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Matatus blare noise into Nema’s ears

By | January 26th 2010

By Augustine Oduor

If the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) had its ears plugged in cotton wool, the noise emanating from some matatu (public taxis) termini in Nairobi would still blow out its eardrums.

Why, two months after Nema made big noise about its ban on noise pollution, the decibels blaring from some matatus at the Buru Buru shopping centre and from giant speakers of a popular pub on Kenyatta Avenue can silence any orders from the authority.

A spot check by The Standard around Nairobi revealed that either Nema has insulated its offices against the noise or the ban was sheer bravado, lacking any will to enforce.

Matatus and entertainment joints lead in flouting the Nema noise regulations. The authority has said it will crack down on culprits.


On a hot Friday afternoon, along the dusty Landhies Road and Race Course Road junction, touts shout, bang bodies of matatus from which emanate booming music.

A few metres away is a huge sole loud speaker producing loud music and besides it is a shelf full of music CDs and tapes. On the microphone is Mrs Anne Angatia, a preacher at Baptist Church, Banana. She had got a week’s license from Nema, at Sh2,000, that just expired but she said she had to continue working.

"It is so noisy here you can’t hear your voice, we wonder what the Nema ban was all about," said Caroline Irungu of Check Point Hardware.

Across the road, in Muthurwa market, it is the case of the worst noise hazard. A blend of loud music of different genres and origin emanate from various stalls selling music CDs, mobile phone hardware, electronics, clothes and shoes.

Loud music

"No customer can stand the loud music from the music stalls...talking to our customers is difficult," said Anthony Iregi who sells clothes at the market.

The noisy scenes are replicated at many bus termini, markets and streets around the city, adding into one loud, discordant symphony that dominates many sections in downtown Nairobi.

Most of those playing loud music in stalls said they did not even know if the Noise and Excessive Vibration Pollution (Control) Regulations, 2009 was already in force.

Last week, Nema sent warning notices to Muthurwa Matatu Operators of an impending crackdown against those flouting the regulations.

A city council officer tasked with implementation of the law at the Muthurwa terminus said, "That day the music volumes were low and very few touts could be seen. But the following day, it was business as usual...noisy and very loud," he said.

Ms Wangari Kihara, the acting communications officer at Nema, said: "There are two calibres of Kenyans, the law abiding and those who don’t obey the law. But this being a law like any other, we are going to ensure compliance."

She said so far 26 touts and club owners have been taken to court and slapped with fines. We work with other enforcing agents like the police and the Provincial Administration and all people must adhere to these regulations.

But despite the tough talk by Nema, a walk at night along the streets of Nairobi confirms only few entertainment joints comply.

One popular pub-cum-restaurant along Kenyatta Avenue appears to be taunting Nema with loud music blasting from mega speakers all night, starting Friday evening to Sunday morning.

But according to Mr Robert Orina, Nema Chief Implementation Officer, the authority has made good progress.

"Muthurwa market is a special case and after meetings between Nema, the Nairobi Provincial Commissioner and the Environment Ministry, we have organised a baraza at the Muthurwa market to sensitise the matatu crews on why they have no option but to comply," he said.

Elsewhere, he said, they issue noise licences for occasional events such as house parties, religious crusades, road shows and other festivals that last up to seven days.

"Entertainment joints like clubs and hotels do not get licences and are supposed to work within the permissible sound levels of up to 30 decibels," said Orina.

Application fee

The application fee and license fee add up to Sh2,200, subject to renewal after seven days.

"We conduct patrols from Wednesday to the weekend when we check the entertainment businesses," said Orina.

Sources in the police force said Nema’s implementation of the noise regulations was made difficult by the recent matatu strike.

"They fear that another hard crackdown on matatus could result into similar action. That is why they have been getting soft on the matatus. If they call us in we are ready to assist," said a police officer.

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