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My Adventure In A Busia Matatu On its
Way To ‘Kisumu International’ Airport!

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.

However, before 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 the function.

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 security measure.

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 this function.

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 border.

The solutions are simple.

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 almost half.

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.

The luggage 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 thoughts.

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 disappoint.

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 fleet.

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 is.

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 service provider.

As Kachumbari says, successful businesses are those that service needs.

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