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Why driving a matatu is the next big thing in my burgeoning public career

By PETER KIMANI | Mar 7th 2014 | 3 min read


When I grow up, I want to be a matatu driver. Seriously, I want to add, invoking the leitmotif used by the young man of the house, a subtle commentary of the things he finds hard to believe.

But believe me, being a matatu driver is a realistic aspiration that I hope to achieve once in this lifetime, for their freedoms appear to be expanding when everyone else’s are contracting.

I’m not talking of the matatus of yore, when their crews sat and tossed their dreadlocks, pumped up the volume of their amplified stereos and kept their shirts open.

I thought I should add bevies of beauties would be in tow, but I remembered most appeared in school uniform. That would be politically incorrect.

Further, the matatu men are colour-blind to the traffic lights, the only colour they know is green, which allows them to cruise non-stop, and do not care about lanes as long as there is room to manoeuvre to a direction of their choice.

That macho image was emasculated, quite literally, by former Transport minister John Michuki. After all, he was not known as kimeendero, the crusher, for nothing.

The matatu man I want to be belongs to a newer order of radical exhibitionism. I suspect the crews still display their masculinity by sipping bottled drinks – apparently the sodas have a hole drilled through – and still swing precariously from the door.

But the matatu man I want to be is the sort that came to the fore this week, demonstrating their contrarian spirit by staring down the barrel of a gun.

Where ordinary mortals like you and I steer out of trouble, matatu crews drive towards trouble.

We saw them arrive in town and barricade all city thoroughfares to ensure only they had access to the city.

For those who may not know, their beef with the City Fathers was about parking fees that were reviewed late last year, and which affected every motorist.

Hike fares

The matatu men went to court and lost the case. They appealed and lost again. But since matatu men believe there is always a way where there is a will, when the corridors of justice led to a cul-de-sac, they used a road shoulder that took them to the streets.

They did not intend to go to the people’s court; matatu men do not care about people’s opinion of them, after all, they deal with people every day and on their own terms.

They hike fares at will, especially at the slightest hint of the rain, presumably because it rains coins in some parts of the country, play the music loud and shove passengers this way and that to pave way for more.

Only matatu men can have such scant regard for their customers in these hard times and not just get away, but actually thrive in the process.

And the beauty of it is that, even after abandoning their customers on the roads this week, so that many had to endure blistering walks, the matatu men feel nothing.

They reminded those who complained that theirs is private business and so can choose to withdraw their services if and when they want to.

Since our City Fathers have mainly invested in ghost workers who gobble up billions every year, at least we should be grateful that there are some in our midst who have invested in something tangible, even when it’s turned into an iron wall where no one other than matatu men can dare tread.

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