Matatu ban: ‘What happened, did Mr Fix It have a nightmare and just decide?’

Wednesday December 12 2018

Pedestrians walk on Muranga Road in Nairobi

Pedestrians walk on Muranga Road in Nairobi after the county government banned all public service vehicles (matatus) from accessing the central business district on December 3, 2018. SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Last Monday , when the matatu ban was put into effect, I knew it would be a morning from hell and I was prepared for it.

I normally walk, though it’s a good 15-minute walk to my office every day, that is 15 minutes from my bus stop to the office and another 15 minutes from my office to the bus stop at the end of the day.

On that Monday the walk was 30 minutes one way and thank goodness we were blessed with cold winds and no rains.

As soon as I found out that matatus would be banned from the central business district, my first concern was, where would I walk?

There are no pavements – even when they do appear randomly on our city streets, I am constantly glancing behind me to make sure no motorbikes have decided to make it their private road.

Then of course, there are the sewage pits that could swallow me whole.

No bright taping to show that you must approach with caution, no sign that this is temporary and is not meant as a landmark; they have indeed been memorised like bumps on a road by those who use the same path every day.

We have learned to know where they lie in wait, jumping over them and avoiding them.

Walking in the streets of Nairobi is thus hazardous, and also includes avoiding speeding matatus as we try to cross roads without pavements, the motorbikes, the holes, sometimes streams of sewage, who needs a gym?

I am fit, the fast walking (walking slow in Nairobi is not an option), jumping over manholes and sprinting across the road gives me a good workout.

Here we are, Monday morning had arrived. For an individual who is five-foot nothing and fully aware of her petite physique, walking on a footbridge is no small feat. I will probably be pushed out of the way, I am easy to knock over.

We only think about the vertically challenged when taking group photos, but when it comes to push to shove, they are never considered… So I made sure that I got to the bridge early

I left the house at the break of dawn. I knew I would struggle through a large crowd. Later that day, there were images circulating of that very bridge in Ngara (where the matatu minibuses had been instructed to terminate) packed to capacity.

And I was worried; the question on everyone's minds was, how many people can the bridge carry? It was so full, but why even use the bridge? I would rather run through the dangerous highway in packs than walk on that bridge.

The scenario on Monday night was even worse. I had stayed in the office until around 6:30pm and I did not feel it was safe to walk through Globe Cinema.

There are no streetlights on top of not having footpaths. Then I decided to walk toward the better lit side of downtown. I ended up getting a motorbike. There was so much traffic, the streets of Nairobi had become a parking lot.

But the part that was shocking was watching buses using the main road as a bus stop. Simply shouting that the trip was over.

Forcing passengers to get out in the middle of traffic while they took a U-turn on the main highway.

As much as we were following the law, the ban created so many opportunities for lawlessness. The boda boda motorcycle taxis were ecstatic, because they had made a fortune that day.

I understand that there has been a conversation about banning matatus for years, but why can't we learn from the failure? Repeating the same action and expecting a different result is called stupidity. It has been 14 years and we are still taking the same actions.

Agreed, the city of Nairobi needs to be decongested. And there need to be new methods to enter the city.

The most interesting thing about all this, is the fact that many Kenyans believed that it was Internal Security Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i who had imposed the ban.

But can we blame them for thinking this? That it was actually the Nairobi Governor and not a Cabinet Secretary? When there were issues of plagiarism in our national examinations, CS Matiang’i was known to be behind the scenes.

Even when the matatu regulations on seatbelts and proper safety precautions were being enforced, many were sure it was the CS behind it all.

The Mr Fix It of our government. He can fix anything, from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Internal Security and Ministry of Transport.

Thus the conversation that I had with a taxi driver, who asked, "Did Matiang’i have a nightmare, and wake up and just decide?"

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director at Siasa Place. @NerimaW