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.