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

The East African - - OPINION -

Mon­day morn­ing, 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 five­foot 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?

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

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?"

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