Boda boda operators’ gang like behaviour linked to frustration, stress

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By Joseph Maina

A leading clinical psychologist says the recent incidents of bodaboda violence against bus operators are traceable to frustration and anger in the bodaboda community, who feel downtrodden and therefore resort to mob psychology.

On December 10 last year, bodaboda operators in Homa Bay town torched a bus following an accident in which a bodaboda rider hit the bus from behind. The bus was stationary at the time of the hit, and some of its luggage was being removed when the motorcyclist rammed it from behind, sustaining injuries in the process.

His colleagues immediately attacked the bus driver, forcing him to flee, as they doused the vehicle in petrol and set it ablaze. Barely a month later, in Malindi, bodaboda operators set ablaze a Simba Coach bus after it collided with a motorcycle.

In the collision, which took place at Msabaha, the motorcycle rider died on the spot, prompting his colleagues to burn the vehicle. The angry riders reportedly pelted police with stones before burning the bus. “It is possible that some of the bodaboda operators feel that, since we don’t own cars, we are downtrodden.

“We are not taken seriously,” said Dr Geoffrey Wango, a clinical psychologist and Senior Lecturer at the University of Nairobi. Dr Wango spoke to Safari Njema in mid-January at his office at Gandhi Wing, at the university’s main campus.

“It’s important to start asking ourselves why the bodabodas do that, and the first reason is due to anger. In order to prove themselves, the first thing they do is form themselves into a gang. When you are under attack, you cluster. And so they become a power to reckon with, such that if you hit one of them, they all come after you,” Wango said. With such formidable solidarity, whose structure Dr Wango likens to the “comrade power” seen in student unions, the bodabodas form a voice to bargain for their rights against a society they perceive as haughty.

We asked Dr Wango to explain why bodabodas have been unleashing the violence against bus operators, who are by and large their colleagues in road transport. To explain this particular strain of violence, Dr Wango cites a psychological concept known as “horizontal violence.”

“Anger comes with fighting back, and it has something called horizontal violence. In our societies, we have tended to create two groups – the haves and the have-nots. The likes of the bodabodas are down there, and so they end up fighting those near them. Horizontal violence differs from vertical violence in that, when you talk about resistance among people who are oppressed, they usually fight up – and that is vertical violence.

But when you subject people to too much violence, anger and bitterness, they may resort to horizontal violence.” To illustrate horizontal violence, Dr Wango took us back to the events of last year, when violence erupted in some city neighborhoods such as Kawangware, with residents turning against each other and burning up property belonging to their neighbors. “These are people who live in Kawangware.

They didn’t fight their leaders; they fought among themselves. It’s horizontal violence – people fighting among themselves. You may fight your brother, but you are not fighting each other! Your father or mother may have offended one of you, and because of what you have been subjected to, you fight among yourselves, since the real oppressor is not within your reach.”

Other instances of horizontal violence, Dr Wango said, can be seen in prisons, particularly in America, where inmates unleash violence among themselves, when the real object of their anger is the authorities. There are also a lot of fights among blacks, in the face of perceived oppression by whites. In the case of bodabodas, they look at bus operators as peers, meaning the bus driver is practically at their socio-economic level.

“This driver is acting like he doesn’t recognize us, they say. So we need to fight him so he can notice us.” Out of the anger comes horizontal violence, which manifests stress. It actually shows that we are dealing with a stressed person, Dr Wango says.

Other areas of society demonstrating horizontal stress, besides neighborhoods like Kawangware, include the domestic scene, where wives and husbands have been reported as killing each other and killing their children. “These people are saying, ‘We are stressed, we are depressed, but we don’t know how to get out of our situation.’

Suicide and other forms of self-harm are another example. People are stressed, and this links with a report released last year which showed that many Kenyans are stressed.” ‘We are starting to reap the benefits of industrialization, where some people may feel left out of society. We can expect an escalation of such violent behavior, unless we change the attitudes of the bodaboda themselves,” Wango says.

He cites the case of Rwanda, where the law lays certain stringent demands, with hefty fines for violations. Further, our education, Dr Wango says, does not aim at personality and personality change, inculcating values in the learner.

Lack Sufficient 

Lack of sufficient representation and limited knowledge of road traffic regulations are among reasons cited or the high incidence of violence during or after an accident involving a boda boda operator, says the Boda boda Safety Association of Kenya.

In a document titled “Report on our programme to restructure the Boda boda Sector,” the association expresses its wish to work closely with government and other partners to provide road safety training to all riders. “The riders have never had a body that closely works with government in order to air out their grievances, they never had any legal body that clearly deals with their welfare in the country and they felt left out as youths,” says the report.

It laments that boda boda operators never get justice “even if they are not on the wrong side of the law,” adding that in most cases “car owners always bribe the police.” Others, the report adds, do not have insurance covers and those who have such cover do not pay them as most are just out to con them. “This makes riders more violent or run away after an accident scene.”

In a separate point, the report admits finding that many accidents result from inadequate training among their riders, as some did not attend driving schools. “Driving schools are expensive to most of them as many are very poor and others are just ignorant,” it reads in part. The report recommends that riders should come together and form saccos, as part of ways to enable the association have better oversight on its members, noting that it will institute the necessary mechanisms to allow for self-regulation.

Kevin Mubadi, the chair of the association, in a phone interview with Safari Njema emphasized the need for self- regulation, saying it is one effective way of regulating the industry and promoting professionalism and discipline among the over 800,000 riders in the country.

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