Boda boda riders across the country are rational beings, like all of us. They wake up in the morning, get on to their motorbikes and head to their workstations. They are in business like anyone of us. At the end of the day they head back home with or without some business transacted, again like it happens to any other businessperson. Not all days are productive.
Boda boda riders contribute to nation building like any other Kenyan regardless of social status. They pay taxes, they vote, they attend public participation forums in their locale. They are active citizens.
That boda boda riders are at the lower spectrum of economic mobility does not give them a licence to stop thinking rationally. As long as they are in charge of their faculties, rationality is a shared human capacity to make decisions.
People don’t stop thinking rationally just because they are sinking deeper into poverty. The hardships of life can make one angrier, rougher, unfriendly or aggressive but that does not take away their capacity to think rationally.
The challenge we face with boda boda riders is when they lose their individual identities to a destructive collective identity. As individuals, each rider is a rational being who makes sound decisions. Each rider will not harass or attack other road users. As an individual, each rider knows social rules and respects the rights of others.
Moreover, God has given unto each human being a conscience to decide what is right from wrong. Relating with people around us positively is a choice we make every day. Be it at our workstations, on the way or even at home, we have to choose consciously to relate in morally acceptable manner.
Acting morally does not depend on how much wealth (or lack of it) one has. To do the right thing is within every normal human being.
Boda boda riders should not ride on group thinking to generate herd behaviour. Following others to do things that one cannot do as an individual is riding on the decisions of others to ignore personal responsibility in making decisions. The truth is we chose to interpret other people’s behaviour. We can choose to do this even when a group is surging in a direction morally unacceptable.
The government has taken measures to ensure boda boda riders are law-abiding citizens. One way to do this is not just structure the sector through policy. It is also necessary to roll out a robust programme to educate the riders on personal integrity, personal responsibility and risks associated with groupthink. Laws alone may not prick the minds of the riders who think that we live in a class society where the well to do are in that state at the expense of the poor.
In a capitalist society like ours, it is very easy for the unemployed and poor people to build the belief that they are condemned to be poor. An attitude of this kind is dangerous because when a situation for chaos presents itself people can vent their frustration on innocent hardworking people.
Besides, when people see no promising future they find pleasure in harassing others in order to draw some pleasure out of it. Psychologists call this the power of the situation. It enables one to do things such as dehumanising others that an individual would not do unless in a group.
It is critically important to go beyond the boda boda saccos, pushing them to obey the traffic rules and threatening them with punishments. What most of them need is education to know that life is not just about comparing self with others. The meaning of success and failure is skewed so much that a majority of the unemployment have this deep-seated self-pity.
The state and non-state actors should come strong in deconstructing herd behaviour with the boda boda riders. With electioneering peaking, some politicians are exploiting the poverty of the riders to generate fear among opponents. Let us stop it.
The writer is Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication.