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Bribery still rife despite tough traffic rules

By KAMAU MUTHONI | Apr 8th 2014 | 3 min read


Kenya: Old habits die hard. Even as authorities enforce tough new rules to reign in chaos in the public transport sector, the usual waywardness of overloading vehicles and greasing the palms of traffic officers continues to flourish.

It is Friday. I decide to travel to my village after work. I plan to board a Nissan matatu plying the Nairobi-Nakuru highway.

At 8pm, I board the matatu but to my astonishment, we are stashed like sacks, four people in each row instead of the required three.

A small piece of wood is placed between the seats to accommodate the extra person. The conductor says it is “in the spirit of loving one another”.

I raise my voice in protest but the conductor tells me I will have to buy my own car to enjoy comfort. There’s more – we are to pay hiked fares of Sh150.

On average, I ought to pay Sh70 but the conductor says Transport Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau’s rules have taken away their profits for the day.

I start a conversation with him to understand better the implications of the  new rules.

“The matatu business has become difficult. The speed governors have limited the vehicle to 65km per hour and the police are taking more money than before to let us go without the gadgets,” the conductor says.


He adds that they are making less trips and have to travel at night to meet targets.

“The vehicle was bought on loan and the owner must service it. We need to be paid by the end of the day and have the vehicle fuelled for the next day. Where do we get all this money? The only solution is to flout the rules or buy our way to our destination,” he says.

There are several police checkpoints:  Zambezi, Nyambari, near Kinangop, Naivasha and in Nakuru town.

I found police at Nyambari. They had moved the checkpoint to another place to avoid being traced for corruption.

To make peace with them, the driver suggests giving them Sh200 but later tells the conductor to just fold an “e-paper”, ensuring the brown part is on top.

I ask what e-paper is and I’m told it is Sh100. The term means economy paper. The conductor explains it is very easy to part with Sh100  since it does not affect profit margin.


The e-paper is tightly folded into a tiny ball and placed on the conductor’s door handle. The reason for folding it is to accommodate many in the police officer’s pocket.

The officer signals us to stop by waving a torch. It is 8:50pm. He opens the door and asks why the vehicle is overloaded and travelling at night. The conductor explains most people are alighting at the next bus stop and closes the door. By then, the officer has already taken the bribe.

Later, the tout reveals that on average they give around Sh1,000 daily to police but if they escape ‘the traps,’ they would be forced to part with Sh3,000 to buy their freedom.

“If you get to court they will charge and fine you Sh10,000. That is a lot of money for a  common man like me. I reach my destination at around 9pm and for the matatu crew and the rest of the passengers, they have two more hours to travel and buy their way through.

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