trace the bicycles back to 1817 when a German aristocrat Calvon Drais invented a wooden tool machine.

The development of the machine took off in 1860’s when Pierre Michaux’s workshop moved to the United States where he obtained an improvement of the machine.

This new machine proved to be popular and were named bicycle in 1869.

Over the years, manufacturers have continued to improve the features and designs of bicycles as new technologies emerge.

Asava bought his bicycle at Sh3, 500 from a friend.

Being a soccer fan, he named it Diego after popular Argentine football player Diego Maradona.

“A unique name is one of the ways of getting customers currently and I am known by many customers as Diego,” he narrates.

But even with the name, Asava has lost many customers over the years as the business is slowly going down.

Bicycles which came to be known as boda boda, dominated the short distance transport some years ago.

The business started in the early 1990’s in Western Kenya through Busia and spread to other towns in the country.

They became popular as a public transport option for any individual.

Boda-boda riders transported passengers, goods at the border and in the rural areas.

The name originated from Malaba in Busia border where Ugandans crossing the border did not understand Kiswahili language.

The only way to communicate with the riders was through shouting ‘ boda boda’ meaning take us to the border.

The business evolved since then including both bicycles and motorcycles taxis which eased transportation of commuters.

Tough times

Asava however says the motorcycles have taken over the industry.

“Since motorcycles came in our business has gone down, most customers prefer them to us because they are fast,” said Asava.

The riders only make huge profits when there are motorcycle and matatu crack downs, when he can take home up to Sh3,000 a day.

“When there are inspection and traffic jams in the CBD, we take over the business and earn a lot,” he said.

We draw closer to the Central Business District, here we find Laurence Otiende.

He is seated on his ‘German Machine’ as he calls it waiting for the next available customer.

Since motorcycles came in our business has gone down, most customers prefer them to us because they are fast

Asava

The machine is branded KBR (Kibuye Boda Boda Route) Akenya Ratego.

He has been in the business for five years and the story is the same.

“I started the business in 2017 but the business has been going down more so after Covid,” he said.

Unlike Asava who started the business with Sh5000, Otiende started his with Sh11,000.

Just like his friends, he say, his dream is to own a motorbike in future to help him sustain his family.

“The economy is tough right now and getting customers is even getting harder, I would wish to upgrade and own a motorbike so that I can support my family,” he said.

Saccos

Otiende blamed their saccos for not representing well and enabling them access loans.

“The Saccos are no longer operating like before, the management is poor and many of us had to withdraw from them,” he said.

“We could not trust the treasurers and chairman with our money,” he furthered.

With the tough economic times the bicycle riders are now pleading with the members of the public to consider them while looking for means of transport.

The government should look into the economy and reduce the price of basic commodities as it contributes to the challenges they face with customers

Otiende

“We are also flexible we can move to all parts of this town kindly consider us,” Otiende pleaded.

He added; “The government should look into the economy and reduce the price of basic commodities as it contributes to the challenges they face with customers.”

According to research conducted in March by Car and General firm, boda boda business contributes Sh1 billion annually to the Kenya’s economy.

“Each rider makes Sh1000 per day from an average of 15 riders translating to a daily income of Sh1 billion,” says the report.

It supports about 10 percent of the country’s population.

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