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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Please Retrain PSV drivers. No one is safe.

The fourteen seater; matatu may as well be on its way out and we have started to see brand new vehicles on the road; That is evident today with the way investors are buying 33 seaters and if the china’s deal with President Kenyatta will bring other investors in to the field, we will see more sofisicated model of public transport. We welcome this new change that is surely more attractive and comfortable than the Nissan matatus we have had for years.
But that is not all. it is not yet time for Kenyans to relax and expect too much change.I don’t want to break anybody’s spirit but I would like to tell everybody to hope for the best but leave a room for the worst; Early this morning, an accident involving a passenger service bus helding to far eastern from the capital has so far claimed 40 lives and over thirty are seriously injured. The policy makers are meeting at a location near the scene of the accident do discuss various ways of reducing tragic road accidents involving passengers service vehicle. among the agendas to be discussed is banning long distance public service vehicles from operating at night.

I remember how people had so much confidence in the new Government and were up in arms to fight corruption among other evils the Moi regime was accused of.Kenyans refused to pay bribe and even went as far as apprehending traffic cops who were demanding bribe from matatu drivers.

It was therefore a rude shock to witness what happened five years later,private companies were contracted and given monopoly to import gadgets; the new by-laws required for all matatus.Workers were then required to deposit advance tax with the Kenya revenue authority to be issued with badges. Anybody found without the card was immediately arrested and taken to court.It was Uhuru Kenyatta who came to our rescue when he took over as the minister for finance and abolished advance tax for would be matatu workers.

Today, Everyone is excited about the Nissan matatus paving the way and taking all their bad habits with them. I know, majority are wishing that we evaporate into the thin air sooner never to be heard again; so that we can leave them in peace; but i have news for you. We are only changing the costume,but we are retaining the priesthood. The smaller matatus are not to blame for overlapping, overtaking-{ even when they see an approaching vehicle}- or for driving on the side walks; It is the drivers who do this things. Kenyan motorists should now expect to meet a seventy one seater bus overtaking on a blind corner.
What I’m trying to say is that; we need more than just bigger buses. The transport industry must reform its members if the change is to bear fruits.The tricky part will be in choosing who will drive the fewer buses and what will happen to the rest of us.Many people who earn their daily bread in the matatu industry will have to seek for alternative means of getting the bread while those who will get the fewer jobs will continue abstracting other motorists, overtaking, overlapping.

I’m not of the opinion that we call for national prayers for our driver to drive safely;I would prefer we re-train them. Changing the size of the vehicle is just like-washing the pig as written on the bible- we all know what will happen when the cleaned pig is set free.

The only measure that will bring sanity on our roads is when we decide to reach out and educate our drivers on traffic rules and regulations. Until then…….!

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2013 in ewaste, Its life, Matatu matters, Spiritual wisdom

 

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My Dad’s note that gave meaning to my day today’s life.

On the day I left home to go to the city to look for a job 15 yrs ago, I had no certificates or any recommendation.I had never been employed outside the family businesses. The only tool of trade that could help me get a job was my one year old driving license. My dad called me and asked me if i was ready to face the world on my own and i remember very well that i confidently told him i was ready to joining the matatu industry. That evening he gave me an envelop with 3000 Ksh rent. For my new-house and this message;“Everything depends on God’s Grace; To get His grace, Whatever Work You Perform, Do it with sincerity and Earnest Longing. Through His Grace, environment will be favorable and conditions for realizing your dreams will be perfect.” That was then.

Being a matatu driver and a blogger has opened a whole new world for Wambururu; A few years ago, I never could have thought I would ever set foot in places i have visited on official invitations and met people I’ve met.My blog has of late started to compete in earnings with my driver’s job and this is good news i would wish to share with all of you who read of this blog. It is quite an interesting way of making a living especially for somebody who was used to sitting behind the wheels of a public service vehicle for 15 hours to make 10 dollars, now turned to a FIXER.

I got this title -FIXER- from an American photo journalist who had contacted me to help him find the perfect locations for a story he was working on. The deal was that I will take him wherever he wanted to go in his research and he would compensate me fully for the time i could have alternatively be sitting behind the steering of my matatu. He told me that people who do that for foreign journalists are called Fixers. And a fixer i became.

We started our trail to find out what happens to electronics in Kenya and especially Nairobi once they are no longer useful. The code name of the project was “e-Waste” We started off at Dadora dump site as we had been directed by a report from a UN agency.- {the only available current data in the internet, about ewaste: last updated in 2009.} The report and also a section of the media report, had warned that the electronic waste was becoming a healthy hazard to citizens living near the dump-site; as some of the components used to make computers are a big risk and can even cause diseases like cancer.

A lot must have changed since the time the report was posted, as by the time we got there, there was not a single electronic item in the dump-site.With that in mind, my contract with the photo journalist would have to be extended if ever he was to know the truth. What we were looking for was not in the dump-site. Those we asked told us that such items do not end up in the dump and even the ones that do get there are instantly collected and resold to buyers who camp at the site buying anything with value.

My American friend could not believe that he had followed a not so accurate data about the health hazard in Kenya, said to be caused by ewaste. To get the facts collect, we tracked down one of the Garbage tracks and organized for him to ride in the track the whole day as it did it’s round and follow the trash all the way to the dump-site. It was a smelly ride and also an eye opener for the ewaste research. He discovered that- garbage collectors have one or two of their own, who’s main job is to go through all the trash that is loaded in the track and sort out any resell-able item like, Metals, plastic, electronics etc.before they dump at Dadora. With nothing from the main dump-site, we had to come up with another approach. For the whole time he rode in the track, he did not see a single electronic waste. This could only mean one thing, nobody was throwing away the items.

The next step was to trace where most of the waste could be generating from and find out what happens between the trash bin and the dump-site. The most obvious place to start would be the repair shops  who have the final word on the fate of any electronic device. We started in the CBD and went all the way to River Road- We stop at many repair shops and all those we asked told us that there are collectors who come to their workshops and buy the stuff. Mobile phone’s and computer’s “mother boards” were the most sort after of all electronics as they fetched good prices.

A visit to National Environment Management Authority did not yield much as the institution is only mandated with registration and issuance of licenses to waste collectors. As we tracked the ewaste from the dump-site through repair shops, we ended up in go-downs in Ngala and Baba Ndogo in Nairobi upper industrial Area- we came across fully established big companies with foreign expertise and employees, modern offices dealing in exporting the electronics waste out of the country. The contract lasted a couple of days and when he was satisfied, he flew back to his country and left a very happy fixer.

This was not the first time i was offering my services to journalist; although previously, i did not get any money from them; if anything, I had to spend my own cash for transport and meals as we worked on television and newspaper stories. I have previewed articles, books, assisted in editing documentaries and arranged transportation for cast and crew to filming locations among other tasks.. My helping hand, I have taught me many drills when it comes to film production. Also through the blog i have been contacted to arrange and offer transportation for International journalists, researchers, university students from across the world and local learning institutions. I have had my 5 minutes of fame in a local popular  television Drama “papa shiradula” My writing and documentaries have been used by teachers and students in Sweden and Moscow. and a short film about my career as a matatu driver is currently competing at the Guinness film festival in France.

The events of my life and career has left most of my friends in the matatu industry wondering, surprised, and questioning my intentions. Also IT experts are advising me on publishing my popular blog on my own domain- web-site. I hear that i might be making some few extra coins from GOOGLE. That is also good news. When i think about all that has happened and what is happening today, i can only thank my dad for the words he share with me that have come to pass in my own life.

 

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What matatu drivers say about their career.

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 38yrs, married with three kids and i work in the matatu   industry as a driver.
  • I’m Elijah, 30yrs, married with one kid, and I’m a matatu driver
  • My name is Denis, I’m 33yrs,  father of one and  a matatu driver.
  • My name is Patrick mutisya , i am 40yrs, 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. rent, school fees, etc. i need between 18–20 thousand a month.
  • Elijah. I need about five hundred shillings a day. That takes care of everything. anything else goes to entertainment or savings.
  • Denis. I spends about three hundred shillings at home. which is not hard to get but the kid is growing and some more might be on the way.
  • 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. It is even worse when driving late into the night.
  • 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. I see how he just zoomed in my windscreen and then disappeared across the road.
  • Denis. I have memories of magadi road especially the Mbagathi river crossing where i have seen so many accidents. It’s 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. I was first to arrive at the scene but we couldn’t do anything

What are the challenges and dangers?

  • James.The biggest challenge is the business part of our driving, you need to get enough passengers to fill your vehicle, bearing in mind that there are hundreds of other matatus going the same direction.  The danger associated with our job is accidents because that is the only thing that can make you loss your day.
  • 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 because at the end of the day, you will have broken one or two laws and you don’t know who is watching.
  • Denis. The police are the biggest challenge and the council askalis. and the danger is to be locked up in prison. There are no facilities to enable us to pick passengers in a better manner and yet the don’t want to allow us to pick them on non designated place and yet there is no any.
  • 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 for a slow ride as 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 crazy. They mostly criticize our driving and our lifestyle in general.

How does this make you feel?

  • James. I have learned to live with it. 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 hate 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.
 
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Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Its life, Matatu matters

 

What can i do for Kenya?

Whenever one reads a saying pitting a fool and a wise person, No one wants to be likened to the latter. No one wants to be the fool.There is this one saying, that keeps hunting me and placing me in the defense, to proof I’m not the fool.It says that : Only a fool does the same thing twice expecting different results.: But to be honest,In more than one occasion, I have  found myself doing things that had once gotten me in trouble, hoping that things will turn out differently, only to regret in the end.

When I dropped out of high school in form Two, and then, found myself in the streets before joining the matatu industry, I felt like i had lost the straggle.I watched those who competed and went to college take up jobs and build houses of their own.  My parents were disappointed, and could not imagine that the son who had been doing so well in school had suddenly changed and joined the outlaws. I became a tout back then and my place was at the door of the then popular 25 seater Isuzu 3.3 diesel engine minibuses. plying Route Number 2. Dagoretti market.

After four years of playing cat and mouse with the city council askalis as a tout, I graduated to a driver and become the property of the traffic police. There was something criminal about driving matatus wheteher you are caught in the act or not. Arrests and detentions, court fines. gang fights, rioting university students and more arrests.  My dad and my wife have bailed me out of stations and prisons more times than I was rushed to hospital when i was a kid.

I once told my dad that i was quitting the job and going back home to start a new life, but he couldn’t hear any of it. He is the Kiambu ones who don’t believe that a circumcised man can eat from his mothers kitchen. He told me that giving up would not solve my problems and even if i didn’t  like the industry, the people there needed my skills and it was no use taking them to the village. My mother thought i would do better running a retail shop in the village, than always getting in trouble with the police As much as i didn’t like being locked up, I could not live with defeat. Not with my fathers promise that He will never let me rot in jail.

Today, ten years later, I’m glad i stayed on. Despite the many problems i have to go through every single day, My experience has changed the way people look at the industry and given me a new career. My desire to speak on behalf of my fellow workmates has opened a new window for me to develop a new career as a writer. Will I go back to being a matatu driver?

Well, I don’t want to proof that I’m not a fool by doing the same thing twice expecting different results; but, I hope to be part of the industry for a little longer. I plan to buy my own matatu in the future and see the industry from the owners point of view.

When I sit under a tree in a secluded place to have a chat with myself, I look at what man has achieved and how nature has remained faithful in providing the raw materials and i ask myself, what is life all about? I think it’s a journey of all mankind, and what we now have is the contribution of  every generation that has lived on this planet; all aimed at making this world the heaven we all dream about. Kenya is a solid earth and has no expiring date, it is not too late to fix the few problems we have and focus on improving the way we conduct our businesses and how we relate with each other.

There are thousands of Kenyans who did not get the opportunity to get A or O level education and therefore have limited chances of applying for the jobs that are advertised in companies and various institutions but offer a much needed service in mobility. All we are asking from Kenyans and policy makers is to see us for what we do. There is nothing wrong with this service sector that is different from what is happening in other service sectors.

As somebody once said.”Let it be said of you that, the world is better for you having lived in it.”

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Its life, Matatu matters

 

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