New Ambition Puts SafeBoda Kenya Reboot On Track For Showdown

By  |  February 12, 2024

SafeBoda, the Uganda-based startup that gained ground with bike-hailing before adding other services, is marking its comeback to the Kenyan market after a three-year hiatus by rolling out its cab-hailing service, SafeCar, in the country for the first time.

In a move that signals its intent to compete in new arenas and replicate its success in its home country, SafeBoda, primarily known for motorcycle-hailing, is expanding its services to include both bike rides and car-hailing in Kenya. The move was unveiled in a blog post and on SafeBoda’s official X (formerly Twitter) account as SafeBoda Kenya resumed operations last week, weeks after announcing its imminent return.

Rob Sanford, CEO of SafeBoda, commented on the company’s relaunch in Nairobi, stating, “We are finally back in Nairobi, a city that holds a special place for SafeBoda. Our mission has always been to make transportation safer and more convenient for everyone, and with the launch of SafeCar, we are taking another step towards achieving that goal. Frida Mwaura, COO of SafeBoda, emphasised a commitment to safety.

This expansion sets the stage for heightened competition in the Kenyan market, pitting SafeBoda against established players such as Uber, Bolt, and Little Cab.

Early reviews of the SafeCar by local tech publication Tech-Space Africa suggest SafeCar charges markedly lower commissions (~17 percent) compared to other e-hailing platforms. Another feature that could woo drivers is the allowance of withdrawals at any time; a convenience yet unavailable on other platforms.

The SafeCar launch follows closely on the heels of SafeBoda’s decision to resume operations in Kenya, a move prompted by the easing of Covid-19 restrictions. The company had faced significant challenges during the pandemic-induced transport restrictions, including a prolonged curfew, which impacted its motorcycle-hailing business.

Originally launching in Nairobi in 2018, SafeBoda had quickly amassed a network of over 4,000 boda boda (motorcycle taxi) riders by offering competitive rates to attract customers and expand its market share. However, the company withdrew from the Kenyan market in November 2020 due to the unfavourable business environment.

During this period, SafeBoda also exited the Nigerian market in December 2022, opting to focus exclusively on Uganda. The company cited the economic challenges of bike-hailing in Nigeria for this decision. Whether SafeBoda will reconsider operations in Nigeria remains uncertain.

Since that initial departure from Kenya, the country’s e-mobility sector has witnessed growth, with some industry players incorporating electric-powered cars and bikes into their fleets. SafeBoda now faces the challenge of regaining market share while grappling with operational hurdles such as increased taxation.

With SafeCar potentially being the first salvo in an expanded suite of services that deepens adoption of SafeBoda’s wallet service in Kenya (encompassing deliveries, bill payments, and money transfers, among others, which has gained ground in Uganda), this reboot seems likely to be throw up a showdown of make or break proportions.

As SafeBoda re-enters the Kenyan market with its expanded services, the dynamics of the competitive landscape are poised for a shift, and the company’s ability to adapt to the evolving industry will be tested.

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