The rise of boda boda gangs
Boda Boda are motorcycle taxis, the most common mode of transport in East African countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.However, despite the benefits, the residents are worried about muggers following a string of news reports about violent motorcycle theft.Gangs of boda boda have seriously injured their victims and even killed some during the robberies, which usually occur at night in peripheral areas.Since most boda boda riders have heard the news, they have started thinking twice about accepting an order later than 10 p.m. It’s not like they don’t want the money, they just don’t want to get killed because, from what they hear, most gangs attacking riders commit their crimes around midnight. Even violent robbery happens in many crowded neighbourhoods whether in Kampala or Nairobi. Riders don’t want to go outside at night except if I really have to,’ a source familiar with crime trend in the region told your blogger.In Kampala, people usually feel safer in crowded neighborhoods like Kansanga, Nateete, Kawempe, because many local residents still hang out on the streets late into the night, giving a sense of security. Crimes usually happen in deserted areas where there are no people to come to help a victim.Ugandan Police annual report of 2015 said the that most gangs of violent vehicle thieves in Greater Kampala came from suburbs and were known on the streets very well by their victims. In comparison with other groups, the gangs was feared for not hesitating to use homemade firearms to attack their victims, report went on. The report noted that the group would attack their victims even if the victims did not fight back. Other groups only used their weapons if their victims fought back.
Ugandans have asked Ugandan police to tighten security in the suburbs to help minimise the crimes and although there are still many cases, police is doing a commendable job according to a friend who resides in Rubaga, an outskirt of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. Kampala Police statistics shows an improvement in 2015 that compared to 2014 actually had less violent crimes. However, police said the criminals had become more sadistic.In Kenya, violent motorcycle theft is less frequent, but their actions have become more sadistic too. Kenya Police recorded that in January this year alone there were over 200 motorcycle thefts in Greater Nairobi, most of them took place in South Nairobi, followed by Eastern Nairobi.According to figures available, the police had solved only 15% out of all cases reported and arrested only 6% of the perpetrators.No doubt Kenyan police need to be smarter than the criminals.The Kenyan Police is said to have formed a special team for every police precinct in each municipality to eradicate the crimes. With police headquarters in Nairobi dispatching additional officers from the intelligence and special crime unit to handle the crimes. The Tanzanian Police is focusing on eliminating motorcycle theft and in their recent report claimed they had arrested street muggers within this year and had shot some of them to death for trying to escape or fight back during the arrest. According to officials, the Tanzanian policemen do not hesitate to open fire if the perpetrators were being dangerous which has helped bring down such crimes in the country.Tanzanian police have also started doing a routine raid every night in outer areas of cities like Mwanza, Arusha, Dar Es Salaam and Mbeya between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.It is an undeniable fact that the streets are unsafe for Tanzanians at the point in some areas in the country’s major urban areas but which is by far better and safer than other East African countries.
According to available data, boda boda accidents have in the past few years become among the biggest killer in East African countries after cancer and HIV AIDS. Police data in 2014 showed a considerably high rate of boda boda accidents, with over 100,000 cases. However, traffic accidents are apparently not the sole determinant of our unsafe streets. There has been an upward trend lately of street violence by members of so-called ‘boda boda gangs’ in a number of urban areas. Such gangs attacks are nothing new in East African countries. A few years ago, they made headlines in the mainstream media for similar types of crimes attacking other motorcyclists and anyone who they saw as being against them. At the moment, the mainstream media has failed to specifically highlight the brutal recruitment process followed by motorcycle gang members who are even uploading video footage of the process online shot via their cell phones. A number of individuals, such as prospective candidate members, are subjected to torture as part of their recruitment. Now, the boda boda gangs have made headlines again through their violent acts. Only this time, the police and other related institutions need to think beyond the conventional approach of just arresting those involved in violence. It is time that they, including the general public, identify the root causes and find the solution. As widely reported, members of these gangs are mostly youngsters and high school students, energetic, emotionally unstable and having a strong solidarity with their peers. Arresting and imprisoning them will not be effective in preventing them from committing the same acts again. Worse, spending time behind bars, even if only for a short period, will give them more in-depth look into crime in a broader sense as they are directly exposed to criminals inside prison. Preventive measures and care for these individuals is perhaps a more intangible approach that will take a long time to bear fruit, but this approach is the key to a proper and long-term solution to the matter in East African region.