By Fred Mbogo
Published January 9, 2009
Though he came to power with an impressive academic curriculum vitae on December 30, 2002, President Mwai Kibaki’s matatu culture-styled administration has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many a Kenyan and fulfilled the Kiswahili caution of his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi, that “Siasa mbaya, maisha m[a]baya” (literally, “bad politics leads to bad life”). FRED MBOGO writes.
In President Kibaki, retired president Moi’s words have come down to haunt Kenyans though the former came to power recommended with a colourful CV to boot. Sample his academic records: a distinction from Makerere University, then a world-class institution of higher learning, and then further prestige via a hallowed London School of Economics qualification. It is through the evidence of these accolades that Makerere University thought it fit to engage him gainfully as a lecturer. That’s a man with “a brain and a half”, we could say. How come this brilliance goes largely unnoticed in his presidency? Is the running of a state such a tough job that it calls for much more than “a brain and a half?”
The fact of the matter is that the lives of Kenyans have become tougher and more miserable because the President, the main politician in the land has not only, according to Moi’s statement, presided over “siasa mbaya” but is also behaving like a rogue matatu driver.
A matatu is an informal public service vehicle that transports people from one destination to another. Without any formal public transport, matatus are often the only means of transport for the majority of Kenyans. For this reason they have created their own “matatu industry” which has spawned an infamous “matatu culture”.
When a passenger boards a matatu, he is at the mercy of the driver who traditionally has the notoriety of not listening to his passengers. Consequently, passengers are often never dropped at their exact destinations of choice. In any case it is difficult to talk sensibly to the driver as most matatus have loud music that makes communication impossible.
Matatus are run by tyrannical drivers who exercise authority through their touts. These drivers don’t talk much but when they do, they put to shame the recipients of their foul mouths.
Matatu drivers are always chewing something and occasionally spitting through their windows onto the road. They mostly drive at break-neck speed and do not hesitate to overtake other motorists even where the road ahead is not clear. Their overtaking manoeuvres can be on either side of the vehicle ahead as long as there is some evidence of space.
Matatu drivers love their jobs as is evident in the way they react to near accidents. To them an accident is just a game gone bad, much like a loser feels after dropping points in a segment of a video game. The exhilaration that comes with the risks taken is enough to give them the feel of power behind the steering wheel. They are hungry to exercise it, almost forever. When the police catch up with them, the quick fix is always through some bribe. So through hook and crook they drive on!
Hapless passengers are left cursing, shouting themselves hoarse, and finally giving in to this tyranny.
In Nairobi, the space inside a matatu is physically comfortable on face value but there are a lot of issues that disturb the peace. The latest introduction are video screens on which pornography is liberally displayed. Viewers are constantly “entertained” with pictures of women in the nude. Of course potential viewers can choose to close their eyes or look away but the temptation is big and the eye never disappoints!
To demand that these screens be switched off or the volume of the music be reduced is to invite a tirade of insults from the matatu touts and a silencing river of words from the driver, whose set of deep red eyes are intimidating enough. There is always someone between the driver and the tout who must be intoxicated, via alcohol or otherwise, for effective silencing.
The tout as the lieutenant of the matatu driver physically displays an array of “manly” activities. He swings on the vehicles door as it moves. He boards the matatu after a short run; he is always late and catching up through exciting exertions of his body muscles. Although uniforms have been recommended for these touts, they are often dressed like some American rapper or musician that excites the young into a jig. Completed by shiny bling-bling, flashy cap and baggy t-shirt and ill fitting trousers and tough shoes, the tout invites tonnes of admiration from teenagers. School girls like them for their macho display. Drivers receive the “lion’s share” of these girls, though. They invite the girls to sit on the seat closest to them and cannot keep their hands off the girls’ thighs, for long periods, in a way that might not attract the wrath of parents!
Unfortunately it seems Kenya is one huge matatu that is under Kibaki’s steering. He is breaking every rule of driving and his passengers who are anxiously screaming and shouting themselves hoarse cannot attract his attention. When he finally turns to them after the voices are about to die out, he shouts “kubafu!” (fools!) at them.
Kenyans feel that a lot that is amiss in Kenya can be fixed if the country has decisive leadership but they are tied to a President who isn’t listening and who shows little care, if any. In the meantime a lot of potential is being killed by this indecisiveness. Problems seem to have assaulted Kenyans from all spheres: sky-rocketing cost of living, poor pay, unemployment, corruption, cheating in national examinations, civil disobedience, mistrust, suspicion, tribalism, hunger, internally displaced people, among others.
It is reported that in sections of the country, people are dying of hunger while others are surviving on inedible roots, fruits and leaves.
The latest irritation coming from the rogue matatu driver’s antics has been the passing into law of a draconian bill that seeks to muzzle the freedom of expression by the media. At no any time in the history of Kenya were the freedom of the media threatened as during the Kibaki presidency. His wife, Lucy Muthoni, invaded Nation Media Group and assaulted journalists while masked armed men the under instructions of the Minister of Internal Security raided the KTN TV and Standard Newspapers,Â confiscated equipment, terrified employees and generally rendered the premises a difficult environment to work in. Well, this was before President Kibaki ignored please that he not assent to a controversial bill that sought to muzzle the media. After a lengthy silence in what his admirers term “hands-off” style of administration but which critics see as “no administration at all”, Kibaki shocked the nation by signing the Kenya Communications (Amendment) bill into law on January 2, 2009. This law has effectively legitimised the gagging of the media. Unless the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Act is not amended, the Kenya matatu driver has given his touts the tool they will employ in terrifying possible “noisy”, screaming or shouting passengers.
And lotsw of screaming, shouting and cursing by passenger has been going on from just about any quarter of the matatu but the driver, as is his characteristic, is ignoring them.
Now the “siasa mbaya” that President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi said ruins “maisha” (lives) has come home to roost. The president must be smiling in his retirement as he feels vindicated. After all, he keeps reminding his listeners that running a country is no joke. He ran it for 24 years; whether he ran it better than a matatu driver does his vehicle is another matter. The current driver is either too intoxicated, plain unlucky or unfortunately enjoying the game at our expense!