Twitter comes to the rescue of stranded travellers - Daily Nation

Twitter comes to the rescue of travellers stranded on the road

Saturday December 1 2012

PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI Nyeri residents walk on the Nyeri-Nairobi highway on November 30, 2012. Transport was paralysed in the town after matatu operators grounded their vehicles in protest against against new traffic rules.
PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI Nyeri residents walk on the Nyeri-Nairobi highway on November 30, 2012. Transport was paralysed in the town after matatu operators grounded their vehicles in protest against against new traffic rules.
Matatu men line up to reject new traffic laws
By NYAMBEGA GISESA [email protected] AND KENREY KIBERENGE [email protected]

On Thursday evening, Mr Sankara Kiragu was among thousands of people who were stranded in Nairobi without any means of going home after matatu operators went on strike.

In Mombasa, Ms Chani Kerubo was walking to the bus terminal when she was told she would not find a public service vehicle (PSV) to Nairobi.

From Nyeri to Nakuru, Nyamira to Nyandarua, Nanyuki and Narok, Thursday was a terrible day for millions of commuters after operators grounded their matatus in protest over new traffic laws introducing hefty fines and jail terms for offenders.

Stranded commuters, however, got a reprieve from a most unlikely source — the micro-blogging website Twitter.

In a move that evokes the Bring Zack Back Home and Kenyans for Kenya initiatives, a car-pooling campaign was launched on Twitter, this time to help desperate commuters to get home safely.

Dubbed #CarPoolKe, people driving personal cars announced the direction they were heading and the number of passengers they had space for.

Those without transport got in touch through Twitter and exchanged phone numbers.

“It worked like magic. Many people reached home safely and in time. It showed that Kenyans with means can help others,” Luvale Wafula, a teacher at a private school in Nairobi told Saturday Nation.

Although #CarPoolKe was just a means to help people get home, it showed the power, generosity, togetherness and unity of Kenyans, virtues that are being slowly eroded by ethnic politics.

“Nobody said I am not carrying this person in my car because he is not from my tribe. There was no Kikuyu, no Luo, no Kisii and no Kamba. It was all about Kenyans wanting to get home and through it Kenyans all of walks of life united,” said Students Organisation of Nairobi University (Sonu) chairman Dennis Kiogora.

He said the initiative had helped thousands of students.

The idea originated from Twitter user Simeon Oriko, a digital and information strategist, whose Twitter handle is @mtotowajirani.

Stranded Nairobians got wind of it as they whiled away time in hotels, on the streets, at bus terminus and in cyber cafes hoping for the matatus to start operating.

And when the Kenya Red Cross Society through its Twitter handle @KenyaRedCross spread the #CarPoolKe information, it became an instant sensation.

Red Cross Society head of social media Philip Ogola, said the initiative had reached 16.5 million people on Twitter, while the Red Cross got 9,312 retweets and 3,229 mentions.

Mr Ogola said he had received 421 messages on Thursday and 267 on Friday from people who got transport home through the campaign.

“This shows that the spirit of brotherhood is very much alive,” he said.

Matatus are the main means of transport for millions of Kenyans and when the operators boycotted work, innumerable Kenyans were caught flatfooted.

But when personal car drivers came to their rescue, matatu crews reportedly stopped them and dragged passengers out, robbing some of them of their valuables.

On Friday, police said they had arrested more than 50 touts and drivers in Nairobi who will be charged with robbery with violence.

The number of vehicles on Kenyan roads has been growing by double digits every year for the last decade.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics says vehicle registrations shot up from 26,024 in 2001 to 161,813 in 2009.

Transport minister Amos Kimunya gazetted the new Act to take effect from Saturday.

On Friday morning, MPs Ferdinand Waititu and Gideon Mbuvi moved to court seeking orders to stop the implementation of the Traffic Amendment Act 2012 until their application is heard and determined.

Mr Mbuvi and Mr Waititu argued that the amended traffic rules were enacted without proper consultations with stakeholders.

They said the new traffic rules do not take cognisance of the traffic jams in major towns like Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu and Thika.

The MPs are suing the Ministry of Transport and Communication and Attorney-General.

“It is in the interest of justice to stop the implementation of the rules until there are consultations with the transport operators, commuters, police and insurance sector,” their lawyer Evans Ondieki told the court.

The government also made moved to solve the impasse when matatu associations and Transport Permanent Secretary Cyrus Njiru held a meeting that resolved to call off the strike.

The meeting discussed the possibility of reviewing and amending the stringent regulations.

“We now call upon the Minister of Transport to temporarily suspend these new laws until the clauses in dispute are discussed,” said Mr Sammy Gitau, the secretary-general of the Matatu Welfare Association.

He called on matatu operators to go back to work as they discussions on the best way forward continued.

By the time of going to press, though, Nairobi residents were still complaining of lack of matatus.

But in other towns, there were reports that the strike had fizzled out.

But as the strike seemed to be coming to an end, most people hailed the car-pooling initiative as a testament to the resilience of Kenyans.

They also accused matatu operators of selfishness and impunity.

Celebrated disc jockey alias DJ Joe Mfalme said: “#CarPoolKe is the future....And this might the beginning of the downfall of matatus.”

Another Twitter user, Mr Tim Njiru said: “By the time this strike is over, we’ll be done with matatus #carPoolKe #matatustrike.”

Ms Catherine Njeri described the initiative as “genius”, adding: “We saw another side to Kenyans #Twitterthumbsup.”

Michael Nganga said: “Kenyans can be kind and unite! You just have to rob them of their rights and it unifies them #CarPoolKe.”