Life on the Edge 2 | Biker Boys of Dirt Island

Boniface is trying to convince his friend Kama to turn straight and think about the future. But in a slum like Nairobi’s Korogocho, where life is lived on the edge, is his mission possible?

Boniface is one of the founders of the motorcycle boys, a team of young men who used to steal from their neighbours, but now drive them around Korogocho on their motorbikes, for a fee. Kama is one of their latest recruits� their arguments range from money and crime to a central question of slum rehabilitation: is it best to start upgrading the place or the people?

Says Boniface: “This place is the most insecure in Korogocho. There are many houses on the other side of Korogocho but there are more open spaces here. There are many dens, open houses, which the thugs use to conduct their businesses. They hide there without ever getting noticed. There are many people who have lost their lives on this very spot.”

henry_kamau_aka_kamaKorogocho is designed for crime, but there�s not much to steal here, so Kama searched for wealthier targets in the Nairobi city business district area.

He moved his operations to the posh parts of Westlands area in Nairobi, after joining a notorious vigilante group. He extorted money from minibus taxi owners, making a killing in profits.

The violence got to Kama. “I reflected upon my life when my friends got killed. I did not want to die without having a child. I met a girl named Ciku and we got a baby girl. Bridgit is her name. Ciku and I separated because I cheated on her.”

Boniface’s friend Mucina also saw most of his friends die on the streets before he became the original biker boy. “A friend of mine told me that he had a plan and we would make a lot of money. We stole from a supermarket in Murang’a town. We took almost 250,000 Kenya shillings.”

He ploughed the profits of crime into a legitimate business. “I bought an old motorbike with the money and set up at the stage. At first we were only two biker boys then the number increased to four operators. At first people weren�t comfortable with riding the bikes, but after we became many bike operators, they got used to it.”

Mucina and his crew of motorcycle boys provide much needed taxi services within Korogocho area. From four biker boys in the beginning, they have grown to 40, including Kama.

Every day, Mucina walks his kids to school in neighbouring Dandora estate, before going to work at the biker stage. He feels that the motorcycle boys have made a difference in Korogocho.

mucina“The introduction of bikes has upgraded this area because it was very insecure to walk at night,” he says. “Many people would be robbed but now that the bikes are operating at night people feel safe.”

The motorcycle club is helping Kama to change, but not everyone is completely sold on the idea. Khadija, a member of the Korogocho urban upgrading committee, feels that apart from the new road, which was built to increase security, a youth centre should also be built to solve the problem of crime.

Khadija is a member of the Korogocho urban upgrading committee.

“The youth centre is about linking the talents that the people of Korogocho have in business and then there will also be a mentoring process, from the centre, which will be acting as a coordination point. Maybe they can be driven away from the crime, the illicit alcohol they take.”

Urban upgrading has been successful in many parts of the world. In Kenya, urban upgrading has had a successful start in Kibera, the largest slum here. The plan is to upgrade Korogocho�s residents economically and socially after building infrastructure, so that residents can feel proud of Korogocho and own the process. But Kama is not yet sold on this idea.

“No matter what type of housing they intend to build here, this will forever remain a ghetto. Someone like me will rent a house here. We also have ghettos in Westlands area. On one side we have the rich and on the other side we have cheap houses made out of iron sheeting. Even if I become wealthy I will not move to middle class suburbs like Buruburu.”

Mucina has ideas on what is needed for the future. “In the new Korogocho, what we need are new buildings, durable ones. We need good roads too. So that we can have a crime-free estate. We need reforms in all areas. No drunkards, no drug abusers, good houses, security, and people having title deeds to show ownership of plots.”

Upgrading the world’s slums is an urgent issue that needs innovative approaches. And what if there are lessons to be learnt from the very people who live in these slums?

Boniface explains: “They should have asked our opinion on construction of those roads because they put huge bumps that are meant for motor vehicles but not for motor cycles. The youth are trying to support themselves and become independent so they need to receive some support.”

And Kama adds: “If you ask a child what they hope for in the future, you wouldn�t find anyone who’d tell you that they want to be poor. If I had my own bike you wouldn’t see me in Westlands or find me going to steal.”


‘Biker Boys of the Dirt Island’ was produced by tve‘s partner in Kenya – OnScreen Productions.

This programme is one of four ‘Life on the Edge’ films made as part of tve‘s ‘Five Years to Go’ project that focuses on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in sub-Saharan Africa, supported by the European Commission, UN-HABITAT, Oxfam Novib and UNFPA. Information on Kenya’s progress in meeting these goals can be found here.

The Millennium Development Goals recognize that slums are not anomalies of an urban landscape but rather, in many countries, slums house large proportions of the urban population and cannot be ignored. UN-HABITAT’s vision for Youth is directly related to the United Nations Millennium Declaration, focusing on the goals of member States to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020 (Target 11, Goal No. 7), and Target 10 which calls for the reduction by half of the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

Read here about UN-Habitat’s work on environmentally sound basic urban infrastructure and services. UNFPA’sState of the World Population Report 2007 on urban growth contains a section on Urban slums and the urban poor. UNFPA also published a 60-page Youth Supplement – Growing Up Urban.

The UN MDG Summit was held in New York from 20-22 September 2010.

Read here about life in Nairobi, and here about Korogocho and its people.

TAGS: development people & communities urban & rural

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