Ongata Rongai has for years been the butt of jokes among city residents, earning the nickname “diaspora,” due to the long time it takes to travel to and from the city centre.
The town, located in Kajiado County and which is only 17 kilometres south of Nairobi, was a cattle market for Maasai pastoralists before it became a densely populated commercial and residential centre. It is connected to Nairobi by the one-lane Magadi Road.
Public transport chaos is what puts the town in the spotlight. Traffic jams are the order of the day and commuters have to spend hours on the road on a daily basis including weekends.
The expansion of Lang'ata Road, which connects Nairobi to Magadi Road into a double lane, in 2012 barely improved the dismal situation.
To be in Nairobi by seven o’clock, for instance, one has to be at the bus terminus as early as 5:30 in the morning since traffic starts to build up on Lang’ata Road as early as from 6.00am.
Kajiado has a history of poor roads. But it is Magadi Road that has always been in the spotlight due to its importance since it connects Nairobi to Namanga, Kenya’s border town with Tanzania.
For years, commuters in Rongai have always had to scramble for seats in the stuffy and sluggish buses to ferry them to and from the city.
But it is the emergence of nganyas, fancy mini buses, with tasteful, glitzy graffiti and attractive names on the outside and which play blaring music and have Wi-Fi connection, that changed the transport landscape in Rongai. They are the fastest on the route and as a result, often charge higher fares than the rest of the matatus.
Nganyas charge between Sh150 and Sh300 for a trip to or from Nairobi, while the rest of the matatus charge Sh100. They charge much higher fares when it rains.
These fancy mini buses are known more for careless driving and dangerous overlapping ostensibly to beat traffic jams.
AVOID HEAVY TRAFFIC
They drive through roads within Lang’ata estate or through Lang’ata cemetery, use the Southern bypass and find their way to Kibera and then Mbagathi Way or Mombasa road then to Mukuru slums, Industrial area and onto Land Mawe estate.
At the end of the trip, the vehicle will have travelled twice as long the usual distance, all in a bid to avoid heavy traffic, which sometimes stretches from multimedia University to Nyayo Stadium.
Nganyas are remarkably known for hogging the road. Using obscenely loud music and honking, they announce their arrival, pushing other motorists off the road.
While ordinary matatus take two weary hours on the road, nganyas take only 45 minutes to an hour to get to the destination. They caused untold carnage on the road with numerous accidents, earning the nickname “killer dens.” It is common to hear a commuter say, “I used a killer den to get to town”.
Despite the lawlessness of the drivers and the touts, they are rarely apprehended because the majority of the vehicles are owned by traffic police officers and senior government officials.
At night, a fleet of mini vans that are pimped like night clubs take over the road. These are commonly referred to as “Usiku Sacco” and are known for drugging and mugging of passengers, by crew and criminals alike.
But there are better minibuses managed by calm and disciplined crew and are preferred by more elderly commuters. They do not play loud music and charge a flat rate of Sh100.
This way, residents of Rongai have a wide variety of matatus to choose from depending on the money in their pockets, how fast one needs to get to their destination and their taste.
Rains are the worst nightmare because of flooding on Magadi Road due to poor drainage, which drives traffic to a standstill.
Matatus have to wait for long hours until the floods have cleared or drive at a snail’s pace in single file to avoid being swept away.
Without traffic jams though, it takes about half an hour to get to town. If Magadi road was expanded to a double lane, residents would no doubt have a different tale to tell.