Coastweek -- Matatus
have caught my attention over the last few days and the time
spent in them and observing them has generated many interesting
stories that I will share with you over the next few weeks,
writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.
that, an experience I had with a group of colleagues when we had
to travel in the Western part Kenya.
As residents of
Mombasa and Nairobi hiring of vehicles is an easy activity.
There are many
reputable – as well as not so reputable – firms that offer this
service and one is generally spoiled for choice.
However, when one
gets to the Western part of Kenya, there is a dearth of such
services and one really has to look hard to find any of the
reputable car hire firms present in that part of the world.
I called some of
them at their Nairobi and Mombasa offices and they offered to
arrange cars in Kisumu, Eldoret and Kitale.
I recently travelled
to Busia for a function that was to be attended by the
Presidents of Kenya and Uganda.
The trip was
arranged by the office of my hosts so I was certain that they
would get the best for the three of us who were travelling to
We arrived in Kisumu
and as is usual, there was a name board with the name of the
organisation that had sent us to the event. We went up to the
board and the person holding the board asked us our names and it
checked against the names that he had been given –a good
This reassured us
that we were indeed in safe hands.
We got into the
relatively new (because of the number plates) saloon car and set
off for Busia. One my colleagues, a lady, sat in the front
whilst two of us sat in the back.
The other colleague
was from the United States and had come to town specifically for
Whilst on the way to
Busia, the colleague sat at the front asked the driver why there
was this intermittent strange noise from the engine compartment.
The two of us could
not discern any noise so that issue became a topic of discussion
and even when the lady colleague told us that the noise was
occurring again we could not make it out.
This was probably
due to the fact that each of us has a frequency range that we
are most sensitive to and the sound fell outside that range for
the two of us.
We made it to the
event in good time but had the usual harrowing experience of
crawling through a sea of boda bodas on the three kilometre
stretch of road between the entry to Busia and the border post
which is where the event was being held.
This is the one
feature of the town that needs to be addressed including the
long queues of trucks that form as they wait for clearance at
The solutions are
The first is to
create a separate lane for motor bikes, bicycles and pedestrians
and also widen the road by about an extra metre.
The second is to
provide a truck parking area where trucks can park and they can
be called in turn to proceed to the border post instead of
parking willy nilly on the road or shoulders.
Back to my story.
We went to the
function where the two presidents opened an impressive
one stop border post
(abbreviated OSBP) that cut the clearance time at the border by
The time taken
varied from a few hours to five days.
With the OSBP
operating for a few months already, the time taken has dropped
from the five days to a current average of two days maximum.
On the return
journey to the airport, we were making good time till we arrived
at a Maseno and the vehicle suddenly died on the driver.
Our flight to
Nairobi was due to depart in about one and half hours and we
still had a thirty minute journey to make to get to the airport.
The driver started
calling the owner of the vehicle to request for a replacement
one to take us to our destination but he could not get through.
We made an instant
decision to stop the next matatu that came along – and we did.
It was a thirty two
seater with the barest of material on the bench seats so that
every bump the vehicle went over went straight to spine.
compartments in the passenger space were made of reinforcement
mesh steel that would injure any one on impact.
On boarding the
matatu we were met by people staring at the new passengers who
looked completely out of place because of the clothes we were
wearing as well as the fact that we were carrying lap top bags
etc. which were also out of place with the general cargo on
board the matatu.
Some even greeted
the mzungu we had in Kiswahili.
As I was the one
seated closest to the front of the matatu I was asked to pay the
one hundred shillings fare to Kisumu.
A couple of
kilometres late the matatu stopped and this time what appeared
to be a whole family were ushered on board and they filled the
whole aisle from front to back such that anyone wanting to
disembark from the back of the matatu would have caused at least
ten people to get down to allow them to get off.
By this time my mind
was racing about safety escape routes, the lack of restraints,
standard window glass instead of toughened and many other
It was also making
less than rapid progress so our chances of making it to airport
on time were diminishing.
About ten kilometres
later the matatu stopped and the driver of the hired car that we
had left behind boarded the matatu and told us that he had
managed to start the vehicle and that he would now be able to
take us to the airport.
We got off the
matatu and gratefully jumped into the saloon car.
We kept our fingers
crossed that it would not misbehave again and it did not
We made it to the
airport with just half an hour to departure and having done an
online check in we were able to rush through to the plane and
get on board just when the airline was about to close the doors.
We were later to
find out that the travel agent that arranged for our excursion
had contacted a reputable car hire company who in turn called
some people they have on contract to supply vehicles to them in
the Western part of the country.
I am sure that they
do not enforce the same standards as they do for their own
It seems to suggest
that whatever service they extend is purely lip service so that
you stay with their core service which is clients’ needs in
Nairobi, Mombasa and internationally – that is where the money
For those of us who
want quality travel services in the Western part of Kenya, we
will still have to wait for a long time before the
well-recognised travel firms have a physical presence or office
in those parts of Kenya.
For those who come
from that part of the world, this is an opportunity to create a
reliable, service driven partner for the well established firms
and who can provide quality and reliable offerings to dovetail
into what the customers are used to getting when they engage a
As Kachumbari says,
successful businesses are those that service needs.
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