Government, good people and all you men and women of good will, must rally against the matatu (public minivan) strike called for Monday and defeat it.
Why? Because whenever the government and especially the traffic police seek to subject matatu owners and crews to the same laws as everybody else and whenever they seek to introduce measures to make matatu travel orderly and disciplined, the owners call out their crews on strike.
Matatu people are telling us that they will strike tomorrow because they are being harassed by bribe-demanding traffic police. If their problem are the traffic police why are they punishing commuters? If the problem is bribery why are they punishing the commuters they overcharge?
Matatu people accuse police of demanding bribes, but they do not own up to overloading their vehicles or speeding or being the leading contributors to road carnage. They do not own up to having defective vehicles on the roads or to breaking traffic rules at breakneck frequency. They do not deny their willingness to bribe their way out of trouble.
If matatu people want to protest against the police and their demands for bribes, they should direct their ire at the police. They should refuse to bribe the police. They should collect evidence of bribery and take the police to court or to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission.
Matatu owners have an umbrella organisation. They can organise, sensitise and mobilise against bribe-giving and, to a matatu, refuse to bribe the traffic police. Matatu people have the means to covertly collect evidence of bribery and extortion; they have friends in the police force that can turn in their bribe-demanding and bribe-taking colleagues; they can hire lawyers and shame the police into quitting this behaviour. Why turn on the commuter?
Matatu people want Kenya’s workers sacked for failing to turn up for work. They don’t want Kenyans to get services at government offices. Matatu owners want businesses to shut down or to operate and produce at below capacity.
They want small and big businesses alike to suffer. We must defeat this strike because it is not aimed at improving the deplorable travelling conditions matatu people subject commuters to. It is not aimed at improving the appalling insult-laden behaviour of matatu crews towards commuters and fellow motorists.
No, this strike is not about ridding the increasingly important and lucrative matatu industry of extortionate and exploitative tendencies by matatu owners and crews. This is not a strike that has been called for purposes of making matatu travel a bit comfortable; it is not about making matatu travel a bit safe.
It is certainly not about the welfare of the long-suffering commuter. When Mr John Michuki introduced new rules to bring about discipline and safety in the industry, matatu people called out their crews on strike! When commuters are arrested by police because they have not belted up because the straps are dirty or missing, matatu people turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the plight of the commuter.
This is a strike that has been called to reinforce the misery of the commuter at the hands of the matatu people and to buttress by force of coercion the impunity of the matatu people. This strike has been called to harass and intimidate, browbeat and beat up the police into beating a hasty retreat from subjecting matatu people to the law and forcing them to obey the law.
This is a strike called by those who do not want to obey the law to humiliate those who obey the law so that the law obeys matatus and not matatus the law. This is a strike that has been called to bolster the matatu crews’ disregard for the law, derision for the police, disdain for commuters and total and utter contempt for other motorists.
This strike is anti-people, the very people who pay exorbitant fares to matatu people, the same people matatu crews abuse and mistreat. This is a strike to punish the people who make the matatu industry flourish and matatu people rich. As I told you three Sundays ago, a fight between the matatu people and the police is a fight between bribe-giving devils and bribe-taking devils.
The problem for the commuter is that every time matatu people bribe the police they make up for this by charging extortionate fares. It is the commuter that suffers when police and matatu people agree or disagree over bribes. The commuter suffers when it rains because this is reason for matatu people to raise fares.
The commuter suffers when there is a traffic jam because matatu people make up for their inability to make more trips by raising fares. And how do we beat this strike? Employers must not sack workers because they failed to get to work during the duration of this strike.
Government should make available military, police and prison buses to ferry people to and from work. Kenya Railways should lay on extra trains and coaches. This strike must fail for matatu people to obey the law like everybody else. There can be no separate law for matatus nor should matatus choose the laws to obey or continue to cause mayhem on our roads. Period!
But, ultimately the government must get involved in public transport and particularly a mass urban transit system. Public transport is far too important to be left solely to profiteering buccaneers.
Kwendo Opanga is a media consultant: [email protected]