Matatu Strike Over Police-Bribe Concerns Snarls Nairobi Traffic

A strike by operators of Kenya’s commuter-minibuses protesting new traffic laws, including a 300,000 shilling ($3,492) fine for driving on sidewalks, snarled traffic in the capital, Nairobi, for a second day.

Operators of matatus, the name given to as many as 60,000 14-seater vans that most Kenyans rely on for transport, have a reputation for breaking traffic rules and run-ins with the police, lawmaker Jakoyo Midiwo, who sponsored the bill, said by phone from the western town of Kisumu. New rules in the Traffic Bill 2012 that take effect tomorrow are meant to help cut road deaths and unclog busy roads, Midiwo said.

“Matatus are to blame for 90 percent of congestion on the roads and they cause accidents,” Midiwo said. “People on the street will rebel against this legislation, but too many people are dying on our roads and we will not back down.”

Under the new law, any motorist found driving on the sidewalk or using gas stations as a detour faces a year in prison and/or a fine of as much 300,000 shillings. The rules also stipulate vehicle operators who drink and drive may be fined at least 500,000 shillings and/or serve a minimum of 10 years in jail. A conviction for dangerous driving causing death can lead to life imprisonment, Midiwo said.

Drivers are concerned that creating tougher penalties for traffic offenses will enable corrupt police officers to demand bigger bribes, Simon Kimutai, head of the Matatu Owners Association, said by phone from Nairobi. Most matatus are privately owned.

“We don’t have properly trained officers who can enforce the law,” he said. “The fear is mostly that corruption is going to go triple-high.”

Corrupt Police

The Kenyan police force is perceived as East Africa’s third-most corrupt institution, according to the Berlin-based Transparency International’s 2012 annual index. Kenya is one of the world’s least developed nations with a per capita income of $739 dollars, according to the United Nations.

Kenyan taxi driver Samuel Mbugua, 25, said it took him 2 1/2 hours last night to take a customer on a route that normally takes 20 minutes.

“We’re used to bad traffic in Nairobi, but this is abnormally slow,” said Mbugua, who earns about 15,000 shillings a month. “I do disagree with the new laws though because how will I pay for the fines? Sell my car and lose my job?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at smcgregor5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net

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