Monthly Archives: January 2014

Long walk to Recognition. matatu workers welfare.

Some times late in 2012; I helped found the first Matatu workers welfare in Rongai-l. Many people who knows the industry will agree that this was an over ambitious endeavor. A very difficult organization that was next to impossible to network. Based on the mechanism that is the Kenya Matatu sector, Representing matatu workers is more like becoming a criminal lawyer where most of the times your client is guilty. whether you win or loose the case, it leaves you with a sour taste. Nevertheless we joined hands as matatu workers in our route and Rongai matatu workers welfare was born.

We started our journey of redemption as a legally registered Civil society group campaigning for the rights of matatu workers. We had set our objectives based on the way things are ; how they have been; and most importantly our participation or the lack of it.  we had reached at a draft manifesto and established the pillars that we were to build our organization on. This  is after several workshops and meetings, over the past months where we had debated extensively and discussed solutions to some of the problems affecting us as matatu workers in general. We set out to implement our first objective which was;TO PROVIDE SAFE WORKING ENVIRONMENT FOR MATATU WORKERS.

Our research had established that, conflict with law enforcers was one of the biggest obstacles that come up from  any matatu worker we interviewed. Cases of police harassment and corruption in the prosecution system was the worst threat to any matatu worker. The negative media  the industry had been receiving had also contributed to empowering perpetrators of this corrupt crimes by painting the industry to look like an almost; outlawed trade. Working in the industry had therefore become more of a crime.

Tackling corruption in the traffic department of the police was a hard nut to crack but armed with a backing of over 200 registered members, we were willing to try. Our first step was to woo our conceived enemies and establish a partnership. The police department  was  a big tree to fell and a complicated situation where we needed to be very careful since a fall out would mean more serious harm to our members. We decided to start the campaign from the top and try to find our way down the system.

We requested a meeting with the Kenya police representative and true to their slogan “service to all” we were granted a meeting with the police spokes person at that time Mr. Erick Kiraithe. It was a very tense meeting held at police headquarters at Vigilance hse. After close to three hours of- tell all and risk everything- We came out of the meeting with a straight approval and promised full cooperation from the police. We took the battle to the officers commanding police departments in our area of operations and received endorsements, same way with district traffic officers and junior officers.After that assurance, the ball was in our court, we had agreed that the police would not use the law to victimize us but it was up-to us to follow the law, Our members had to comply with the law. They had to possess original documents as required in the traffic act.

Our next step was to iron out our differences with the vehicle owners who had now teamed up and become Sacco’s. for a long time, we had related or worked on casual arrangements or backdoor employments which were target income based settings. it was more of a car-hire deals, where drivers hire the vehicle in the morning and brings it back at an agreed time with the agreed amount. many matatu owners had benefited from this arrangements since it guaranteed fixed income at the expense and expertize of the drivers. Due to various changes and increased competition, most of this targets are hard to meet and require the drivers to use extra tactics and tricks.

To find a lasting solution, we had to sit down with the employers and  revisit our terms. we approached The matatu welfare association; through Madam Lucy Mathenge; the national treasurer who is also the Marketing executive of Orokise Sacco; the majority vehicle owners in Ongata Rongai and major employers in our route. She has been very helpful in helping many of our members gain  employment at the Sacco as drivers and conductors and also in training on behavioral change. This cooperation had helped on our second Objective which was To provide legal back-up to members in traffic related cases. Orokise Sacco provide lawyers to represent their employees and our members who have landed jobs at the Sacco enjoy those benefits.

Other than being  an activist kind-of an organization, Rongai Matatu Workers welfare had also perceived the need to build the capacity for collaboration and participation in creating and managing development programs not directly related to matatu operations. our idea was to introduce members to alternative means of generating income as a group or individuals. we came up with the idea of  starting a car-washing business where our members would bring their vehicles for the service and the income from the business to supplement our daily contributions of 50Ksh which we had been contributing to pay for our office rent and other bills. We were able to do away with the contribution and managed to keep the office and the car-wash open. We have approached the Kajiado county officers and the olekajuado county council for license to open a vehicle maintenance garage. Which we plan to start anytime funds are available.

Our other objective was to enhance transparency, equality and accountability in mobilization of resources. we approached  this objective by encouraging our members to work-out, come-up and submit to our office, individual small micro enterprises business proposals- which they felt they can run and maintain or have them run and managed by family members.We then approached two local banks who gave us a special package which has seen some members get individual loans to start M-Pesa shops, Bars and other businesses from the banking institutions or from the welfare’s savings. we have not yet been able to fund most of the proposals due to lack of enough capital but it is an on going program and we are still seeking for ways to increase revolving funds.

Rongai matatu workers welfare has been engaging and networking with other civil society organizations and government institutions. we have enjoyed a close relationship with the NHIF and NSSF officers who have helped our members to start enjoying benefits like hospital insurance cover for the worker and immediate family members and also the pension scheme. We were recently included in The  KENYA CIVIL SOCIETY FOR NON-MOTORIZED TRANSPORT AND ROAD SAFETY. A UNEP supported umbrella body that has brought together civil society groups and other institutions concerned or involved in road safety  in the republic of Kenya. we -as – a welfare; intend to use this platform to  advocate for our rights and representation of matatu workers in decision making especially those involving our industry.

We also wish to participate in trainings and educational seminars aimed at increasing skills and enlightening our members on their rights and adherence to the rule of law. we plan to integrate and share road safety awareness messages among matatu workers and our  passengers {who form a greater number of non motorized transport users: {before boarding and after alighting from our matatu’s as pedestrians} through Posters , brochures, and any means of communication that can take advantage of our social space inside and outside matatu’s body.

It has not been without challenges; keeping the organization together has not been -a walk in the park- we have seen divisions and breakaways, some members have felt that the welfare does not have the capacity to tackle their issues; especially stage touts commonly known as Kamagira and stage cartels whose job description has been outlawed by new traffic bills. As we begin another year, we are glad we tried. and we will keep the spirit.


Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Its life, Matatu matters


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