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Riding in a Kenyan matatu - minibus size.

In Kenya and neighbouring nations, matatu (or matatus) are privately owned minibuses, although pick-up trucks and estate cars were in the past pressed into service as these East African share taxis.[1] Often decorated, many matatu feature portraits of famous people or slogans and sayings.[2] Likewise, the music they play is also aimed at quickly attracting riders.[3]

These minibuses ply set routes, run from termini, and are used for both inter- and intra-city travel.[4] In addition to a driver, matatu may be staffed by a conductor,[5] locally known as a makanga or manamba.

As of 1999, they were the only form of public transport available in Nairobi, Kenya, although in 2006 and 2008 this was no longer the case.[6] Kampala, Uganda, may only be serviced by minibuses as of 2008.[AICD 1] As of 2014, there are more than 20,000 individual matatu in Kenya.[7] In 1993, there may have been double that number.[note 1]

The name may also be used in parts of Nigeria.[8]

Contents

EtymologyEdit

The name derives from a Swahili colloquialism meaning "three".[9][10] One explanation is that the wagons originally pressed into service as matatu[11] could be fitted with three rows of bench seats.[citation needed] Other sources maintain that three 10-cent coins was a typical fare in the 1960s.[9][12] This is unlikely as the 1 cent coin was withdrawn from circulation in the late 1950s. As an indication of its limited purchasing power, a box of matches cost 15 or 20 cents and a single cigarette cost 5 cents. On the other hand, a 3 shilling fare (1 shilling = 100 cents) would be too high.

It is likely that the name originated from the Swahili phrase mapeni matatu meaning three pennies (10 cents coins which are no longer in circulation) or the equivalent of 30 cents, which was the typical fare for destinations around most towns.

There is not a universally agreed on origin for the name, however, with a news source indicating its origin lies in the Kikuyu language.[13]

Public perceptionEdit

At times in Kenya, the matatu has been associated with criminality or reckless driving. Writes one academic, "by the end of the 1990s, matatu operators were typically viewed... by Kenyans of all ranks as thugs who exploited and mistreated passengers and participated in gang or mafia-like violence."[9]

In the early 2000s, struggle over control of matatu routes by informal groups led to violence,[14] and contemporary headlines highlight the fact that matatu were perceived as unsafe. These include a 2002 article titled "riding in Kenya's taxi vans is [a] death-defying experience"[15] and another from 1999 proclaiming that the "menace of deadly matatus [is] to be curbed."[13] Mistreatment of passengers has also been reported and includes: "verbal and physical abuse, theft, hijacking, ...sexual harassment, beatings, and rape."[16]

Kenyan regulationEdit

 
A matatu c. 2015

In Kenya, this industry is regulated, and these minibuses must be fitted with seatbelts and speed governors.[17] The Kenyan regime has been described as having extensive regulatory controls, and in this country a matatu worker can be pulled from the streets simply for sporting too loud a shirt.[18]

Present regulation may not be a sufficient deterrent to prevent small infractions as even decoration may be prohibited.[19] Laws prohibiting flashy paint-jobs and eye-searing colors were removed in 2015, and as of 2016 matatu in Kenya are brightly decorated with some operators paying upwards of US$2,000 for custom, decorative paint.[20]

In the 1990s and 2000s, informal groups emerged managing routes and requiring matatu drivers to pay fees.[14] At times, competition over control of routes precipitated violence.[14] Today, an individual matatu must be associated with one of over 600 independent, government-registered groups known as a SACCOs.[21]

As of late 2010, Kenyan government policy is to phase out minibus matatu in the capital city Nairobi in favour of larger buses seating twenty five or more. Currently no new matatu vehicles can operate in Nairobi, while the existing ones will be allowed to continue serving passengers until they become completely inoperable. It could take ten years or more to ease the congestion caused by more-popular smaller minibuses, however.[22]

Ugandan regulationEdit

 
The Old Taxi Park, Kampala, Uganda.

As of 2008, Kampala, Uganda, has no independent transport authority.[AICD 2]

Popular mediaEdit

In the Netflix series Sense8, Capheus, who lives in Nairobi and is one of the main characters, drives the matatu Van Damn, a tribute to Capheus' favorite action star, Jean-Claude Van Damme. His main rival is the Batman-themed Bat Van. An apparently famous matatu is the Gobama, which honors Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ For Kenya and neighbouring nations, see Kenya's Taxi Vans Are Packed and Perilous nytimes.com, 24 April 1988
    • For private ownership, see In Nairobi, Kenya puts brakes on its runaway success csmonitor.com, 28 June 1999
    • For matatu as minibuses, see Kenya (page 383) Tom Parkinson, Max Phillips, Will Gourlay. Lonely Planet, 2006. 416 pages. 1740597435, 9781740597432. (Google Books)
    • For past use of pick-up trucks, see Have You Ever Taken A Matatu? glpinc.org. and "Field notes: a matatu, a bike and a walk" Schatz, Enid. Contexts Vol. 2, No. 3 (SUMMER 2003), pp. 58-59
    • For past use of estate cars, see Muyia, Nafukho. "The Forgonen Workers" (PDF). Social Science Research Report Series, no. 18. Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa. p. 7. Retrieved 25 September 2012. 
  2. ^ For portraits, see Nairobi Today: the Paradox of a Fragmented City; Hidden $ Centz: Rolling the Wheels of Nairobi Matatu. Mbugua wa-Mungai. (page 376) edited by Helene Charton-Bigot, Deyssi Rodriguez-Torres. African Books Collective, 2010. 404 pages. 9987080936, 9789987080939. (Google Books)
  3. ^ DJ Edu (21 February 2015). "The buses you choose because of their music". Radio 1Xtra. BBC. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  4. ^ For set routes, see Kenya (page 382) Tom Parkinson, Max Phillips, Will Gourlay. Lonely Planet, 2006. 352 pages. 1740597435, 9781740597432. (Google Books)
  5. ^ Nairobi Today: the Paradox of a Fragmented City; Hidden $ Centz: Rolling the Wheels of Nairobi Matatu. Mbugua wa-Mungai. (page 371) edited by Helene Charton-Bigot, Deyssi Rodriguez-Torres. African Books Collective, 2010. 404 pages. 9987080936, 9789987080939. (Google Books)
  6. ^ For 1999 matatu as sole form of public transport, see In Nairobi, Kenya puts brakes on its runaway success csmonitor.com, 28 June 1999
    • For 2006 other forms of public transport available, see Kenya (page 382) Tom Parkinson, Max Phillips, Will Gourlay. Lonely Planet, 2006. 352 pages. 1740597435, 9781740597432. (Google Books)
    • For 2008 other forms of public transport available, see Stuck in Traffic; Urban Transport in Africa (page 6) Ajay Kumar & Fanny Barrett. Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic in co-operation with the World Bank, January 2008. Draft Final Report.
  7. ^ "Kenya's matatu bus system to go cashless". bbc.co.uk. BBC. 1 July 2014. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  8. ^ "The Boda-Boda Boom - Part Two". The Boda Boda Boom. 1 Mar 2016. 6 or 7 minutes in. BBC. 
  9. ^ a b c Thugs or Entrepreneurs? Perceptions of matatu Operators in Nairobi, 1970 to the Present. Kenda Mutongi. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute Vol. 76, No. 4 (2006), pp. 550
  10. ^ Edward Harris. "Matatu buses add color, entertainment to Kenya's rutted roads." Sunday Gazette-Mail. Gazette Daily Inc. 2007. HighBeam Research. 13 Jun. 2015
  11. ^ Muyia, Nafukho. "The Forgonen Workers" (PDF). Social Science Research Report Series, no. 18. Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa. p. 7. Retrieved 25 September 2012. 
  12. ^ McKinley Jr., James C. (16 April 1996). "Nairobi Journal;Take (On) the Minibuses, if You Dare". The New York TImes. New York Times. Retrieved 7 June 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Otani, Robert. "Menace of Deadly Matatus to Be Curbed." African Business. IC Publications Ltd. 1999. HighBeam Research. 6 Jun. 2015
  14. ^ a b c A City under Siege: Banditry & Modes of Accumulation in Nairobi, 1991-2004. Musambayi Katumanga. Review of African Political Economy Vol. 32, No. 106, Africa from SAPs to PRSP: Plus Ca Change Plus C'est la Meme Chose (Dec., 2005), pp. 505-520
  15. ^ "Riding in Kenya's taxi vans is death-defying experience." Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL). Tribune. 2002. HighBeam Research. 6 Jun. 2015
  16. ^ "No Mercy, No Remorse": Personal Experience Narratives about Public Passenger Transportation in Nairobi, Kenya. Mbugua wa Mungai and David A. Samper. Africa Today. Vol. 52, No. 3 (Spring, 2006), pp. 51-81
  17. ^ Kenya (page 383) Tom Parkinson, Max Phillips, Will Gourlay. Lonely Planet, 2006. 352 pages. 1740597435, 9781740597432. (Google Books)
  18. ^ For extensive Kenyan regulatory control, see Stuck in Traffic; Urban Transport in Africa (page 14) Ajay Kumar & Fanny Barrett. Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic in co-operation with the World Bank, January 2008. Draft Final Report.
  19. ^ For regulation as insufficient deterrent, see Nairobi Today: the Paradox of a Fragmented City; Hidden $ Centz: Rolling the Wheels of Nairobi Matatu. Mbugua wa-Mungai. (page 367) edited by Helene Charton-Bigot, Deyssi Rodriguez-Torres. African Books Collective, 2010. 404 pages. 9987080936, 9789987080939. (Google Books)
  20. ^ "Inside Africa" CNN International 25 October 2016
  21. ^ For requirement to associate, see "Kamwaro On Matatu Sacco". Standard Digital. 16 February 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
    • For number of SACCOs and government registration, see "REGISTERED SACCOS AND COMPANIES" (PDF). National Transport and Safety Authority. Government of Kenya. 13 January 2015. Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
  22. ^ Ngirachu, John (31 December 2010). "New rules to rein in wild sector". Daily Nation. Nation Media Group. Retrieved 8 April 2016. 
  1. ^ Stuck in Traffic; Urban Transport in Africa (page 6) Ajay Kumar & Fanny Barrett. Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic in cooperation with the World Bank, January 2008. Draft Final Report.
  2. ^ Barrett & Kumar, page 14

External linksEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ A 2005 source states, "the matatu industry was estimated in 1993 to employ 80,000 people directly countrywide." As one taxi can be staffed by both a driver and a conductor, this indicates around 40,000 matatu were in operation in 1993. (A City under Siege: Banditry & Modes of Accumulation in Nairobi, 1991-2004. Musambayi Katumanga. Review of African Political Economy Vol. 32, No. 106, Africa from SAPs to PRSP: Plus Ca Change Plus C'est la Meme Chose (Dec., 2005), pp. 513)