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Why matatu industry players are not about to strike over Christmas

Thursday December 15 2011

I am willing to stake my reputation on this: there isn’t going to be a matatu strike on the week of Christmas, and you can take that to the bank.

The matatu business is like tourism. The insufferable who run hotels in Kenya prefer foreign tourism even though, I am told, local tourists pay more and probably eat less.

These hotels rarely invest in products for local tourists: not food, not recreation, everything is cooked for the German palate and there are always Maasai morans jumping.

But the one thing hotels do is bang up the prices during the holidays and impose the most obnoxious conditions for booking, the pox on the lot of them.

So a hotel which normally charges Sh12,000 a night for a room will raise the price to Sh40,000 a night and say you can’t book less than five nights.

The holidays, especially Christmas, are seen in tourism as an opportunity to cash in, to overcharge Kenyans and provide them with the lousiest service possible.

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I mean, the queue for food is an atrocity, the fight for spaces at the pool are a national embarrassment.

Now, of course not every hotel is like that. I believe, for example, that the Serena Beach hotel is one of the best experiences I have ever had.

And the Sarova Whitesands is fantastic for family and a truly great and comfortable place.

But the country is dotted with junks where simpletons in uniform think it is sexy to be rude to local customers and grovelling to foreigners.

Saying that matatus will call a strike around the Christmas holidays is like saying hotels will close over that period.

I have heard of least one baron who owns hundreds of buses which he parks the year round.

He brings them out over Easter, in August and Christmas. Within those holidays, he makes enough money to last him the year and sees no sense in engaging in an expensive exercise – in terms of the cost of insurance and wear and tear – fighting for passengers in the low seasons.

The holiday season is a season of harvest for the corrupt and greedy matatu culture.

Of course, nothing compares to matatus in terms of boorish conduct and the propensity to slaughter Kenyans.

I think the welfare of Kenyans can be greatly improved by collecting matatus in one place and inviting one of our Air Force bombers to drop ordinance upon them.

And safety on our roads can become world class if matatu drivers were to be rounded up and exiled.

As a business model, the matatu industry is a born loser. There are thieves lining up either to rob the matatu-owner directly or milk him for bribes.

The margins are infinitesimal because it is an unregulated, informal and chaotic business.

That is not to say that I hate matatus. I love the energy, the drive, the creativity in that thieving industry.

But the lawlessness, the crude, rude, discourteous disregard for the safety of paying passengers and other road-users, this is what makes me disgusted and offended by the whole lot of them.

All of us Kenyans are taking to the roads heading upcountry, to the game parks or to the beaches.

We and our families are in danger of being killed on the road over the next month.

Or being maimed and our lives destroyed, reduced to a vegetative state, unable to care for our families or contribute to our country, incapable of enjoying our wealth and the many things that the good Lord has created.

All because some matatu owner does not have the decency to keep his matatu in a roadworthy condition or some vacuum-headed driver, in a hurry to go and collect Sh50 from the next stage, thinks that money, which he will waste on nyama choma and beer, is more important than the lives he has been entrusted with.

For once, let us have some seriousness. The police and the Ministry of Transport should come out and ensure that vehicles on the road are in a good condition, that they are driven safely, and that they carry the right number of passengers.

Buses and vans must have speed governors and seat-belts and all must be belted up.

If the matatu operators do not want to obey the law and to ensure the safety of passengers and road-users, they might as well take their junks off the road.

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