The boda-boda business in Kenya is dominated by men. However, one woman in Kitengela, Kajiado County, has beaten the odds and embraced the business to earn a living and realise her ambitions in life. Esther Wanjiru Makhanu says she learnt how to operate a motorbike out of frustrations from a rider she had hired.
“I took out a loan about four years ago and bought a motorbike to bring in extra income. I then hired a young man to operate the bike for me as I was a hotelier at the time and all he had to do was bring in Ksh300 per day to help with offsetting the loan,” she says.
Esther says the rider frustrated her as he often switched off his phone and hardly brought back any income. When the rider could not pay the amount, she decided to keep the bike in her house. She took a mobile app loan of Ksh20,000 and paid off the loan arrears.
She then decided to learn how to ride the motorbike. “I learnt how to ride through my good friend Titus and went to driving school to get the motorbike license,” she said.
Esther then used her bike to commute from her house to her work station, the warmed slowly into the boda-boda business. Unfortunately, she was involved in an accident, breaking her leg. “The doctor told me to quit but I refused. The joy I got from riding was unique and the money I was making was quite decent,” she says.
When she recovered, Esther went back to her motorbike but was involved in another accident keeping her off work for six months. The setbacks did not dampen her spirits, as she was determined to make it in the business.
Her customer base is made up mainly of women as they feel more safe and secure with her. Being in a male-dominated industry Esther says she encounters many challenges but strives on as the money she makes helps pay the bills.
“There was a day a police officer roughed me up! He thought I was a man and by the time he looked at me and saw that I was a woman the damage had already been done. I felt really ashamed that day but it only made me stronger and toughened my resolve to keep going,” she said.
Another challenge came when she got into the business a few years ago was chauvinistic slurs from some men who felt that the job was only a reserve for them. She however developed a thick skin and such slurs no longer affect her.
Her colleagues describe her as hardworking and disciplined. “Working with Esther has been an awesome experience. Seeing her grow and the commitment she has to her work is inspiring and we give her the respect she deserves,” says Milton Ochieng, a fellow rider.
Esther’s business has grown tremendously and has seen her buy four more motorcycles, creating employment for others and increasing her revenues. The business has also seen her educate her four children. She urges women to join the boda-boda business and she is willing to mentor them.
The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) reported that there were 1,393,390 motorcycles registered in Kenya as of February 2018. However, the exact numbers of these motorcycles operating as ‘boda bodas’ in the country are not known and documented.
These motorcycle taxis have provided jobs to people across Kenya, in both rural and urban centres and consequently alleviated many from poverty and dependency. (KNA)