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In Western: Matatus Driven Mainly By Function
Rather Than Vanity, Garishness And Pimposity

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 trimmings.

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 capacity.

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 delivery.

Typical selling points for matatus in these regions are the visible presence of extra spare tyres that confirms the readiness for off road operation.

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.

However, the infrastructure is gradually improving so one sees the occasional gaudy looking matatu with the statutory yellow lines and some little other fancy colouring.

The fourteen-seater 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 attractive.

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 seater sizes.

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 normally carry.

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 radio range.

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 and splashes.

As Kachumbari says, even matatus have tribes!




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  This year’s rally will be
flagged off at Sarova
Whitesands on November
23rd and finish at the same
venue on December 1st.


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