Looking back, I find my 20s very nostalgic. These years were glorious. Early to mid 20s - we are young, wild and free, at least I was. There’s little to bog you down, in terms of responsibilities. You are no longer subject to colonial high school rules. I’d meet and make lifelong friends in these years. I’d travel with friends across the country on a budget. Hitchhiking, sleeping rough - with nothing but ragged backpacks!
I’m presently in my 30s. My younger brother, Kimani, just hit his early 20s - caught up in that uncertain phase between high school and college. I’d say the heady 20s euphoria is no more. The youngster, an apt reflection of his peers, is always stressed - a step away from depression.
It’s distressing to watch someone distressed in his 20’s. My brother’s generation is caught up in the pursuit of money, business and ‘setting standards’. Growing up, my brother was bright in class. He’d a bubbly disposition, playfulness and a splash of mischief. Nowadays, he’s irritable and quick to anger.
I’d blame this sudden change on distress wrought by his foray into the Boda Boda business.
Immediately after school, he’d begged and cajoled our parent’s into purchasing a motorbike. Father was a little hesitant. He’d suggested grounded income generating activities he’d tried with me, and my elder brother after high school.
Well, Kimani didn’t find poultry farming to be his thing. In the end, his wish had prevailed. Last born kids always have their way, right? He’d acquired a motorbike, brand new.
The old man had agreed to the motorbike purchase halfheartedly. It was a costly venture, with little guarantee of return. He’d offered to partly finance it - and, my brother who would be the operator, would pay off the bike in instalments. In that case, the old man insisted - Kimani would be accountable, and ‘handle it like an actual business’.
One early morning, father and son travelled to town. They visited a motorcycle dealership with a financing package. The dealership was quite familiar - the duo knew offhead several lads who’d purchased their bikes via financing.
At the time, it didn’t occur to them that they didn’t know anyone who’d completed the payments, or progressed from that initial investment. That should have been the first red flag.
The dealership was packed. Father and son waited in the queue - moving from seat to seat. The reception room had a wide hallway leading to the building’s annex. Stacked against both walls down the long hallway, were hundreds of used motorbikes - chained together.
No one asked: Why do we have used motorbikes chained together in a banking hallway?
If someone had, though - the secret would still be kept under wraps. The firm’s twin go-downs were brimming with repossessed motorbikes.
Unfortunately, that’s the second red flag that father and son chose to ignore that day.
The Boda Boda industry is populated by utility bikes from the Chinese market. Motorbikes are categorised in relation to their function. There are sport bikes, cruiser bikes, trail bikes……utility bikes refer to economy-class motorbikes meant for passenger haulage business. They became a common feature on Kenyan roads after import tax was scrapped in around 2008.
Brand new utility motorbike prices range from Ksh100,000 to Ksh150,000. The brand that catches Kimani's attention, retails at Ksh130,000.
He learns of the financing deal. The terms didn't have any wriggle room.
A down payment of Ksh15,000. Then, a buyer had a choice for either daily or weekly payments. Father and his excited son Kimani examined the choices, but were stuck. None was easier. It was a case of the damned, either way.
The daily payment option called for Ksh400 paid on a daily basis to the lender’s account for a period of one year and three months. That means 455 days, with Ksh400 paid daily. The total amounts to Ksh182,000 in addition to the down payment fee of Ksh15,000. In this package, the bike would cost overall Ksh197,000.
That’s Ksh67,000 in interest, spread over 15 months.
The weekly payment showed the same figures. The only difference is that weekly payments meant seven daily payments in a single instalment. Little bro chose to sign the daily payment package. It seemed like the lesser evil.
I recall my brother riding home on a flashy new bike, like a triumphant war general returning from war.
Kimani’s first order of business was to pimp the bike to ‘market standards’. Off the showroom, a Boda Boda bike is pretty standard. It’s much like they do with a PSV Matatu van on importation. To attract and keep clients, they pimp - add some colour and comfort gadgets. Problem is, little brother didn’t have any cash to this end.
Kimani approaches a friend who runs a motorbike spare parts and accessories outlet. He asked for the services - on credit - to be paid as soon as the bike is in operation. No problem, he says.
The new bike got a new stereo, an assortment of colored lights. Apparently, clients adore a bike fitted with bright, blinking or is it blinding? lights. The dealer offers a ‘sand-blasting’ tank job - basically, a type of paper cover for the fuel tank and outer covers of the bike. This film offers custom abstract images printed to a client’s preferences.
My brother picked a Tupac Shakur themed print. The customisation package would cost Ksh7,500. That’s a further plunge into the abyss of debt.
He dived into the business with gusto, on the second day. The lessons started flowing in fast. Reality started to sink in.
By the end of the first week, my brother was deeper in debt. He hadn’t made a single payment to the lending firm, hadn’t paid for the bike’s upgrades and the old man was getting agitated. The pressure was almost tangible.
The Boda Boda business is quite legit, as proven by random individuals who’ve achieved success. The formula is quite simple.
One, join a savings Sacco, either singly - or, as part of a savings group. Cultivate discipline to strictly follow a daily savings plan. Discard creature comforts and seek to improve social skills to keep a steady clientele base. People skills - how do you relate with your clients?
Kimani has given up. He knows neither the day, nor the hour for the bike’s re-possession.