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Why ‘matatu mentality’ is no way to run a country

By Editorial | April 2nd 2014

Kenya: That Kenyans have internalised bad manners to the point that they have become part of our national values system is not in question. Our inclination to take shortcuts is legendary. Anarchy has come to define our existence and we are always hurtling from one crisis to another.

 No sector has come to define this chaotic state of affairs more than the public transport sector. The aptly coined “matatu mentality” phrase says all you need to know about the way we conduct our affairs as a nation.

It is also a searing indictment of the matatu industry, as the public transport sector is generally known. That we let things fall this low speaks volumes about how ambition to achieve socioeconomic growth was let to override all that entails.  Make no mistake; public transport sector is a key driver of economic development.

The sector also provides jobs for thousands.  This is why developed nations have well thought out structures on how the sector operates.  In fact, it is an area that is rarely left to private operators, as is the case in Kenya.

 Kenya has long been touted as a leading investment destination in East and Central Africa, but a lack of a well-organised public transport system is a great hinderance.  Tuesday hundreds of thousands of Kenyans were forced to walk to work or find alternative transport after matatu operators went on strike to protest the introduction of new regulations that are meant to bring sanity in the public transport sector.  Yet despite their protests, Kenyans should never allow the matatu industry to hold them at ransom again.

The trend has been that the operators resist any attempts to streamline it and then expect the Government to give in and then it is business as usual. Whereas we sympathise with commuters, it is time to say enough is enough.

 Matatu operators are a law unto themselves; they flout rules at will. To say that matatu operators have no qualms making a penny without a care for customer satisfaction is to state the obvious.  It is a sector that at best is run by misfits with little regard for common courtesy and decency.  Thousands perish on roads annually thanks in no small part to the recklessness of the drivers.

  The late John Michuki injected some sanity in the sector when he was Transport minister. The results of his efforts were evident for all to see. There were few accidents reported when the Michuki rules were in force — one of the main reasons for the introduction of the new regulations is a drastic reduction of road accidents that have continually plagued us.

However, Muchuki’s gains did not last after he was moved from the Transport ministry. Minister after minister bowed to the whims of the industry operators once more. This should never be the case again.

 Beyond the current regulations, the Government should spell out broader plans on how to manage traffic congestions especially in urban centres.

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