Matatu politics in Nairobi

A bright pink bus sits in front of a tree at sunset

Image via CNN

I just wrote a piece for African Arguments about Nairobi’s recent downtown matatu ban.  Click on over to read the whole thing!

At the start of this month, Nairobi County governor Mike Sonko banned the entry of matatus into the city centre. The more than 20,000 minibuses which used to enter each day were forced to stop outside CBD and compete for just 500 parking spots. Passengers were dropped off often several kilometres from their final destinations. From there, they had few options but to walk. Cabs are too expensive for most, while cheaper motorcycle taxis were barred from the centre several months ago.

Understandably, there was a massive public outcry, to the extent that the ban was lifted just two days later. However, it’s still important to ask what informed the short-lived policy. While other major cities like Oslo and Madrid have recently banned private cars downtown in an effort to increase the use of buses and public transport, why is Nairobi driving in the opposite direction?

2 thoughts on “Matatu politics in Nairobi

  1. Interesting developments taking shape in Nairobi on Matatus.
    This reminds me of my Honours dissertation in History from which I engaged with the involvement of Rwandese and Congolese in the Harare Urban transport sector,1993-2015
    In Zimbabwe, efforts to decongest the city (Harare) seem to have been positive since the cholera outbreak of September 2018 intensified pressure on all informal activities which led to congestion.
    Yes, commuter omnibuses still pirate but the congestion has become minimal.
    The problem associated with banning commuters in the city, not only in Nairobi and Harare but even in other capita cities like Lusaka seem to be grounded on failure to have alternatives by respective local governance structures.
    In my study, I noted that failure by Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAP) in the 1990s pursued by the Zimbabwe government works hand in glove with urban transport challenges faced today. Yes, challenges of corruption and mismanagement from the ZUPCO which had monopoly over transport feeds in another dimension to the unending crisis in transport sector. Although, commuters (matatus) have been used as a temporary measure in accelerated urbanisation in a number of African countries particularly cities, it appears permanent solutions are far from materialising as other forms of transport are trapped by other broader challenges affecting these various governments. Railroad as an alternative is hampered by factors beyond domestic issues.

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