I’ve written a lot about #KOT – Kenyans on Twitter. We’re said to be the third-largest tweeting block in Africa (after South Africa and Nigeria). We’re said to wield a vast a mount of power, and have several TTs to show for it, and I’ve often wished we could use this strength for good. Lately, there’s a trend of using social media for fundraising, and it makes me smile – sometimes – cynically. But yesterday, I was truly impressed.
It started with an early morning radio report on #MatatuFM (aka Classic 105) about an apparent strike on Route 106, 125, and 111. Matatu crews were said to be pulling out passengers and making them walk. Later, the madness spread to other routes, and half the nation was allegedly strolling to wherever they needed to be.
Usually, when matatus strike, they’re back on the roads by nightfall, because they need to recoup the day’s losses. But by 9.00 p.m. last night, there were still no public vehicles available. Also, it was raining. I was lucky to get a lift home, but I saw a lot more people following this advice and walking.
The matatu crews are striking because of the new traffic rules, which they find punitive. I think the rules are fine, because they’re for our own good, and are designed to save lives. The majority of matatu operators disagree. The new traffic rules include the following, as extracted from East Africa Centre for Law and Justice Blog:
➢ Ownership of vehicle registration plates would be given to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).
➢ In the event that the ownership of a vehicle changes, the registration plates are to be surrendered to the registrar of motor vehicles first. Failure to do so would attract a fine not exceeding KES 30 000, and a subsequent KES 10 000 for every month the law is not observed.
➢ Driver’s licence holders would have to undergo eye tests every three years. They would need to present a medical practitioner’s report in order to renew their licence. People failing to adhere to this requirement would be disqualified from holding a licence for three years.
➢ Driving under the influence would attract a penalty of 10 years in jail or a minimum of KES 500 000 fine, or both.
➢ Overlapping, driving on pavements and pedestrian walkways or using petrol stations to avoid traffic would get you a three month prison term or a fine of KES 30 000, or both.
➢ The licence of a person found guilty of exceeding speed limits would be invalid for not less than 3 years if the limit is exceeded by up to 10 KPH or if the offense is repeated more than three times.
➢ The Inspector General of Police would designate areas where Police will be required to erect roadblocks.
➢ There will be road signs showing the prescribed speed limits.
➢ PSV drivers and conductors would be required to wear badges and uniforms. In addition, the PSV drivers would be required to do a compulsory competence test every two years.
➢ Motorcycles would have to be insured against third party risks and the riders would be compelled to wear helmets and reflector jackets. Penalties for contravening this law would attract a KES 10 000 fine or a one-year jail term.
I was in a matatu a few days ago that was overlapping on Statehouse Road. A passenger asked whether the matatu crew wasn’t afraid of paying a 10,000/= fine. The makanga replied that he was willing to pay 10,000/=, 20,000/=, or even 30,000/=. He bragged that he would just hand it to the traffic cop and walk away scot free. It’s attitudes like his that are driving the matatu strike.
Not all matatu crews support the strike. A few dared to stay on the road. But anyone refusing to take part is at risk. Some matatus have been stopped, passengers ejected, and the offending matatu crew beaten up in full view of the police. In some places, private cars are being stoned for giving people lifts, and in other places roads are being blocked by bus drivers and Mungiki.
A part of me wondered if we could defeat the matatu menace once and for all. If we just ignored them for a week, surely they would back down and get on with their lives. But it’s hard to ignore someone stoning your car, and not everyone is lucky enough to get a lift to work, blessed enough to have an understanding boss, or close enough to walk home.
At some point, my little brother called me to find out where I was and tell me about #CarpoolKe. It began with @KevDaNative offering someone a lift home, @MtotoWaJirani and @TheMumBi creating the hashtag, and soon #KOT were announcing they had space in their cars, offering free rides and sharing cabs. Of course there were lots of jokes, and people with less than scrupulous intentions, but for the most part, it was a case of ordinary Kenyans helping ordinary Kenyans.
There was a long list of tweets that said ‘Headed to XYZ, space for four.’ Lifts were offered to places as far as Kajiado and Kiambu Road, and hardly anyone was charging. Granted, there was an element of caution, and some people took advantage, but the generosity and kindness was still touching.
The action wasn’t restricted to Twitter. This morning as I waited to get a matatu, I saw lots of drivers stopping and offering lifts to strangers, which I thought was a beautiful thing, awkward silences notwithstanding. As cliche as it sounds, it gives me hope for the Kenya of the future. It makes me think that maybe, just maybe, we can extend this to other areas of our lives, like selecting good leaders.
In a conversation yesterday, I pointed out that the section of the population that votes sensibly is too small to make a difference, and that maybe ten years from now, they’ll be in the majority and can turn this country around. But incidences like #CarpoolKe make me realize that change may be closer than we think, and that has to be the best news I’ve heard all year.