Matatu Strike Day 1 – Help? !

A truly un-funny April Fool’s Day to you.

Today’s is particularly grim, with reports of multiple blasts on civilians in Eastleigh and 6 or more people killed in Nairobi County. May they RIP and those injured recover from this grisly attack.

If that were not enough, today is the first day of the second public service bus (matatu) strike in less than 30 days. 

Today, a lot of the minibuses in Kenya are on strike. The government of Kenya’s recent regulatory changes that mean that most multi-seater public service vehicles, including minivans and minibuses, comprising the bulk of the carriers are off the road as they are yet to comply. According to the Standard, a Kenyan daily, only 7,000 of 100,000 vehicles had complied with the rules as of Monday 3/31/14. Those vehicles which had not been fitted with speed governors – among other requirements – were staying off the roads today to protest the speed with which the Government has demanded compliance with the new rules, meant to make the roads safer, and curb the high rates of death and disability from public service vehicle collisions. 

Who really suffers when this kind of thing happens? 

The short answer is – Everyone. But you already know that if you are in Nairobi today – what with the heavy saloon car traffic, and apprehension in the air.

In early March, there was yet another strike in Nairobi by the same matatu operators, who demanded reprieve from a recent hike in parking fees in Nairobi County, instituted by the 2013 elected county executive, led by Governor E. Kidero. On that occasion, vehicles were stoned, and roads widely blocked in a bid to make a case for the maintenance of these fares at the pre-2013 levels. Needlessly, already high insecurity was heightened by the issuance of a security cordon around the Central Business District, and pitched running battles between the protesting public service operators and security personnel

The matatu operators operate on limited cash capacity in this manner: 

Chitere and Kibua (2004) found that this sector provides significant direct employment: 

“In Kenya approximately 40,000 matatus provide 80,000 direct and 80,000 indirect matatu jobs, mostly urban”

This figure is certain to have increased over the last 10 years since their report. However, those employed in this sector live from day to day takings, rather than a significant cash base.

Gleave et al, 2005 add:

In Kampala and Nairobi it is normal for owners to be investors, rather than owner-drivers. Ownership is dispersed: most owners have less than four vehicles. Owners usually hire out the vehicle for a daily fee to a principal driver, who may employ a second driver and one or more conductors. The driver keeps the revenue collected but is responsible for paying the costs of fuel, use of the minibus terminals, the wages of any second driver and conductors, as well as any fines extorted from him by the police or the route associations. Drivers work very long hours, with shifts averaging more than 12 hours a day usually for six or seven days a week, although driving hours are normally nearer 7 to 8 hours. So as to maximize the revenue from each trip the minibus driver will not normally leave the terminal until the vehicle is full.”

In short, if there is no revenue, the driver and whoever else draws income from that vehicle are also sans income. And as the owners, and the drivers exert pressure on commuters by taking the vehicles off the road, so do they also suffer a great deal. 

Everyone suffers.

Here are some things we may well expect for Nairobi County ( I take a leaf from the March 5 Strike news reports):

a) A series of statements from Nairobi’s Governor Kidero and Senator Sonko, and perhaps from Woman Rep Shebesh.

b) A move by Inspector General Kimaiyo of the Kenya Police,

c) Threats to cancel, or actual cancellation of striking vehicle licences by Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary, Eng. Kamau


Here is what we do not expect – or expect to a very limited extent – and perhaps should pursue: 

a) Development of a more robust carpool.  See 2012 #CarpoolKE roundup by Ushahidi -which noted that online organizing needs to be followed up with offline verification – particularly in verifying safety of offers, and connections between car owners and car pool participants.


b) Consider matching services from Motoring Association of Kenya 


c) Get paid to carry people via Travelbuddy, and save some cash on your fuel budget. 


These thoughts are my effort to crystallize what is going on today, which we all hope will reach a quick resolution, particularly as the implementation of the following rules applies not just to Nairobi, but to all 47 counties. 

How are you coping with the Matatu crisis? Share your tips for a less hair-pulling commute? 


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