‘Schooled’ matatu workers fail discipline test

The Nyeri matatu terminus. Research shows that at least 62 per cent of the 1,980 drivers and touts interviewed in four Kenyan towns have attained secondary education. Photo/Joseph Kanyi

More often than not, commuters find themselves engaged in angry exchanges with matatu drivers and touts over reasons ranging from fares and speeding to carrying excess passengers.

These public service vehicle crews are infamous for their uncouth language and it is easy for one to dismiss them as uneducated, unsophisticated and outrightly crass. But nothing could be further from the truth.

A recent study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) shows that contrary to popular belief, matatu workers are in fact fairly educated.

At least 62 per cent of the 1,980 drivers and touts interviewed were revealed to have attained secondary education. Another 160 individuals — eight per cent of those interviewed — had college certificates.

Just one per cent of those interviewed had no education at all while those who had gone to primary school made up 28.6 per cent (568) of the interviews, only being slightly more than those with university degrees who made up 0.35 per cent.

“The industry is well educated contrary to public perception,” said Jacob Omolo, the lead researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, and who was commissioned to carry out the study.

The research covered Nakuru, Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu towns.

Matatu Owners Association (MOA) chairman Simon Kimutai agreed that the report was representative of the situation on the ground, saying the matatu sector was no longer an industry for “society’s rejects”.

“The sector was in the past predominantly filled by school dropouts and individuals from the village who had given up on life,” said Mr Kimutai.

“This is has since changed but the passenger’s perception has not.”

The question then arises that if educated, why then do touts and matatu drivers behave the way they do?

Dr Shauri Halimu, a sociologist, explained that the need to fit into a certain group forces even the educated ones in society to behave badly.

He said since the matatu industry is associated with reckless talk and general bad behaviour, by taking up this job, individuals are expected to adopt these anti-social traits to fit in.

“Group behaviour is dynamic and it does not respect education levels,” said Mr Halimu, who is also a lecturer at Kenyatta University.

As the research further shows, those who are engaged in the bad behaviour are youthful people in society — who are the majority in the industry.

Despite the harsh working conditions, most drivers and touts are aged between 18 and 35 years —73.1 per cent of those interviewed.

“Many employees consider it to be a wait--and see job opportunity which they do as they scout for better- paying jobs with more favourable working conditions and returns,” the ILO report noted.

The report further said that whereas the industry is highly risky, has high mortality rates and stressful, it still managed to excite the youth.

The government has over the years tried, with minimal positive results, to restore order in the sector that has been a law unto itself for nearly four decades.

Last year, the government ordered that all public service vehicles (PSVs) should be run by registered companies or savings and credit co-operative societies.

The 14-seater matatus were also initially scheduled to be phased out by denying them TLB licences — an order that has since been put on hold.

Leaders of matatu organisations believe that these groups are a first step towards changing how the industry is run.

“If the saccos are well empowered and are strict when hiring and enforcing their rules and regulations, the uncouth tag we carry will definitely be shed,” said Mr Samson Wainaina, the chairman of the Matatu Drivers and Conductors Welfare Association.

Mr Kimutai added that the same way that the drivers and touts pick up the lawless behaviour while on the job, is the way they can be dropped with the help of saccos.

In February this year, the ministry of Transport invited a consultant to establish how many matatus would optimally ply an individual route as well as use central termini for picking and dropping passengers.

Map route

The consultant is also required to map out routes used by PSVs in Nairobi and establish the number of people who require public transport on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

The matatu industry is an important component of the transport and communications sector with matatus being the mode of transport for million of Kenyans on a daily basis.

Revenue from the sector has also been growing over the years with earnings last year from passenger traffic hitting Sh190 billion, according to the Economic Survey 2012.

This represented a 13.5 per cent increase from Sh167 billion earned in 2010.

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