We must find lasting solution to our mass transport woes

Saturday November 17 2018

Bodaboda riders watch out for Nairobi County askaris as they wait for passengers on Kenyatta Avenue. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The road to hell is paved with good intentions — so goes the adage, recently quoted by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.

The tough-talking CS was lamenting the complicity of bodaboda riders in crime and other related ills, including that hospitals across the country have set aside special wards to attend to victims of motorcycle accidents.

He was making the point that much as boda-boda operators have revolutionised public transport across the country, they equally have high nuisance value, where instead of sticking to the straight and narrow by abiding by the rules of trade and refusing to be used for illegal activities, the mostly youthful industry has allowed itself to be used and abused by all manner of unscrupulous characters who take advantage of the discreetness provided by motorcycle riders to commit and abet criminal activities of various forms, including peddling drugs.


As a solution, the CS proclaimed the setting up of a task force to recommend a new set of regulations for boda-boda riders, a legal regime that will take effect in February 2019.

But this wasn’t the main agenda for the day.


The bodaboda issue came up as an addendum to what the CS was speaking to the country about — the second coming of the “Michuki Rules”, targeting public transport providers.

The renewed enforcement of the regulations paralysed public transport across the country for a number of days, especially in Nairobi, with matatu operators crying foul that this was yet another scheme to allow the police to harass and extort money from them, in the pretext of enforcing seemingly amorphous traffic regulations.

However, by addressing the bodaboda matter, the CS seemed to be communicating that this time round, the government has a comprehensive plan on streamlining public transport, tackling both the matatu and boda-boda menaces as a start, this coming after a number of horrific road accidents especially by long-distance travel buses, which claimed hundreds of lives.

Yet the bigger question remains: Does the government really have a comprehensive plan?


When John Michuki came down heavily on the public transport sector, insisting on seat belts, speed governors and the likes, there was a sense that finally, the chaotic industry had found its match in a strongman who had unilaterally coerced it to change for the better. The strikes came and went, but the man stuck to his guns, with the support of commuters who were willing to suffer for a moment for the sake of long-term reforms. Yet the Michuki Rules didn’t last.

Like most government projects, the planning and launches are always gigantic affairs, but when it comes to long-term implementation and staying power, the cracks start to show.

The same sort of enthusiasm on Kenyan roads was evident following the election of Mwai Kibaki as President in 2002 when, sensing the palpable wave of change, members of the public conducted citizen arrests of corrupt traffic policemen. It was indeed a new dawn, but that too didn’t last.


Dr Matiang’i, like Michuki, is a firm and forceful public official. But as history has shown regarding the Michuki Rules — among other examples — the success and sustainability of government policy goes beyond a single individual’s character traits. Indeed, like Michuki, Dr Matiang’i can lead his troops from the front in insisting that everyone play by the rules.

But if this is not anchored on measures such as a well-structured and far-reaching follow-through strategy, a mandatory periodic review and an appraisal mechanism coupled with an intrinsic drive for culture change in both the public transport sector and the National Police Service — who are Dr Matiang’i’s foot soldiers — then Kenyans should rest assured that there will be a third, fourth, and even fifth coming of the Michuki Rules, under different stewards aside from Dr Matiang’i.


It must be said that this is not a prophecy of doom against whatever ambitious operation Dr Matiang’i has embarked on.

But as we all know, those who refuse to learn from history — whether recent or ancient — will repeat the same mistakes over and over again, expecting different results but failing to succeed at every one of these attempts because of ignoring lessons from the past.

It is, therefore, imperative that as Dr Matiang’i critiques the good intentions of the bodaboda industry — which may pave the way for crime and accidents — he must not forget to reflect on the government’s own good intentions which, if not informed by a solid implementation plan, may fall flat on its face, ending up providing rogue police officers with a conduit for corruption, while putting Kenyan lives at risk.

Godspeed to Dr Matiang’i, but only time will tell whether he has done his homework.

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