Coastweek -- This
week we will consider the last of the big four matatu tribes in
Kenya and that is the one from the coastal part of the country,
writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.
The main residence
of this matatu tribe is in the city of Mombasa and its environs
but there is a sprinkling of the tribe in all the towns.
The matatus in
Mombasa have all the general hall marks of their relatives in
the other parts of the country.
There are some that
are plain white and the only way one knows that they are in the
business is because they have a yellow dotted line around the
equator of the vehicle.
Others have plain
lettering that shows that they belong to a particular SACCO
registered cooperative without the other razzmatazz associated
The largest number
are those that are moving works of art.
Just like their
upcountry relatives, the art is varied in style and narrative.
However, the really
massive works that have body panels changed and so forth are not
Most of the coastal
tribe of matatu is of the fourteen seater body type.
The larger thirty
two seater are present but they are not that many.
In addition to the
variety of art, the one thing that distinguishes the Coastal
matatus from their upcountry relatives is what I call the race
to the sky.
Part of the pimping
process of the matatus after the art work is the mechanical
At the coast, they
do all the hardware additions to the bodywork in differing
outstanding feature is the raising of the rear end of the matatu.
Most matatus have
wider and thicker rear tyres that are supposed to allow them to
go faster than the speed limiter that is required to be fitted
in the matatu.
The principle is
that the thicker the tyre the larger the circumference.
This means that if
the wheel makes the same number of revolutions as a thinner
tyre, it will travel a longer distance in the same time hence
I am not a
mathematician myself but those I have talked to tell me that the
theory is sound.
However, the gain in
terms of the increased speed is only a few percentage points.
The key thing about
the coastal matatus is that the funkier matatus have the rear
ends raise in the extreme.
It is almost as
though the owner wants to create stadium seating so that the
passengers all have a clear view of the front.
However, the reality
is that with the back end raised, the passengers sitting towards
the end of the vehicle will have their forward vision reduced
and they will generally be shown the dirt in front of the matatu.
seats at the back are preferred by passengers.
I asked one of the
matatu drivers why the craze to raise the rear ends of the
He told me that it
was because it brought them more passengers as the higher the
rear end the more macho the vehicle would be considered.
He told me that they
would tend to get the buffed guys and their petite followers as
well as the buffed chicks! I wasn’t convinced and went to ask
The next driver told
me that the main reason they raised the back end of the vehicle
was because of the bad condition of the roads in and around the
This saved them from
having to carry out numerous repairs on the bodywork mainly but
also to some of the items attached to the body.
The only exposure
then was the drive train but even this was less exposed.
This has a ring of
truth in it as the roads have generally been bad at the coast
for a long time compared with the upcountry roads where the
government was focusing in most of the recent past.
However, in the last
few years they have started repairing and upgrading roads in the
It is also true that
increasing the tyre depth would result in the drive train being
higher off the ground.
However, the real
macho matatus also raise the body very high compared to other
This height means
modifying the suspension system and also altering the mechanics
and dynamics of the ride of the vehicle.
They will be more
likely to roll when handled badly round corners compared to
The other body
components will also wear out rates which are probably shorter
than design because of the very different forces they will be
I am also reliably
told that the insurance companies are reluctant to insure such
vehicles so they are lowered when going for assessment and then
raised for the rest of the year.
This means that the
passengers in such a vehicle are most likely uninsured though
the vehicle may have an insurance sticker.
The exceptions tend
to be in the fine print and you as a passenger in a matatu are
not privy to such information.
It is therefore
riding at one’s own risk in these extreme coastal matatus.
They are popular and
very rarely do we hear of one of them upending on a corner so we
can be complacent and ride in them.
However, be warned!
As Kachumbari says,
we wish to emulate the frog in cold water that forgets to jump
out as the water is gently warmed!
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