Coastweek -- Continuing
on the theme of matatus, this week I will look at what I call
regional variations and why these variations may have developed,
writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.
Last week I spent
some time describing an experience with hired cars that led to
us as a team having to use a matatu for a short while.
This was because the
car that had been hired to deliver us for a function and then
return us to the Kisumu airport was not really up to the job and
ended up giving up the ghost when we were tight for time.
Fortunately, we were
able to get a matatu to move us further along before the hired
car came back to life and the driver drove madly to catch up
with the matatu we had taken in desperation and extract us so
that he could deliver us to the airport and in some way at least
fulfil his contact so that he would be paid.
The matatus that ply
the routes in the regions we normally describe as Nyanza and
Western are probably the most lack lustre in the country.
They fall only
slightly ahead of the ones that are found in the arid and
semi-arid areas of the country and we will start with these and
move up my pecking order of garishness and” pimposity”
The latter category
of matatu are very functional and tend not to have many
This is because
their main selling point is that they have to be able to get one
from one point to another.
The lack of modern
road infrastructure dictates the kind of matatu that one will
find in these parts of Kenya.
They tend to be
vehicles that work well off road and have a reasonable carrying
Almost any form of
off roader tends to be considered to be matatu material.
Matatus here are not
over decorated as this does not necessarily attract passengers.
What is important
here is that the vehicle look sturdy and gives comfort of
points for matatus in these regions are the visible presence of
extra spare tyres that confirms the readiness for off road
The other is the
extra fuel tank that extends the driving range of the vehicle.
This is so that
should the normal route become impassable there is enough fuel
to use a diversion or several diversions.
Capacity to carry
goods is also important as most people travel long distances and
hence carry more.
infrastructure is gradually improving so one sees the occasional
gaudy looking matatu with the statutory yellow lines and some
little other fancy colouring.
variety is gradually finding its way into that market.
They tend to mainly
operate in the small urban areas but the boda boda is the more
popular way of getting around in the towns.
So, in summary, for
the arid and semi-arid parts of Kenya the matatus’ look and feel
is driven mainly by functionality rather than the need to be
When one moves to
Nyanza and Western parts of Kenya, the matatus that ply their
business between the towns in that region are also driven mainly
by function rather than vanity.
Most matatus are
plain in colour and tend to be either the fourteen or thirty two
The seats in the
matatus are simply bench seats with hard cushion covering and no
other additions to the interior.
Most have the
original radios as the mode of entertainment though some have
more modern in car entertainment systems.
Very few, if any
have a TV at the front of the matatu like in the major towns.
Even the ones that operate within Kisumu City and Nakuru,
Eldoret and Kitale are very poor cousins to the ones that
operate in Nairobi and Mombasa.
Should one see a
well appointed matatu in Western towns and cities then they
would be the ones that are long distance ones that travel
between those towns and Nairobi.
It is the contact
with the Nairobi madness that influences what would normally be
benign matatu owners to start having designs and fittings that
are not exactly absolutely necessary for the clientele that they
It is this cross
pollination that quietly drives up the cost of travel in the
region. Basic matatus they should be in the regions we have
looked at today but they should at least have good seats that
would not damage bums when seated for long distances.
There should be
reasonable luggage spaces and some form of in car entertainment
that will be able to operate even when the matatu gets out of
Plain colours on
matatus in those regions are not necessarily a good thing
especially when the vehicle is likely to travel off road or even
on road and get muddy.
A little bit of
colour in the outside of the vehicle would help it keep a
reasonable look even when it has been subjected to road spray
As Kachumbari says,
even matatus have tribes!
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