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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Criminals in our midst

I was doing a clean-up assessment on the articles I have posted on my blog and I was somehow surprised on how I have been such a bad critic and always finding fault with the Government. This may not have been my idea whenever I pick a pen to write something but I guess there is quite a lot of expectations from us and other Kenyans from those quarters.

I also notice how I have let my fellow workmates off the hook; and almost made everybody believe that we are a bunch of honest hardworking people earning their living in the wrong job; but this is not the whole story. Our industry is full of criminals thieves, pick-pockets, extortionist, sex offenders and you name it. The industry provides a perfect cover for those who prey on unsuspecting crowds.

There is this group that calls itself the Kamjeshi; their job description is not yet fully defined although they are part of everyday running of matatu business. This group is in every major route in the city and in almost every town across the country. There is no known connection between the groups, the matatu workers or even within their network. They obviously don’t have an overall leader unlike other sects that have interest in the industry. Each group is unique and restricted to individual route. The most interesting thing is that; they all operate almost the same.

There is no membership or allegiance to a certain code. Everybody earns his own take depending on the means they use to get the money. They don’t operate as group and in fact they don’t necessarily have to know each other.  The most you can find working as a team is 5-6 people. Some are pick-pockets, there are Phone snatchers and not forgetting the innocent.

The pick-pockets are the most common. They work in a group of 4-6 guys and are most tempting to conductors as they are ordinary passengers and pays full fare. They dress like college students and even carry back-packs and very large clipboards. They are most active during peak hours and end-months when the demand is higher than the supply and passengers are pushing to find space in the few seats available. Passengers don’t notice when their wallets leave their pockets and their handbags ransacked. Conductors also fall victims to these criminals although they are mostly blamed when the customers discover the losses.

The phone-snatchers don’t actually get inside the matatu but all the same they steal from the same. There are a few isolated cases of this group actually robbing the crew but many a time; they prey on passengers toying with their phone with the windows opened. They mostly run along the matatu and sometimes hang on bumpers pretending they are demanding something from the conductor. Sometimes an argument may ensure as the crew don’t have any idea what they want money for; and this provides them with an opportunity to grab every passengers attention and forget guarding their properties. This is when they snatch and run.

The mugger’s are the most vicious as their game plan is not only dangerous but also hurtful to the victims.  This group of mostly 5-7 guys boards the matatu like ordinary passengers and somewhere between, they pick-up argument with fellow passengers and starts fights inside the matatu. Before the driver knows what is happening, everybody in the car is screaming for him to stop and throw the fighters out. Once the driver stops the criminals pull’s their victim out of the car and continue to fight on the ground. Once the war-ing group is out of the car the other passengers demand to be taken to their destination leaving the muggers to mug one of their own.

I had mentioned the innocent; but to be honest they are as many as virgins in a maternity hospital. I don’t rule out the possibility of there being some just like there was Mary the mother of Jesus.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Matatu matters

 

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fourteen seater matatu here to stay.

Now I think I have a good reason to start building confidence in the Government; but I will not give any credit to the current transport minister because to start with; he was the one who caused this headache in the first place. I remember he had talked tough about facing out fourteen seaters and almost made we believe that he was actually going to send us home.  Perhaps he was hoping to win national recognition like the former minister but sorry for him; Kenyans have gotten used to such political strategies; and don’t seem to attract them much anymore. Somebody is awake and thanks to whoever is calling the shots especially in matters concerning the matatu industry. To be honest, the idea had put the lives of our passengers in great danger as the older the vehicles were getting the more risky they were becoming.

The previous threat by the minister has done more harm to investors especially those of simple hearts who rushed to dispose their investments at throw away prices fearing that the fourteen seaters days are over.  Now with the new measures in place, we know our jobs are safe and more new vehicles will arrive sooner. The anti-corruption officials must set their traps in the institutions mandated with the approval of licenses to prevent the well intended procedure from becoming another avenue for grand corruption. It would be a great embarrassment to the government.

 Another reason I feel the government deserve praise is how they handled the city-Kajo problem. I did not know when, where or even who said that the city council askalis no longer have the power to arrest anyone not unless they first seek assistance from the police but his is truly something worth writing home about. in the first week, we thought it was just a political propaganda by the city fathers to prepare us for the Elections but in reality, it wasn’t.

 I want to state here in this blog that we have seen real change. It is unbelievable that it took just the voice of one person to relieve all this pressure from our backs. The last one month has been quite a good one     especially for us drivers who have been the victims of this corrupt unit of the local government for a long time. I asked my fellow drivers what they think about the new measures and to be honest; majorities are pleased with the new directive.

Whenever we complained about harassment by the council askalis, many people failed to see the connection between people who are supposed to keep our city clean and people who transport passengers. But I know some of you might have tasted the wrath of this snakes that bite even when they have not been rattled.

 Our lives were turned upside down soon after the famous Michuki rules; although- kajo problem- was not part of the requirements back then; the general interpretation was that the matatu workers were responsible for causing chaos and lawlessness on our roads and thus they had to be stopped at any cost.

 Our rights as equal citizens were withdrawn and thanks to the old judicial system; we did not stand a chance in a court of law. Somebody with very high corruption instincts at the city council must have smelled a golden opportunity to make fast cash. To begin with, the city fathers hiked the parking fee,- soon after, they sent men and women in civilian clothes to chase any vehicle that had not applied for the new parking stickers;- they then started collecting twenty shillings from every matatu that entered Railways bus terminals;- from there they started arresting tout and demanding bribe claiming that the city by-laws prohibit shouting or even whistling.- Later came breakdowns and started towing away vehicles which had not complied.

 This must have made the breakthrough for the planners as there was very easy money. Towing a Nissan matatu; from Railways bus terminals to the city council parking yard a distance of not more than hundred meters would cost the investor 2500 Ksh; another 1.400 Ksh for yard fee and a fine of between 3.500 and 4 thousands at the City hall court.

 Today; judging with the changes we are seeing; I am expecting to see more strikes as civil servant wake up to the reality that the corruption days are over and the bribes they had banked on are getting smaller and smaller. Many of them are employed at a salary that cannot even afford to pay for the houses the live in. they signed contracts to work for a small salary HOPING TO TOP UP WITH the unclean money. Proof me wrong-; step up the fight against corruption in the police force and for the first time in Kenya, the cops will go on strike demanding better pay.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Matatu matters

 

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Matatus and their Role in Kenyan politics.

I was discussing Kenyan politics with a friend of mine from Malaysia and he asked me how Matatu industry affects or is affected by political situation in the country. I did not have a ready answer for that question as it had not crossed my mind before that Matatu industry could in fact, affect politics. I could have told him a lot of stories about how politics have affected our business but I took some time to think on how we could actually have affected politics.

Instead of telling him how corruption and by-laws and city council; this or that; has almost put us out of business. I found myself explaining how we have been useful to politician in building crowds and ensuring that their supporters go to the meetings as well as to the voting centers. I told him that due to our numbers we make communication and movement of persons easy, and create the ultimate space for advertisement. I explained to him how we are able to mobilize our fellow workmates and campaign for the candidate of our choice. He then asked me what part our industry played during the post election violence; and that really made me think again.

What part did we play in the PEV?  I know many would think that we played a major role seeing we are responsible for almost 80% of public transport in Kenya. I would think the same if I wasn’t in the industry back then but it was a different story. My mother told me it is rude to answer a question with a question but that’s exactly what I did to my friend from Malaysia. What part did American Airline play in the September 11th bombing? We were used and suffered for it. The attacker must have traveled hundreds of miles and from different locations to get to their targets and when they had done what they had come to do; we were left to take the victims to safer locations.

We watched in horror as passengers were dragged from our vehicles and assaulted because of their tribes, even most of our workmates; people we had worked with for many years also fell victims. Our travels were restricted to only the areas that had majority of our tribesmen. Those who dared or were caught in the prohibited areas have tales to tell. I told my friend we played the part of the Good Samaritan. My friend did not seem satisfied with my answer but nevertheless we moved to the other question. What have we done as a public services industry to promote peace and ensure that we will not be used again to aid criminal activities?

Have we done anything really? I am not very sure; but I want to believe somebody is looking unto it and will soon announce in the media. Perhaps we have a plan or maybe we don’t but either way- we have no problem inside our circles. As things stand right now, everybody is free to transport passengers anywhere in the republic without fear of who are the majority. The only problem that you might encounter on the way is probably traffic cops asking about TLB limitations.

What if we don’t have a plan and violence breaks out? Well; we will stop everybody on their tracks. But how? Grounding our vehicles will deny everybody movement. But wouldn’t that be cowardice?  It is I’m afraid. Not that we don’t want to help but what do you suggest? Well; we can do better than that if anybody with a better idea can use the space provided inside and outside our vehicles to promote any message that would make a difference.

His last question had nothing to do with the industry but all the same, he wanted to know from my own opinion, when I think the Elections should be held?  You can easily guess I did not say December because in actual fact; it’s the most important month in the matatu calendar. The only chance we get to go upcountry and hike the fares to compensate for all the losses we incurred over the year.  I would go for March as most people will vote at the towns they reside rather than spoil votes for forks in the villages. I would rather vote in Rongai than Kabete as I spend most of my time here.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2012 in Matatu matters

 

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IT’S OUR TIME TO BREATH

“If intelligence and reason must prevail, is it not more reasonable and intelligent to remain open and listening for the voice of God or for any other voice than to shut up the eyes and ears and not even allow that there might be voices to hear?”
Like i had said two years ago; history seems to be repeating itself. We are in the very same situation we were 9yrs ago. Everybody’s attention is now focused on the outcome of the petition. we are all eagerly waiting to reap the benefit that these new constitution comes with. and so far, it has been an entertaining drama on TV watching the learned friends play psychological mind game with our political sense; and it is working. I guess this is what leadership is all about. Just explain to us convincingly that we have every reason to believe that our government in good hands and leave everything else to us.
What i was saying about being in the same situation we were 9yrs ago has to do with the public transport. Our industry (matatu) has had to come through a very rough trend to finally reach where we are and thanks to millions of our faithful customers who have stuck with us. Our hearts goes out to those of our clients who lost their lives and hundrends who lost their jobs as a result of the transition that took place during the last transition of power from the second president to the forth and the introduction of the michuki rules. That was 9yrs ago.

For those who don’t know what era is called michuki, then this is how it all started. Soon after the NARC government came to power in 2003 after 24yrs of single party rule. Those who took power were determined to transform this country one of the areas they were to give more attention according to what they promised was to bring change in the transport sector and end corruption road carnage and other misgivings. But what came out of the much touted change was a whole new wave of high level corruption and gross human rights violation.
A traffic cop could flag down a 51 seater bus, check the tyres: they are okay. Check insurance sticker it’s valid. Check the driver’s license and its okay, he is in uniform; but unfortunately, he forgot to hang his portrait on the windscreen. Now that is very bad:, all the passengers had seek other means of transport to wherever they were going because the driver has been arrested and the bus has to be towed to the nearest police station. He would then be locked up at the police station until the following day when he will have his day in court.

Now these is where the trick was {and still is}; according to the laws that we operated under, once the judge has been told what you did,i.e- you are brought before the court and your charges read. The magistrate would give you only two options, it does not matter whether what you are charged with is true or not, you have to pay a bond or go to remand prison. e.i, once the charges has been read before a magistrate you are either remanded in custody, or given a bond that sometimes goes up to 20,000 depending on what the cop writes no the charge slip.
If you can’t raise the amount you will have to spend fourteen days at Nairobi industry-area remand prison. When you return to court after those two weeks the cop who arrested you fails to show up and you get another 14 days. Eventually, the cop will not show up, the judge will release you after some months.
The next time the same cop flags your matatu down you better give him what he wants or the same fate befalls you again.

Now with the signing to law of the new constitution and hopefuly a new government that is said to be a listening government, we the workers in the matatu industry stands to gain a lot, and perhaps turn these most hated career into a respected public service profession. There was not much if any in the political party’s manifesto. we don’t know what the new regime has in store for us. Nobody actuary knows; they talked about trains and modern roads but not anything touching on the matatu transport which either way, they will have to work with before the tracks are marked and railway lines laid.
Our hope is raised high by the new constitution; chapter 4. if fully implemented will completely cripple the cops from harassing us. Article 25: states that ,freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment will not be limited to any person despite any other provision in the constitution. Article 27 (b) further promises to give full effect to the realization of the rights guaranteed under these article. The state shall take measures including affirmative action designed to redress any disadvantage suffered by individual or groups because of past discrimination .

Our appeal to the new government is to protect us from those who abuse states power to harash and extort money from us. consider the bills brouht before you and see if they will be beneficial to us but not to be like government is to focus on building more and better roads and leave it to us (psv operators) to worry about getting Kenyans where they want to go, {though at times we take them where no one wants to go.}

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Matatu matters

 

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