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Matatu Apps. No Longer Act As Exhaust
Brake Components But More Like Pianos

Coastweek -- As we continue to look at the different matatu “tribes” and clans, we will this week look at the fourth clan from the Nairobi matatu tribe, writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.

The fourth sub tribe or clan is the one manifests itself as the thirty-two seater  moves from being a simple box with basic painting of the operator’s logo to a more sophisticated creation.

The thirty-two seaters that we have do not start life as a matatu.

They actually start life as a truck chassis.

They are born to be three tonne trucks as opposed to growing up to be matatus.

However, our body building gurus in the country discovered a niche need and developed a local variant of a bus based on the truck chassis.

Almost ninety-nine per cent of the thirty-two seater matatus that ply the roads in Kenya are bus bodies that have been built on top of a truck chassis.

The structural additions and all the embellishment of the exterior for a lot of these buses start at the assembly and are then completed at the bus builder’s workshop.

This is where the overall shape is decided.

One can see the evolution of the build of these matatus.

They started off with the rectangular loaf look that one still finds in school buses and many government and institutional buses as well.

This has progressed to a point where some of the matatus we see on the roads are mobile works of art.

The exterior of the fourth clan of matatus is characterised by bold and garish expressions mainly through painting of caricatures or murals.

These are embellished by chrome fittings and fairing and flaring of various extremities of the bodywork.

Added to all this are various flaps, wings and ailerons.

Your average matatu looks like a cross between a traditional bus and a formula one car.

The only difference is that the external embellishments are static whereas on a formula one car they move and have a specific function.

Other things that are added to this work include lighting at various parts of the anatomy that can either be static lighting, linked to the vehicle’s sound system to be like disco lights or to a synthesiser so that the lights chase each other or follow a pre-set or random pattern.

Such matatus become a menace and are dangerous at night as it can cause some drivers to lose orientation when driving.

Other items added include multi tune horns that can be switched at each stage to differentiate the vehicles noise from the others.

This feature can also be used to be a defining cry from matatus from a particular owner or SACCO.

The exhausts also make different noises depending on the type of silencer fitted.

The more popular exhaust systems include what are called exhaust modulators that can be used to change the sound that an exhaust makes.

Whilst originally used to control braking in diesel engines, these devices have increased in sophistication that they can now be used in almost any type of engine to generate specific exhaust noises.

They no longer act as exhaust brake components but more like pianos.

The final thing that these matatus have that is very different from the other matatus is the in-vehicle entertainment systems.

Just like in planes, they have in seat TV screens that allows one to watch personal videos as they travel in the matatu.

There is also the option of listening to a very loud surround system that is sometimes connected to the showing on the in-seat TV screen.

The incredible thing is that despite the differences in the level of opulence or offering, these matatus do not charge an arm and a leg for the extras.

They rely on these extras to attract custom so that they are always full.

These sub clans of the matatu tribe of Nairobi survive peacefully and one will find a sprinkling of all the types of matatus even if there is a dominant type on each particular route.

The one thing that is common amongst all the matatus despite their sub clan is that they all speak the same language – recklessness and impunity.

This language is the same across all the different tribes that include the ones described in the semi-arid as well as the Western parts of Kenya.

As Kachumbari says, this is one language that needs to be modernised!




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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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