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Being a Matatu Driver In Nairobi: An Interview with James Kariuki

Nairobi Planning Innovations

Nairobi Planning innovations had a chance to interview the experienced matatu driver James Kariuki who is also an avid blogger on matatu industry issues and the need for reform (See his blog at  https://wambururu.wordpress.com/). James is also a writer, an actor and a father who has been profiled as ‘the reluctant outlaw” by Al Jazeera. We asked him a few questions to get his views from inside the matatu industry.

imagesNPI: How did you start in the matatu industry?

After dropping out of school in form 2 in the year 1992, I stayed at home for about two years. I later joined my mum at her food kiosk in Nairobi’s industry-area. This is how I interacted with matatus on a daily basis and I fell in love with the way the business was conducted. Around 1993, I became a conductor for a family van that used to…

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Posted by on October 17, 2014 in Matatu matters

 

Our persistence is proof that we have not been defeated.

Working in the public sector for the number of years that I have served in the Matatu industry has taught me very hard life’s lessons that I’m sure would have earn me a certificate in an institute of learning. I have talked about gross violation of almost everything about our job. Extortion; detentions; long working hours; low wages; Violence and myriads of other problems faced by operators of this very important public transport industry.
Since complaining is not the only thing I do in my service to my country, I joined other like minded persons from different counties for a three days seminar sponsored by the International transport federation ITF/FNV EAST AFRICA NORTHERN CORRIDOR STRATEGIC CAMPAIGN SKILLS SUB REGION SEMINAR. It was a great experience and quite encouraging even imagining that matatu workers are recognized and qualified to enjoy benefits enjoyed by drivers all over the world.

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The matatu fraternity which was represented by two independent unions benefited with a lot of attention from all the participants including top-level ITF officials who contributed ideas and possible partnership in resolving some of the issues and also advice on the best approach and possible tactics for addressing them.

The seminar helped to bring together different players in the transport sector in Kenya, {including Kenya LONG DISTANCE TRUCK DRIVERS AND ALLIED WORKERS UNION {KLDTDAWU}- MATATU WORKERS UNION- PUBLIC TRANSPORT OPERATORS UNION {PUTON}- AND TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION.{TWU}. It served as a catalyst for the formation of new network and partnership arrangements among the participating organizations for effective collaboration and support.

The matatu industry is probably the largest informal sector in this country; employing thousands of workers; sadly; with very little systematic management for employees affairs. The introduction of matatu Sacco’s was seen as pointer to the right direction in terms of, creating some form of employment/ job security for matatu workers but the results tell a different story.
Individual Worker’s hardheadedness, gangs and cartels controlling different routes and also corruption by higher authorities has been the biggest hindrance to bringing meaningful and beneficial reforms in this sector. Workers in this industry have had to put up, and for a very long time! Accept harsh working conditions and exploitation, in return, the industry has become a reserve for a special character of players; THE RELACTANT OUTLAWS.
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Unlike other workers in the wider transport industry anywhere in this country, matatu workers have never, at any time in the past been unionized or represented by workers unions like COTU and others. The absence of shop stewards and other relevant officers to campaign for workers rights and privileges; has also opened avenues for gross violations of labor laws.
The seminar was aimed at equipping transport workers unions with skills and strategies on how to approach various issues and the right tactics including campaign materials. Under the stewardship of international federations like the ITF; http://www.itfglobal.org matatu workers will soon see strong unions coming up to campaign for better working conditions, better pay, reduced working hours, paid leaves etc etc. Public transport operators Union. {PUTON}; has already started recruiting matatu workers to the union and has opened the way for other matatu workers based organizations and other civil society groups to follow.
The biggest challenge that these matatu workers unions with have to overcome is convincing their members that they indeed have a right to what pertains to their working environment and deserve better than what they are getting. For many years, matatu industry has been viewed by the majority as the black sheep and has enjoyed a lot of media attention although most of it negative.
With an estimated 30.000 Matatus that server Nairobi and its environs every single day, we can approximately put the number of workers; “drivers and conductors” at around 100.000 for the capital city alone. The number can rise to up to 300k if we include stage workers/ managers/ mechanics/ call boys and loaders. To win such a large following, Workers Unions need to work closely with the government, private sector and the media in carrying out civic education.
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Currently there are no defined structure/ mechanism to communicate with workers across the country. We will need to develop and implement a joint user awareness program for members to work with and engage with other members from every part of the country to sensitize and educate them on issues and benefits of trade unions. For a sustainable urban mobility, we need a defined job description for public service vehicles drivers. We need to remove the name informal and create permanent jobs for these very important drivers of our economy. It’s time for Kenyans to work together and bring the change they want to see in the public transport sector.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2014 in Its life, Matatu matters

 

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