This week’s strike by matatu owners – egged on by the criminal cartels that have a stranglehold on Nairobi’s public transport – has confirmed, more than ever, the need to free the city of the menace posed by this chaotic industry.
The County Government of Nairobi should not allow itself to be held hostage by an industry that has resisted reforms. The matatu industry, at least in the city and its environs, has thumbed its nose at nearly every attempt by the national government and the old City Council of Nairobi to enforce discipline and free itself from the stranglehold of people who can only be described as thugs.
It is no secret that efforts to restructure public transport in Nairobi have run into headwinds because certain politicians have an interest in the matatu industry, which forms the bedrock of their power base. The genesis of the woes a majority of Nairobi residents who depend on matatus face can be found in the lack of alternatives to these noisy, filthy and crime-prone contraptions.
The county must invest in public transport that is efficient, secure, clean and reliable. The much talked about metro railway remains a paper project, but there is no reason why the county cannot partner with the National Youth Service, for instance, to operate fleets of buses on selected routes for a start.
Users would buy pre-paid cards to avoid handling of cash by staff and other technology that would limit avenues for corruption. There is no reason such a venture should collapse if proper monitoring systems are in place.
On the other hand, matatu owners are forced to part with cash to criminal gangs who control various routes. Their staff also steal from them by not accounting for all monies collected. Small wonder that the industry has become cutthroat.
Countries that have well run public transport have achieved it through deliberate investment by their governments in road and rail. They recognise that hassle-free transport boosts their economies. There is no other way.