The resurgence of matatu extortion gangs in Central Kenya is yet another indication that the crucial public transport sector is headed in the wrong direction.
In Murang’a, matatu crews plying Kaharate-Kangare road in Kigumo sub-county are forced to pay Sh200 daily. The gang also charges a Sh175,000 "registration fee" for all new matatus on the route. In addition, new drivers are charged Sh5,000 while touts have to part with Sh2,500.
This is replicated in Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Murang’a and Kiambu Counties, albeit with differing fees.
Those who do not pay are beaten up by the gang members. What is shocking is that despite this daylight robbery and harassment, police have been reluctant to take action, according to matatu crews.
This is reprehensible and should attract the attention of Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai. If there is proof some of his officers have been working in cahoots with the criminals to rip off matatu operators, they should be taken to court alongside the gangsters.
The problem of extortion gangs is, however, not unique to Central Kenya. The practice is prevalent in most highways and byways round the country.
The gangs, for example, are even more daring in Nakuru. Besides extorting matatu, gang members, some armed with machetes, harass passengers and snatch handbags and mobile phones from them.
Things are clearly getting out of hand. If nothing is done quickly, the matatu industry risks sliding back into the dark abyss from which it was pulled by John Michuki in 2004. That should not be allowed to happen.
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