Monthly Archives: May 2012

Reluctant outlaw; the Aljazeera documentary.

Here; is the story as it ran on Aljazeera network in a television program called Witness.

Nairobi’s matatu drivers are generally despised and feared, but one driver dreams of beginning a new life.

Posted by on May 20, 2012 in Matatu matters



They just love to hate us.

Kenyan’s problems especially the violence that we witnessed five years ago was largely blamed on tribal differences. We all agreed that politicians were responsible for the violence and in-fact put some politicians on trial at the Hague. And like a good pain killer, the dose seemed to work and suppressed the pain we were experiencing for some times. Now; the disease that had caused the pain has started showing other symptoms. I don’t know whether to call it Classirism or Careerism but whatever the right name, there is another form of hatred that is sinking deeper among Kenyans and needs immediate address.

Earlier this week matatu operators in Ongata Rongai were violently attacked and a number of their vehicles were extensively damaged by stones throwing passengers who were protesting against increased fares. The passengers complained that the operators were overcharging them and decided to use violence to air their grievances. The bus owners who were mostly affected called the police but there was not much they could do since it was a mob thing and nobody was arrested. Majority could be heard complaining that matatu operators were evil people who should not be tolerated. They vowed to damage all Matatus plying route 125.

Came the following day and the buses resumed duty and took the passengers to work as usual but unlike the other days; they closed business early and many passengers were left stranded in the capital. The smaller Nissan Matatus hiked fares from the normal 80 Ksh pick hour price to 200 shillings. Majority of bus customers either walked the 21 kilometers or spent the night at the bus station since the Nissan operators could not hear anything about reducing fare. The animosity could be felt in the air as hundreds of passengers trekked home. The operators had put men all over the route to counter any attack from the mob and there was nothing they could do.

-This hatred toward certain group of professionals is not only seen with the passengers; I happen to take my Matatu for repair and general maintenance to Grogon Jua kali garage. On the way there I have to pass through Gikomba Mkt: This is also the base for hundreds of handcarts pushers who service most of the market; especially supplying tomatoes and other vegetables. mikokoteni are parked on the small stretch and Vehicles have to wait for traffic to ease on one side so that the other side can start moving. Whenever I go through this road, I start smelling the hostility Once I turn the corner after the petro station. Looking at the faces of bitter men who are not happy that you are driving through them smoking and playing reggae music; drinking soda in plastic bottle pretending you are working.

My crazy journalist mind sometimes tells me to test the waters and I intentionally make faces and shout to those blocking the road and then watch all of them swim near my window daring me to touch one of them and see my last day.

 Unafikili kuendesa ngari ninini? Jaribu kumnguza uone!!!. {This is a warning that any action of mine that may be translated into trying to harm anybody in the entire area will result in dire consequences.} The one who talks the loudest is the first to come to the defense. And because of his loud mouth, he calls attention of all the idle working mates. They come swarming like bees ready to deal with the enemy. Now I have the attention I wanted;- it is time to put things back to normal or risk a beating or even having the car burned. But I just won’t let them get away with it. I decide to see if the bitterness has to do with my career.

Kwa hivyo kwa sababu mimi siendesi mkoteteni mnakuja wote. Wacheni kipendereo ama ni ukabila? I challenge them pointing at our career differences; it’s a risky question but equally showing no fear on my part.

Nyinyi madereva wa matatu mnajifanyanga vile mmeona mbele; sababu ya hutu tu-ngari na hata zi zenu. Another angry handcart pusher adds his voice to the building up hostility. My conductor has started to see the possibility of a confrontation and he tries to speak but I silence him. I can handle this; I tell him.

Kama ni wewe uko na hii matatu unataka kwenda garage ungepitia wapi? { If it was you driving this matatu, where would you pass to go to the garage?} I ask the one who had talked about matatu drivers being proud.

Kwani Nairobi yote hii ndio barabara peke yake ina enda garage? He responds. I had guessed right; they have no good reason why they are angry with me; my mistake is being a matatu driver.I decide to came down and let them call the shots.

Sawa!!! niondolee mkoko kwa road, nitapitia jia ingine next time. I try to remind them the issue that is causing the tension. Most didn’t even know what we were arguing about the mkokoteni that is blocking the road, they only want to beat the odd man out. I guess they see sense in my argument and are okay with me; they don’t want to beat me anymore.

Kama si-wewe rasta tungekupiga na tuchome haka ka-matatu kako. One of the men tells me as the rest return to their individual corners. The guy who had left the cart on the road refuses to remove it but his friend comes in handy and I have the right of the way. The man who spoke and called me Rasta warns me that; had it not been me; {whatever that means} they would have beaten me and burned the vehicle.

This hostility is also present with the police and is clearly shown whenever people go to complain at the police station about matatu workers. The cops are quick to detained or force the matatu crew to compensate the complainers whether their complain are genuine or not.Kenyans just love to hate us; but they have now learned not to bite the hand that feeds them. Ours is a business and the passengers should demand the Government to provide them with cheaper transport. forcing private investors to cut prices is just a distant dream that will never come to pass. Violence will only make matters worse.


Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Matatu matters



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