I have a scar on my right shin from trying to start a crappy motorcycle that I stalled out in the mud. There’s kind of an art to gracefully negotiating sub-par motorcycles on the goat paths and rutted hills of Kuria West, an art that I am better off leaving to other people, like the boda boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers.

There are boda boda drivers everywhere, zipping along the roads between villages or massed along the junctions of main roads while waiting for passengers. Apparently this is a newer phenomenon, motorcycle taxis became common only a few years ago but there is thriving demand and good money to be made. It is a great income-generating option for young men, especially for those who didn’t finish secondary school. Because they don’t have money, most taxi drivers don’t own their motorcycles but pay fairly steep rent (Ksh.2,000-2,500 a week, equivalent to almost a week’s worth of pay for a day laborer). But despite this expense, a decent passenger load can bring in thousands of shillings in weekly income. 

The amount of money a boda driver pays weekly in rent could buy a motorcycle in 8 months. What if someone could loan the money to a responsible, time-tested boda boda driver, charge reasonable interest, and receive weekly repayments equivalent to the cost of renting a motorcycle? Nuru likes What If’s.

The CED Program’s motorcycle loan pilot run began in mid-September. We started with 4 of our most reliable, hardworking boda drivers. They have worked with Nuru for a long time and will guarantee each other’s loan payments. True to our savings-based model, we are requiring a minimum period of weekly saving, to build trust within the group, provide training, and mimic timely loan repayment.

It will be a risky loan product. The market for this loan will be big, but boda boda drivers are typically not the most outstanding characters of the community. More often than not, they are horrible drivers and mild-to-moderate extortionists. Most do not have licenses and are driving barely-functioning motorcycles. They are vulnerable to robbery. They are also easy cash flow for the police (Step 1: set up a blockade. Step 2: stop every passing driver to check for license, insurance, and safety of vehicle condition. Step 3: receive bribes for above infractions).

Are we sure the return outweighs the risk? No, but it’s worth trying. Peter Benard Mwita represents the pilot group members, who have chosen the name “Light Group” in honor of Nuru. He is 22-years old, with a wife and infant son. He is a skilled driver, has learned how to deftly repair motorcycles, and has developed an intuition for which roads have police raids lying in wait or which passenger might be trying to set him up to be robbed. He didn’t finish secondary school, but has natural financial planning ability; he has a small store along with his farming and taxi service. He loves learning American slang, and is known from Isibania to Kehancha by his boda boda “call sign”, Inspector Mwala. A loan would allow him to own a motorcycle in almost half the time that it would take him to save the money while paying motorcycle rent, even with interest.

Our pilot group members are proven individuals. They are impressively self-taught driver-mechanic-businessmen and if the pilot works, we will design the loan around finding or developing partners like them.