Know your matatu drivers

18 Jul

Find out what this four matatu drivers from Rongai  have to say about their jobs and their personal life as they answer twenty question on what it is like to be a matatu driver.

Introduce yourself, name age and job..

  • My name is James I’m 36yrs old , married with three kids and i work in the matatu   industry as a driver.
  • I’m Elijah, 27yrs old, married with no kids yet, and I’m a matatu driver
  • My name is Denis Muranja, I’m 30yrs old,  father of one and i work as a matatu driver.
  • My name is Patrick mutisya , i am 38yrs old, married with one kid and a matatu driver by profession.

What is a matatu?

  • James. A matatu is a Kenyan term used to describe public service vehicles.
  • Elijah. A matatu is a public vehicle that carry’s passengers.
  • Denis. A matatu is a public transport vehicle.
  • Patrick.  A matatu is the means of passengers transport in Kenya.

How much do you earn normally?

  • James. My salary is not fixed and largely depends on the outcome of the day. On a good day i make over a thousand bob but on average i can say i make about seven hundred shillings.
  • Elijah. That depends on the day, i make about 1500 if all is well but at times i go home with as little as 200 sh.
  • Denis. It all depends on how the day has been, on a good day i make  1700 but on average i make about four thousand a week that is about 800 a day.
  • Patrick. My salary is 1000 bob but sometimes i get more or less, my average income is five hundred a day..

How much do you need to support your family?

  • James. My family currently lives on a budget of six hundred shillings a day.
  • Elijah. I need about five hundred shillings a day.
  • Denis. I spends about three hundred shillings at home.
  • Patrick. To support my family, i need two hundred for my child alone and another 200 for the house budget. a total of 400 sh.

After years on the same route, you must have different memories associated with different parts of the route. Describe.

  • James. The memories that have stack with me are the ones related to accidents, there are times when i drive past a certain spot and the incidents comes a fresh to my mind.
  • Elijah. I remember a time i was involved in an accident with a cyclist, although he was on the fault i remember that accident every time i reach Masai road junction.
  • Denis. I have memories of magadi road especially the Mbagathi river crossing where i have seen so many accidents.  i was and still is a black spot.
  • Patrick. Yes i remember a certain spot just after catholic university where a very fatal accident involving a Kenya bus service vehicle and a private car happened. A whole family mother and two kids were killed.

What are the challenges and dangers?

  • James.The biggest challenge is getting passenger to fill the vehicle, bearing in mind that there are hundreds of other matatus going the same direction.  The danger associated with our job is accidents.
  • Elijah. The biggest challenge is to see to it that you don’t get arrested and also meeting the target agreed with the vehicle owner. The danger i see in my job is to end up in jail.
  • Denis. The police are the biggest challenge and the council askalis. and the danger is to be locked up in prison.
  • Patrick. The biggest challenge is to meet the target because you risk loosing your job, the danger i see mostly has to do with the condition of the vehicle. If the vehicle is defective, then you risk even the lives of the passengers.

What pressure do you get from passengers especially in bad traffic?

  • James.It is during the morning rush-hour that i have to deal with pressure from the passengers, this is due to the pace of the trip and also, that we charge them more and the roads are mostly jammed.
  • Elijah. The passengers insist on matatu drivers to overlap and according to the traffic rules it’s a crime. the driver is forced to break the law or risk loosing customers.
  • Denis.The passengers have different attitudes and at times, they drain all their stresses on the driver.
  • Patrick.The passengers demand to be driven fast although the traffic is at gridlock. Forcing you to overlap and drive on side walks. but this is mostly during the morning rush-hour.

How common are accidents and do you know any driver who have been killed?

  • James.Accidents are common on the roads but those involving matatus are few and if any they are mostly less fatal. But i have seen my share of very fatal accidents that took the lives of two drivers i knew very well.
  • Elijah. In the last ten years accidents have decreased and i have seen about two or three but its only in one incident that the driver was killed. Yes, i used to know him.
  • Denis. Accidents are not common in the industry especially my route. but i know a driver who was killed late last year.
  • Patrick. Accidents in our route is not a common thing, i don’t know any matatu driver who  died as a result of an accident in the last few years.

What do people in Nairobi think of matatu drivers?

  • James.People in Nairobi especially those who don’t use our services are very hostile toward us but the bad attitude can not be said to be shared by everybody, there are those who are forced by circumstances to require our services and most of them are okay with us.
  • Elijah. Different people have different views, there are those who use our services and they treat us like other human beings, but there are those who have a very negative attitude toward us and they treat us like criminals and drug addicts.
  • Denis. Most people in Nairobi think we are reckless and nothing but a bunch of alcoholics and a drug addicts.
  • Patrick. They see us as different kind of people. majority think we are some how crazy. They mostly criticize our driving and our lifestyle in general.

How does this make you feel?

  • James. I have learned to live with the stigma. This is the public profile that the media has given our industry, I don’t let it disturb me.
  • Elijah. I feel bad and wish i could just get a chance to explain myself to those with negative attitude.
  • Denis.It makes me furious and at times i despise them for their wrong judgment.
  • Patrick.They make me feel like I’m in the wrong job. It hurts when people hate you for nothing.

Describe the relationship between matatu drivers[brotherhood, yellow stripe.]

  • James.There is general respect among all matatu drivers, the yellow stripe is the cord that makes us all equal and we reach out to help one another ,like during police crack-down.
  • Elijah. Yes we have a brotherhood, we warn each other of the dangers ahead and mostly during traffic jams and police operations.
  • Denis.We have a language that we all understand, it comes alive in times of police crack-downs. we know how to send and receive signals.
  • Patrick.All matatu drivers are friends in the job, there is no hatred , we keep each other informed on the state of the road and flow of passengers. it is common in all routes across the country.

Is it easy in this business to make enemies?

  • James. Matatu business is surrounded by enemies on all side,Since the main issue is money and there seem to be a lot of it in the industry, enemies are always there and probably here to stay.
  • Elijah. I always try to avoid making enemies although some people are a bit nuisance, it is expensive to make enemies because most of the people who have an agenda with our industry have either the backing of the state or powerful individuals.
  • Denis. It is very easy to make enemies especially because of the money involved and the competition to get passengers.
  • Patrick. It is easy to make enemies especially when driving, you may overlap then cut-in  and the other driver decides to keep it real and a fight ensures. but mostly its the passengers who get violent because they feel like they have been overcharged.

Is there competition to be the best driver?

  • James. The issue of being the best driver only applies to individuals but has no significant meaning to the industry. Driving on the same road everyday makes all of us drive almost the same. The goal is to reach the destination safely.
  • Elijah. Yes there is competition, if you are not careful on the road, you will not get to drive a good car and you might lose your job to a better driver.
  • Denis.There is no competition to be the best, any good and careful driver will do the job.
  • Patrick. Yes there is competition, this so happens when a driver is thought to be the best, he always gets to drive the hottest manyanga.

How good are you?

  • James.Personally i believe I’m as good as any driver can be, I have been on the road for over ten years and not a single accident.
  • Elijah. I am a good driver, i have depended on my driving skill for the past five years and I’m still doing it.
  • Denis. I’m good because i have maintained a good relationship with my passengers and i maintain the vehicle.
  • Patrick. I believe I’m very good, i can drive any type of passengers service vehicle. Be it a bus, minibus, a 14 seater or even a taxi.

How do the police affect the industry?

  • James.I believe the biggest problem is the police officers who have invested in the matatu industry, they play double standard and harass matatus owned by ordinary citizens.
  • Elijah.The police affect us by wasting our time in detention and at the end of the day demand for bribes. This makes us miss the target and loose our days income.
  • Denis. Oh my God, the police are the biggest head ache for our industry, the affect us by using the police stations and courts for extortion and detention where they ask for large sums of money.
  • Patrick. The police affect us through harassment while demanding for bribes, the mount road crack-downs every now and then only to seek for bribes.

What is your biggest fear during the day’s work?

  • James. My biggest fear when i start my day is to end up in prison or some hospital.
  • Elijah. The worst fear i have is to be detained, because if you are arrested you lose your days income and have to spend more in court fines.
  • Denis. My biggest fear is to lose my commission at the end of the day.
  • Patrick. My biggest fear is to be arrested and locked up in prison.

Describe car-jacking and how often does it happen?

  • James. Car-jacking is unpredictable but it happens, the most common is where gangs pose as passengers but end up taking control and robbing the crew and passengers.
  • Elijah. The incidents have decreased in the last six months, but it mostly involve passengers pulling guns and robbing other passengers. it is in very few occasions that the vehicle is stolen.
  • Denis. Car-jacking mostly happens in high season during the months of August and December. I have never been in one but my mother lost a matatu worth over a million shillings.
  • Patrick.I have personally been car-jacked two-times, in the first incident only the crew[me and the conductor] were robbed, but in the second incident even the passengers lost their valuables.

How tough do you have to be to be a matatu driver?{be able to fight in case of unavoidable circumstance?}

  • James. I have learned through experience that, you got to be strong to survive. You don’t have to be a martial art expert to work in this industry but it might be of significant help in some instances. There are times when you safety or even you live depends on it.
  • Elijah.As ca matatu driver you have to be prepared for anything, we mostly solve our differences through dialog but there are times when you go the whole nine yards.
  • Denis. The only toughness required in this job is driving, when times come when fighting is unavoidable i take to my heels.
  • Patrick. You don’t have to be a fighter if you can maintain a good relationship with everybody, but when fighting is the only option you got to trust you skills.

Because of long hours, many drivers take drugs or alcohol to keep them going. what is your opinion on this?

  • James.The issue of drugs and alcohol i believe is spread beyond career and we in the matatu industry has our share. Its is a fact that even the healthiest of persons needs a little stimulant to work 15-16 hours every day.
  • Elijah. Yes its true most of the drivers use drugs especially marijuana. i personally go out sometimes to have one or two in the local pub.
  • Denis. Not everybody uses drugs but its the case with the majority. some drink to handle the pressure while others do it because they are hooked.
  • Patrick. Yes we use drugs and alcohol, it is not scientifically possible to work all those hours while you are sober. majority of us use one or the other to keep the meter running.

What do you think of the government’s decision to face out matatus?

  • James. The idea is well thought but the problem is the timing, we drivers are just professionals offering our services to the transport industry. it doesn’t matter what cars we are driving what matters is that we are working.
  • Elijah.It’s a good idea because i believe bigger vehicles are a bit more dissent, but this will cause a lot of unemployment because a bus needs the same number of staff but carries four times what a matatu carries.
  • Denis. Oh no, they are crashing the lives of the youths who work in the industry. A lot of people depend on this matatus for their livelihood. yenyewe maboys wataisha kabisa. it’s not a good decision.
  • Patrick. It is not a good decision because it is going to affect a lot of people. Crime will definitely go up because this people are used to providing for their families and this idea will make them jobless.

Posted by on July 18, 2012 in Matatu matters



4 responses to “Know your matatu drivers

  1. Jay Waterson

    July 17, 2012 at 8:22 am

    I disregarded matatu drivers till i had an insane confrontation with one. This article helps me to understand a lot of things. Thank you very much.

  2. Washington, DC

    July 18, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Hi James. I just watched the documentary about matatu drivers on Al All the best to you, your family and your fellow drivers. I will send a prayer up for your safety, and for your success as a writer!

    • wambururu

      July 23, 2012 at 10:30 am

      I appreciate your prayers and wish to thank you for your good will; on behalf of my family and matatu workers in Kenya. we believe It will be well with us because we know there is somebody who is praying for us. May the Lord hear our prayers.

  3. San Francisco, California

    July 23, 2012 at 6:20 am

    I also watched the documentary on Al Jazeera and I thoroughly enjoyed it. James, it is very powerful of you to speak out about all of the corruption that is going on, as well as giving voice to the experience of other drivers. I hope positive changes can come as a result for you and all the other matutu drivers who are working so hard for so little. I hope the government works out something to ensure that matutu drivers will be hired as the new bus drivers. Best wishes to you, your beautiful family, and in becoming an author!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: