In the remote trading centre of Chesta in West Pokot County, many motorbikes labelled “Straight” are parked at a stage awaiting passengers while others are already ferrying passengers around the area.
Other operators crisscross the busy local market honking to attract passengers.
Across the road, some retail shops bear the same “Straight” label.
Formed in 2015, Straight Generation Youth Group, behind the names on the boda bodas and local shops, comprises reformed cattle rustlers who want to shun their crooked ways to earn money the “clean, straight way”.
Now, the group earns an impressive Sh7.2 million annually from their businesses and they have no plans to stop.
The group has an office at Chesta and has inspired others in the region with a hive of activity.
The youths are from areas that used to be rustling hotspots like Masol, Koshelei, Koritich, Wei Wei and Takaiywa.
The group started with 36 members and now has 40, among them two women.
The young people started by being hired to operate motorbikes owned by other people for a monthly wage, which they used to raise Sh1,000 per member until it was enough to buy two motorbikes.
This revolving fund has now acquired 17 boda bodas for the group, three retail shops, two vehicles and a plot at Chesta.
The group says it now collects Sh20,000 daily, which translates to Sh600,000 monthly and a tidy sum of Sh7.2 million every year from its businesses.
Following the growth of their various businesses, members are now required to contribute Sh500 daily.
This increases the pool the group has, and with it, even bigger dreams.
The group wants to buy two new 14-seater matatus and save enough to build a hotel at the plot they acquired.
Organising members the way a deposit-taking sacco worked was the genius they needed to thrive, said group coordinator Julius Ng’olenyang Karimoi, a reformed rustler.
“We have now stopped drinking, taking miraa and engaging in other bad acts. The motto of the group is ‘forward ever, backward never’,” he said.
“Some of us had dropped out of school because our parents could not pay school fees for us, but now we are happy we can educate our own and make a decent living out of what we do.”
The group has officials who run its activities, elders who advise youths and religious leaders who offer spiritual guidance to members.
“We have meetings every week and save money according to the constitution of the group,” he said.
Members are now stable, with the businesses helping them put food on the table in an area that naturally does not support farming, said chairman Stanley Kiyada, also a reformed rustler.
“We save to support children with bursaries because our area is very dry and we cannot do farming. We want to support ourselves to change the narrative of poverty and hunger,” he said.
To complement their husbands’ business activities, wives of the boda boda operators have also started a parallel group of 25, where they engage in beadwork and other small businesses, modelled on the Straight group.
“Our husbands are now disciplined and there are no quarrels. The youths who had long hair have shaved and do not disturb people in town,” said Mama Rotich, a member of the women’s group.
“We sell traditional necklaces at Sh3,000, belts at Sh1,000, chains at Sh1,000 and hand pads at Sh100. We don’t lack salt and we participate in merry-go-rounds, which keeps money in our pockets.”
Jackson Peng’at, the patron of the group who is a former county secretary in the West Pokot County government, lauded the initiative that has helped bring peace to several hotspots on the volatile border of Turkana, West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet counties.
He said the youth group of people between the ages of 18 and 35 is unique and progressive, with a target now of about 500 members.
Their success story, he said, has inspired the entire county and they have even received invitations to extend the initiative to other places.
The group employs over 30 riders, who work for the owners of the motorcycles, he said.
“The group has helped to eradicate vices and cases of crime have reduced in the area. We are experiencing zero cattle raids in this area. The initiative has changed the face of this region and improved living standards,” he said.
“The youths have self-regulatory rules as they arrest and discipline those who misbehave by keeping a motorbike for some days. If one steals they follow up.”
He said the youths also engage in community work.
The bigger vision, he said, was to build a big hotel, open a bank and set up a commercial centre in the county.
Calling on the national government to help them in their vision, the group cited challenges such as poor roads that contribute to accidents and damage motorbikes.
“When it rains, side mirrors break and we use a lot of money to repair the motorbikes and then we miss taking food to our homes,” said Jackson Karikamoi, a boda boda rider employed by the group.