What Do We Gain From The Matatu Culture?

‘Cheki huyu Mathe ananitaka na mi si rika yake!

‘Mi ni kijana Mathe, tafuta rika yako’,shouted a makanga  to a woman who was alighting from a matatu.

I was standing at the Rongai AGIP bus station. I had stood there for hours waiting for a Rongai ‘Nganya’ but it was getting late; dusk was giving its way to darkness and I was getting pretty impatient. A crowd had formed at the bus stop and we all gave each other killer stares, it was about to get rough,we were about to fight for the first Nganya.

(Nganya means ‘on fleek’ in this part of the Sahara)

‘Mimi ni dame, tafuta size yako’ the woman replied. Everyone who heard the conversation burst into laughter. We all turned to look at the woman who was been addressed. She she appeared to be in her 30s. She was bickering because the driver would not stop the vehicle for her to alight, she almost fell.

I decided to wait for another Nganya… I did not want to entertain this Kange plus did I mention that he was charging Ksh 150… That is almost double the fare FYI but passengers fought for this matatu totally ignoring a less pimped up bus that had been there for more than 20 minutes.

It’s either folks from Rongai are too rich or too obsessed with the matatus.

Tunangoja Phantom ama 007’ (These are among the coolest matatu rides from Ongata Rongai)

‘Hatudai kukaa kwa jam’

The Nganyas from Rongai are the only means of road transport that are traffic jam resistant if you are using that route, thank me later for the trip tip. I tried the basic buses one day and I spent 3 hours in traffic. The Nganyas on the other hand overlap the traffic and can get to Rongai in less than an hour! I learnt the hard way and since then I’d rather wait for the pimped up matatus than get stuck in traffic.

Kenyans sure love their matatus but if you are not from Kenya don’t buy the oversold idea.

It’s chaos; it’s a culture of chaos!


Have a look at the list below… This is how it works…

Matatu Etiquette

  1. Once you board a matatu you have no rights. You should just sit quietly and wait till you reach your destination.
  2. If you want to alight, you wake up from your sit and stand by the bus door minutes before you arrive at your stop. This is because the matatu service providers are always in a rush they can’t afford to stop the vehicle for you to make a graceful exit!
  3. Never argue with a makanga. They all attend the ‘Matusi School’ and passed with flying colours.
  4. Step out with your left leg first while alighting. (Yes, that’s the right way to alight from a moving vehicle). Always Left Leg First!
  5. Always ask for the fare charges before you alight or you may suffer from a wallet shock.
  6. Ignore a matatu if it is half empty. Why wait for passengers to fill the matatu if the matatu driver has no time to let you gracefully alight from his vehicle?
  7. Carry loose change.
  8. Don’t bother asking for the WIFI password, their WIFI never works unless the matatu is brand new.
  9. You have no control of the music. You should see my face when the driver decides to play ragga,/ Kikuyu songs (the guitars… I just can’t!)/ sappy R Kelly blues or any other songs that are not on my playlist! Why do I carry earphones in my bag if I can’t listen to my own music and should the music be so loud?
  10. The souped up the matatu, the more the transport fare.


The art might save us…

The idea that art can be displayed on a public transport vehicle is refreshing. You’d think that having the idea partly originate from Africa you’d have real, earthy or maybe wild artistic representations of the people. I am thinking more in the lines of a spray painting of the African sun setting upon the gazes of the last white rhino… a painting of the Victorian falls, Mount Kilimanjaro or even imagine a matatu covered in tribal prints?  …. That’s artsy, right? …Maybe.

But instead the art represented on the matatus is sort of shallow; for example having a matatu covered in Manchester United poster is not necessarily art it’s just pure fanaticism. Instead of the tribal print you may spot a matatu covered in the Loui Vuitton symbol! As if those guys need the publicity.

The matatus are crowded by images of Rihanna and Ciara and all those international musicians who don’t depend on Matatus for publicity. (Some of them might be disgusted by the poor quality of their images). Matatu artists do not care for royalty fees.

But why carry out free advertising for someone who does not know you exist?

Anyway, that’s the attitude of art in the Matatu culture.

Shout out to all Rongai mathrees, we see you,one of the matatus is covered in combat print… TDF! The mixes played are most the time current and that works for people like me, I dig the interior to, strapped with gadgets such as speakers, projectors, screens accessible from each seat and G’d up kanges(they are into designer uniforms… si ile ya kawaida umezoea). The matatus there are so cool that an artist known as Tunji 254 rapped about them and it is a cool song, check out the video here.

Maybe we are on to something… How do we perfect and own it?

What are your thoughts? Do you think the Matatu Culture is a hit or miss?


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