Mat Culture

An Evolution of a kind

Back in the day we’d buy a seat on a matatu to and from town just to listen to music. Of course the gods of time were generous and that was back in the day before the Milimani road out of Integrity house was renamed ‘Jakaya Kikwete’ road. Those were the days when kids your age stood up to allow adults to have theirs sincerely Seats. There we were, confusing such for courtesy when it was simple logic; Kids would enjoy free rides mostly unlike adults who paid! As kids thus we never owned those seats. We were just poor stand by occupants. Come on, those days no one yelled “I know my rights!” I think that came with Facebook. We have Mark to wholly blame. It is Facebook which showed us people elsewhere on the globe yelling to others about rights. Some acting. Others meaning it. And we picked it up blindly. These days you will rarely find a matatu that says kids onboard are not charged. Not even one year olds. I doubt we have Facebook to blame here! They all sat somewhere and decided we should us all humans own those seats whether small or big. Fat or slim. Old or young. Here we are. No more standing up! To allow ‘adults’ to seat. That’s civilization. Goodbye neocolonialism.

Recently owing to the back to school menace, I had to board some Kitale bound bus. (Dear Nairobians, Kitale is some town in Transnzoia County) I am yet to understand what happens with the transport industry when it comes to back to school. Let’s just say that is a story for another day. It’s a bad bus but it is called Prince. That name was wasted! Personally, I wasn’t headed to kitale. Okay the bus was streaming all the way from Kisumu. In between they by passed me. Some chubby guy convinced me to board because they would drop me to where I was headed. I took him serious. That bus had more luggage than people but it was full of people if you understand. Some seated. Some clinging along the aisle. Others squeezing through passengers to alight. Yet more waiting to board. Inside that bus was mayhem. “We will find you a seat soon,” they go. Again I take them serious. Another mistake. I join my dear ‘clinging comrades’ on the move. We pass markets. Then towns. Then crowds. Then people. And trees. No seat yet. By this time I have concluded there will be no seat for me and I have to live with it. It brings me to what I call “the short lived Matatu relationship.” You all know how those mat people will sweet talk you nicely to board. They will even act like they are your childhood friends. But as soon as you are past the damn entrance, they will be so done with you! You advocates of the 21st century, ethics of good customer care, can we have a session for matatu chaps? Especially if it survives the fuel levy onslaught!

Courtesy is a word you will not find where to use when it comes to the matatu industry. All the way from the days when we would buy a trip to town to listen to music on board, to the days when we used we stood up for ‘adults’, to times of Stagecoach (age mates stand up and get counted) courtesy is the last worry within the aisles. If anything, lately the industry is evolving in swag and style while stagnating on courtesy. Its 2018, let’s just forget about fishing out that word along the aisles!

When you compare Rural against urban as far as matatu are concerned, the difference is very slim. Apart from the fact that the rural folks are less stylish and on a market day you might know everyone on board by their second name, rural operators easily compare to their urban counterparts. Wait, I get to think those Michuki laws were only implemented in Nairobi. Take a trip to shags and while there twenty of you will be bundled into a fourteen seater! It will surprise you those folks are fully at home with it. By the way, when you dare to complain with or without an accent, they will collectively label you ‘a black sheep’. No one will even care that you are coming from Nairobi! It is the only time they don’t hold Nairobians in high esteem like they would do at funerals! Surprisingly, the boys in blue hold camp every five meters apart. While at it, their job is as simple as, wave down, pick what is ‘faithfully theirs’, wave off, wait for the next patient. The kitu kidogo curse never went away!

Currently, the billion dollar matatu industry is rocked in a supremacy war of its kind. I even saw “THE NAIROBIAN” (the weekly newspaper) run a section on which route has the coolest mat. When you grab your copy, the answer will shock you!
If there is an industry hard hit by the ongoing fuel levy taxation debate, then it is the matatu industry. If there are people poised to suffer the blunt, then it is us! I took a break from the mat madness and took a trip online to hear what people are saying about this:

Our good columnist, Philip Ochieng would say:

“I support the government rising fuel taxes. In fact they should raise it to 30%. They should raise electricity taxes, phone taxes, internet taxes, pay TV taxes, processed coffee taxes, and levy taxes on luxury items like expensive alcohol, pizza and burgers.

How else would the stubborn middle class understand that it’s catastrophic to ignore matters of national concern and be aloof when the semi literate elected representatives from county assemblies and parliament are the ones allowed to legislate our lives into oblivion?

When Gov Waititu made his ridiculous comments about riparian land, I couldn’t help but think about the many middle class intellectuals who voted for him for no other reason other than the fact that Kabogo had been obliterated by perceptive commentary.

I would like the government to tax our road use, our building materials, our cutlery and everything that affect our comfortable existence so that we stop thinking that the likes of Raila or Malema or Bobi Wine are mad individuals to agitate for better governance…

When Raila saw you didn’t get his battles, he decided to show those who sang kumira kumira that he was closer to the President and the powers that be more than your tribal heads. He is wealthy and can be immune from high taxes.

After Bobi Wine went through what he did, he still made it to the USA for special treatment and though he acknowledged that the Ugandan tax money couldn’t cater for his expensive trip abroad,he said he’d foot the bill alone. This means, such leaders fight for you the common man,but when we don’t fathom these struggles,they can retreat to their comfort zones.

The government can place toll stations especially around Westlands, Kilimani, Langata, Karen, Kiambu road etc .. that’s the only way Kenyans may start to feel what the poor always feel when their corrugated iron structures are demolished without warning as they try to eke a living.

The Kenya Motorists Association have called for another boycott to condemn the high fuel taxes. Really? On a Monday? With all these rent paying,loan taking middle class situations? You must be kidding. I’ll actually be surprised to see Kenyans leave their keyboards to actually agitate for proper governance.

Until then, the government can do as they please. After all, there’s no opposition today to agitate for you.”

Serves us right!

My great Entrepreneurship professor, Henry Bwisa wrote:

Mr. President high oil prices could make your big four agenda a mirage
Dear Mr. President.
Allow me share with you what I think about the oil increases in relation to your noble big four agenda. Mr. President our economy relies on the constant transport of inventory between processing and delivery points across the nation. Globally and historically, relying on traditionally low transportation costs, companies were able to avoid maintaining storage facilities by keeping inventory moving and having it arrive “just-in-time.” This resulted in high-profit margins for producers and cheaper prices for consumers. This is what actually propelled globalization. Unfortunately, this “just-in-time” production approach can be marred by high oil prices. Rapid and volatile movements in the price of oil do place a significant amount of stress on an economy’s super infrastructure, shrinking any profits and increasing the cost for consumers.
Mr. President, I see high oil prices stress-testing your entire big four agenda, which was designed at a time of lower energy and shipping costs.
I do not have Kenyan concrete data now but it is scientifically established that a percentage increase in petrol leads to another percentage fall in spending on other things. This is especially when income has not changed and indeed it has not changed for Kenyans. My cousins the economists have a concept called price elasticity of demand. They say that inelastic demand is when people buy about the same amount whether the price drops or rises. What this means in the context of oil prices is that people will have to travel to work even at higher prices and this will eat into their unchanged income streams. The only rational thing to do will be to reduce consumption of other goods. Mr. President perhaps your economist can tell us the exact percentages we are talking about here.
Mr. President let me be a little more specific and touch on each of your big four agenda items
Affordable health care: Petroleum is used widely in health care—primarily as a transport fuel and feedstock for pharmaceuticals, plastics, and medical supplies—and few substitutes for it are available. This dependence theoretically makes health care vulnerable to petroleum supply shifts. Perhaps we need to empirically test this vulnerability to estimate how increased oil prices will affect your affordable health care agenda.
Manufacturing: Due to the inelastic demand nature of oil its increase means a larger share of households’ budgets will be spent on it leaving less to be spent on other goods and services. Consumption of these other things will drop and affect their manufacturing. Businesses whose goods must be shipped from place to place or that use fuel as a major input will have their volumes dropping dealing a blow to your manufacturing agenda sir. Higher oil prices will make production more expensive for businesses, just as they make it more expensive for households to do the things they normally do. My elementary economics teacher used to tell me that this scenario affects the microeconomics of an economy. At macro level oil price increases will increase inflation and reduce economic growth. Oil price increases will also stifle the growth of our economy through their effect on the supply and demand for goods other than oil. Increases in oil prices can depress the supply of other goods because they increase the costs of manufacturing them. In the jargon of my cousins the economists high oil prices will shift up the supply curve for the goods and services for which oil is an input.

Food security: I am not very sure whether the decision to hike the price of petroleum considered the implications of such given our food production is largely dependent on the peasant farmers. Any action undermining food production is to me ill-advised. The majority of Kenyan peasants aka small scale farmers live in remote and hard to reach locations with roads that are difficult to travel on. Apparently the fuel levy has not yet reached such roads. At a time when you Mr. president have indicated interest in putting agriculture on the forefront via your food security agenda increasing fuel price given its strategic role in food production and distribution is not a good signal and is counterproductive.
I need not mention that our small scale farmers are largely dependent on the transport system which is rather erratic and volatile. We know that transportation of goods and people from the remote farms where foods are produced are largely run by private individuals without government intervention and as such are easily affected by market forces and changes in prices of accessories and fuel.
Affordable housing: We are told that three things are important in real estate – one- location, two- location, and three – location. When transport prices go high people will want to locate themselves nearer their working satiations for savings. Economists will say this will increase demand for houses close to town and with it high rental prices. The entire building and construction will suffer from high oil prices. Housing will no longer be affordable. Your affordable housing agenda will be dealt a big blow.
Mr. President the whole issue seems to revolve around our tax regime. It is simply the most punitive in the region.
Prof. Henry M. Bwisa – JKUAT

Our good columnist and the Entrepreneurship professor both have a point. In that documentary ‘men who built America’ someone said “the world runs on fuel.” If we are not careful, we are losing an industry. We are letting go a culture! 👌

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