Kenya: Youths Ride Bikes to Early Graves After Selling Off Inheritance

16 September 2021

Hassan Gurka still mourns his son Yusuf Gurka, who died in a grisly motorbike accident in Garsen about a year ago.

The 20-year-old was speeding allegedly while intoxicated when a donkey suddenly appeared on the road from the nearby bush.

"He tried to avoid hitting the donkey but unfortunately rammed into an oncoming truck. He was pronounced dead at the scene," Mr Gurka recounts.

The young man, his father said, had disagreed with him a few months before his death when he demanded to be given part of the family land as inheritance.

He had hoped to sell it and buy a motorcycle.

He had made the demand for more than six months before his father caved and divided the land among his three sons.

"When he told me he wanted to sell it and get a motorbike, I refused to hand over the land," Mr Gurka narrates.

"For six months, he never gave us peace at home but I gave in and divided the land and he immediately sold it to a relative and in 48 hours, he arrived home with a new motorbike."

Mr Gurka doesn't know how much his son sold the land for, saying the sale wasn't transparent.

After buying the motorbike, he left home and settled in Garsen, where he lived with a friend, who was also in the boda boda business.

"Most of his schoolmates were there. They had trained him to ride a motorcycle and he thought the town had more business than the village, so he left without my blessings," he says.

He notes that Yusuf would only come to see his mother every few weeks, leaving her with shopping and a bunch of khat for him.

But Mr Gurka kept persuading him to quit the business and pursue better things or even join a technical school to acquire more skills, but all his efforts landed on deaf ears.

"What surprised me is how anyone can sell his inheritance to invest in a boda boda business," he says.

Yusuf crashed his motorcycle just seven months after acquiring it, leaving the family with unbearable pain.

The wreckage still sits at the Garsen Police Station and Mr Gurka says he cannot pick it up as it holds bad memories for the family.

Yusuf's case represents dozens of young people in Garsen who have been either killed or maimed in motorbike accidents while driving under the influence of drugs.

Married his girlfriend

It also represents many young people who have abandoned formal education for the boda boda business.

Like his mates, Ismail Berhe, dropped out of college and had sold part of his father's land to purchase a motorbike for business and married his girlfriend.

The family confronted him and took the case to court, and two years later, he has no land, no bike, and legal troubles on his head.

In Tana River, investors have also taken advantage of the situation to buy land at low prices as young people rush to buy motorbikes, which they believe provide a quick way to earn an income.

The youths can sell land worth Sh350,000 for as low as Sh90,000 to Sh150,000 for second-hand bikes, and some go for brand-new motorbikes.

For those buying bikes with loans, they give an acre of land to banks and shylocks as security for Sh130,000.

But the gains are not worth the investment, as at the end of the day, the riders fetch a maximum of Sh500, and sometimes they go home with just Sh100, meaning they fail to pay back the loans and the land is taken by the lenders.

Metal staked in his knee

As for the indebted, sometimes they have to borrow money from colleagues for the weekly payments to lenders.

In Chewani village, Mohammed Jilo has a metal staked in his knee. He has a steady walk, and his sitting posture defines his struggles.

In November 2019, the 22-year-old escaped death by a whisker in a head-on collision that resulted in the death of his passenger.

"We were both speeding. I was heading straight into Hola town while the other guy, with his wife, was coming from the junction side of Hola. I don't know what happened next. All I remember was finding myself in Malindi Hospital," he narrates.

He knew his moment on earth had come to an end, but fortunately for him, he only suffered a fractured limb and two broken ribs. His passenger and the man and his wife died in the accident.

Tana River Chamber of Commerce and Industry official Hassan Barisa thinks all these can be averted if the county government could put to action the Inuka Fund and other youth incentives towards the enterprise.

The youth, he says, need affordable loans to venture into business.

"This problem will persist until there is political goodwill to ensure the youth are properly guided and supported to start viable businesses," he says.

Tana River County police Commander Emmanuel Mwaringa says cases of young people in the region demanding land from parents and elders are on the rise.

He notes that the youth sell land to venture into the boda boda business and when it fails, they go back home to cause chaos for more land to sell.

"We have such cases. Elders and parents are complaining. The same youth have been put in groupings and are being used to cause chaos against land committees," he says.

There is no doubt that the boda boda business is thriving, and not just in Tana River.

Data indicates that the industry employs nearly 70 percent of young people who have finished either Form Four or college or who have dropped out of school.

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