Saturday, April 28, 2007

When Matatus Were Young

Believe it or not! There was a time that the government defended the matatu (minibus) industry. That was in 1973, when the industry was still young, innocent and loved by many town dwellers. The key matatu defender was President Kenyatta himself. He consistently told bureaucrats and bus owners to leave matatus alone. Two bus operators (Jogoo Kimakia and Godfrey Muhuri) were met with a rude shock when Kenyatta refused to protect their buses from matatus. Kenyatta told Kimakia that, "If I were you, I would sell the buses and buy matatus."

Another occasion is when Transport Ministry (under Ronald Ngala) tried to introduce TLB rules. This did not go well with matatu operators. During one of Kenyatta’s roadside speeches, he was asked when rules and taxes on matatus would be repealed, on which he answered: "It is repealed forthwith!" Kenyatta later declared matatus “a legal mode of transport that could carry passengers without obtaining special licenses . . . but had to comply with existing insurance and traffic regulations.” (IPAR)

Kenyatta’s roadside declaration gave birth to Kenya’s most chaotic, yet iconic industry. In just three decades, matatus have evolved from a simple man’s business to a multi-billion industry, which has provided thousands of Kenyans with entrepreneurial opportunities.

The industry has succeeded this far because the government performed its proper role at the beginning: it ensured that matatus were not harassed, and it eliminated the burden of bureaucratic requirements. Now the industry is facing a new challenge: WHO SHOULD OWN/CONTROL A MATATU ROUTE? Is it vijana wa mtaa (home boyz) or matatu owners.

Bottom Line: According to Karol Boudreaux of Enterprise Africa at George Mason University, the solution lies with the enforcement of property rights in transit routes. That means recognizing the true "owner/operator" of a matatu route. The issue could be too hot to touch, but it is the only solution to our public transport chaos. Karol has done extensive research on South African matatus (called kombis in SA). Her publication (Taxing Alternatives: Poverty Alleviation and South African Taxi/Minibus Industry) offers a glimpse of how Kenya could streamline the matatu industry.

1 comment:


homeboyz suck!!!!!!!! boom boom music even the metal can't take it. what about our ear drums. man, i cam across one matatu minibus this morning from kayole, i didn't believe it, know what, am going to write an article about it in KENYA MPYA very soon, you can check it out. otherwise, we still are yet to see good control of transport in kenya especially when Michuki didn't stay while we really needed him. even the most respected cityhopas and others are somehow loosing it. something need to be done