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The other side of the matatu industry

It is rife with drug addiction, sexual harassment and gender inequality

In Summary

•You need to be abrasive and quick thinker to survive in concrete jungle of matatus

•However, use of alcohol and drugs in the industry is counterproductive eventually 

Matatus along Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi.
Matatus along Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi.
Image: EZEKIEL AMING'A

In a country where public transport has been a headache due to insufficient train services and government-owned bus services, matatus have more than done their part to plug the deficit. 

These privately-owned vehicles have afforded millions of Kenyans a cheaper means of transport. 

However, there is another not-so-pleasurable side to this industry, which often goes unnoticed by many. One of these dark things is rampant alcoholism and illegal substance use by conductors, middlemen and even drivers. 

The matatu industry epitomises Nairobi's description as a concrete jungle, where only the strongest survive. Calling out to passengers all day and convincing them to board your vehicle — even when it is empty — is no walk in the park. 

This is where many turn to alcohol or cannabis (weed) to think quickly on their feet, channel their inner wits and gather the courage to approach potential passengers.

Every time I use the Waiyaki Way route to and from my residence in Regen, I have noticed that most middlemen — better known as makagere — often appear light-headed and a bit too brazen for my liking.  

Once upon a time, I was seated at the front seat of a matatu and the driver was busy chewing muguka, with one hand on the steering.

He had reggae music on blast and was surely enjoying himself as he shuffled between driving, picking a few leaves of his muguka and groundnuts to chew. 

With the well-documented effects of miraa and muguka, I couldn't help but wonder if we were safe in the hands of this man, who was mixing a lot of pleasure with business. 

Unfortunately, the widespread use of these substances in the line of duty means passengers are never safe. It is worse for women. They must bear the brunt of intoxicated men who don't take it lightly when female passengers don't board their vehicles. 

I have witnessed many instances where the makagere or conductor touches a potential female passenger inappropriately while trying to convince them to board a matatu.

At one time, I almost vomited in disgust as a group of conductors hurled unprintables at my girlfriend (now ex). It happened again with my sisters and this time I gave them a piece of my mind. 

I have also noticed a lot of gender inequality in the way certain passengers are allowed to occupy which seats. This is usually with regards to the front ones, next to the driver. 

Usually, these front seats are reserved for pretty women, and any man who tries to occupy them is usually directed to the back by the conductor.

There was a time I tried opening the door to sit in the front but it was locked by the driver, only to see it being opened hurriedly when a pretty passenger showed up. 

Not that I have any qualms with this practice. After all, the management reserves the right of admission. I just find it funny and intriguing about the feminine pull on the male species. 

Nonetheless, we thank God for our matatu industry. No sector is ever squeaky clean. But issues of drug addiction and sexual harrasment need to be sorted out before they soil the industry's image.