Kenya artist Dennis Muraguri is currently exhibiting a collection of paintings and woodcut prints at the La Rustique restaurant in Westlands. The theme of the collection is ‘Matatu Art’.
“I’ve been drawing matatus for as long as I can remember”, Muraguri told The Star on Wednesday, “I was inspired by their spirit and style”.
The well-written feature on Dennis Muraguri was by Margaretta Wa Gacheru in the Star Life and began, ‘To some they are a nuisance, to others they are a necessity of life. Either way, matatus are an omnipresent feature of Kenyan everyday life’.
‘Omnipresent’, ‘Nuisance’, ‘necessity’, ‘spirit’, ‘style’, are all words that can be associated with the little 14-seater mini buses (for non-Kenyans, that’s what a ‘matatu’ is) that ply their crazy trade on our roads… and on the pavements, or teetering on the edge of a ditch, or along that extra lane than none of us knew existed (and didn’t).
‘Crooked’, ‘maniacs’, ‘killers’ are other words that spring to mind when thinking of the 19,000 matatus that operate throughout Kenya.
This week alone, and to pick just three examples, 10 peopled died when a matatu smashed head-on into a wall at the Gitaru junction on the way to Limuru town last weekend; 10 more died at Thogoto that weekend when a matuatu ‘plunged into a ditch’, and six people were killed on Wednesday when two matatus collided at Gachoka trading estate along the Embu-Kiritiri road in Mbeere South District.
And so the daily carnage and mayhem goes on.
BIGGER BUSES, BETTER REGULATION AND ENFORCE THE LAW
The government has stopped issuing licences for new matatu operators. They want to see a shift to larger 24-, 32- and 62-
The owners (one-in-five of whom are said to be police officers) argue this will lead to massive unemployment and a great loss of revenue.
Ordinary Kenyans, most of whom do not own a car, need ‘Public Service Vehicles’, but they don’t need to be run over on the pavements, or smashed into walls, or other matatus for that matter.
Putting matatu drivers into yet bigger death machines isn’t of itself the answer. Phasing out 14-seater matatus before there are enough vehicles to replace them is also not the answer.
The Kenya Forum says think again. Phase out matatus over a longer period but also regulate bus drivers, driving buses of whatever size, more effectively, and enforce the law (pavements are for walking, not driving) to stop this horrendous death toll.