Coastweek -- We
will this week look at the quirks of the matatu tribe that is
the Nairobi lot,
writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.
This matatu tribe
has the largest number of clans of any of the different tribes
we have in the country.
The first thing
about these matatus is that they have different ways of enticing
customers and a lot of the matatus aspire to be in the clan that
is at the top of the pecking order in terms of pimping.
Pimping the matatus
consists of several options.
The first and most
visible is the external appearance.
This starts from
simply adding the old statutory broken yellow lines along the
equator of the vehicle.
requirement was relaxed many years ago, some still put them on
the vehicles to give them some sort of legitimacy to operate as
They then do nothing
else except put the name of Savings and Credit Cooperative
Organisation (abbreviated as SACCO) that they belong to.
The painting of this
prominently on the body of the matatu was to make it easy for
the law enforcement agencies to quickly tell who to go to in the
event that they required to take some disciplinary measure or
purely to gather statistics about the individual group of
The first reason the
matatus were all required to belong to some form of union was
that the SACCOs were to become like a central point where any
compliance issues could be addressed instead of dealing with
each individual owner.
It was seen as a
first step in getting sanity back into an industry that had
taken on a reckless life of its own.
The second reason
was that it was then easy to allocate routes in each urban area
to a particular body and they would then “manage” those routes.
The biggest reason
however, was that they would in time be managed to transform
into single entities whereby the vehicles would belong to the
SACCO and the owner would become a shareholder.
The operations would
then revert to a format more like typical bus companies where
the fleet would be run centrally and efficiently and economies
of scale would apply.
The look and feel of
the matatus would change and in time the SACCOs would then
invest in larger buses that would decongest the city centres and
also start having proper timetables.
In essence, our
towns and cities would have witnessed a big change in the
transportation systems and eventually a mass transit system
would have emerged.
This has however not
But I digress.
The issue is that
matatus have tribes and the Nairobi tribe has clans.
We have dealt with
the first one.
The second option in
pimping matatus in Nairobi is the creating murals on the
external surfaces of the vehicle.
This mainly is for
the fourteen seater matatus that generally cannot afford nor
have the space to add anything else on the outside surface.
These matatus come
as completely built units so one can bolt a few things on, here
and there, but that is it in terms of structural changes.
The only pimping of
the outside one can do with these is to work with paint on the
outside – hence murals.
The murals started
off mainly as extensions of graffiti art often representing very
angry views of life from the artists’ minds or from the
commission that they were given by the owners.
They have eventually
become sophisticated expressions of views and aspirations as
well as disappointments and disillusions in life.
Many are very
creative in that they give public opinion in an easy and quick
way to understand.
Many of these
fourteen seater matatus do not change their external appearance
but add or remove small pieces of the artwork to reflect the
changing moods and opinions that they pick up from the
passengers they have.
This “clan” of
matatus is the most common and sprinkled liberally in almost all
parts of the city of Nairobi.
They mainly tend to
serve the inner core of the city – Kibera, Ngummo, the Eastlands
conurbation and the western periphery of the city – Kwangware
and its environs.
We then have the
ones near the top of the pecking order and these are the thirty
two seater buses.
These are basic
buses that are painted in the colours of the SACCO or franchisee
that they operate under.
They are not decked
out on the inside or at best have headrest covers and a small
amount of advertising. They are not moving billboards nor are
thy moving art exhibitions.
They are functional
and reckless – like all other matatus are.
So far, we have
covered three sub clans of the matatus in Nairobi.
Next week we will
cover the final two and then make a comparison with the
operators in the other two tribes and after that go to the Coast
where the matatu tribe has a very distinct differentiator.
As an important
aside, a lot of people will be celebrating or making this long
weekend with travel, merriment or worship and reflection.
Whatever you choose
to do please consider minimising the amount of driving or if
travelling carefully consider what modes of transport you use.
If using the road,
then do not drink and drive, select a reliable transport company
or travel with friends and select the best driver.
If driving then
ensure that you are well rested before embarking on the journey,
have sufficient rest breaks on the way and most important –
ensure that the vehicle you are using or being driven in is in
the best mechanical condition it can be by your reckoning.
As Kachumbari says,
have a happy Easter!
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