9 November 2018

Kenya: Nairobi Residents Suffer at Hands of Boda-Boda Riders, Askaris

If you think city matatu operators are rogue, you may not have encountered boda-boda riders in their worst element.

The riders have become the de facto manifestation of a chaotic city, where thuggery characterises everyday life on the streets.

For months, boda-boda riders have defied the county government's order to leave the central business district.

After they were kicked out of the city centre a few months ago, the riders have since bulldozed their way back. Only this time, they are prepared to fight with the city authorities.

Riding on a boda-boda is a convenient and quicker means to get to places across the capital. But perching on a motorbike these days is a frightful experience that could land you either in a county cell, hospital or even mortuary.

If lucky to escape these, bruises and knocks will serve as a reminder of the lawlessness. Otherwise you will be mugged by your rider.

ROAD SAFETY

But as Joel Kuria, a city resident says, you do not have to ride on a boda-boda to risk your life.

"You may duck a speeding motorbike, only to be knocked down by another riding on the wrong lane. Crossing the streets in Nairobi has never been harder," he said, adding that he would rather walk than take a bike.

Ms Mary Kalekye is hung up about the impatience of riders who do not wait for traffic to clear.

"They pick up passengers at any spot, whether a designated stop or not. I don't understand why they insist on riding on the wrong side of the road. Your safety as a passenger is not a priority for them and very few of them have an extra helmet for their customers," she told the Nation.

But to tackle the stubborn riders, the city authorities have resorted to a somewhat unconventional method.

CLASH

The new look of traffic law enforcement in Nairobi is quite nothing like you have seen before. It is a brand of brutes who assault riders and passengers alike.

The goons identify themselves as county workers, although they are normally dressed in civilian clothes.

Brutality is their tool of trade. But dispatching thuggish stewards to tackle the riders has only escalated the madness to such dangerous proportions that today, you cannot ride on a motorbike without the dread of being caught in the melee.

A typical day on the streets of Nairobi is marked by scuffles between county workers and the riders while trying to seize the motorbikes, often to the peril of passengers, pedestrians and other road users.

A spot check revealed the height of lawlessness that has taken over the city. Along University Way just outside the University of Nairobi, motorcyclists brazenly ride on the opposite lane, treacherously sidestepping oncoming vehicles.

ATTACK

On Tuesday morning, gangs posing as county askaris assaulted Citizen TV journalist Kimani Mbugua for filming them while brutalising a rider who was sprawled on the pavement along Tom Mboya Street.

Mr Mbugua, a traffic reporter, started recording the incident before a member of the gang spotted him and descended on him with blows and kicks.

The gang dragged him to a dark alley where they continued to molest him, confiscated his mobile phone and deleted the footage.

Not even after identifying himself as a journalist and flashing his work badge could save him from their cruelty. The gang seems to have the strong backing of the county.

"Who do you think you are? ... You are a journalist? ... We are not acting on our own ... These are the things we have been instructed to deal with," one was recorded as telling the victim amid blows.

A bloodied Mr Mbugua was later admitted to Nairobi Hospital with head and back injuries.

The county government acknowledged the incident and vowed to take firm action against the culprits. "We are also aware that individuals masquerade as county officials, and it is a challenge that is being addressed," a statement read. But three days later, no arrests have been made.

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