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SACCOs were seen as a first step in getting sanity back into
an industry that had taken on a reckless life of its own

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.

Whilst this requirement was relaxed many years ago, some still put them on the vehicles to give them some sort of legitimacy to operate as a matatu.

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 matatus.

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 happened.

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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  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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