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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK
Kenya's killer buses challenge authority
By Alice Muthengi
BBC, Nairobi, Kenya

Matatu mini-bus in the capital, Nairobi
The Matatu owners are resisting a move to fit seat belts and speed limiters in the vehicles
The government of Kenya and the owners of the country's commercial mini-buses are headed for a confrontation over a directive on the use of seat belts and speed limiters.

The government wants all public vehicles fitted with safety belts and speed limiters by next month to help reduce the ever increasing number of accidents on Kenyan roads.

According to police statistics, 3,000 people are killed on Kenya's roads every year, with half of these deaths being blamed on the mini-buses, commonly known as Matatus.

But the operators of Matatus - whose drivers are infamous for their reckless driving and flouting of traffic laws - are challenging the government directive.
I can't see a situation where it will be possible to have four seat belts on these seats....unless you say that there will be one seat belt tying all the passengers on the seat
Justine Onyonyi
Nairobi Matatu route Manager

"Matatus carry four passengers per seat and I can't see a situation where it will be possible to have four seat belts on these seats....unless you say that there will be one seat belt tying all the passengers on the seat," said Justin Onyanyi, who manages one of the many Matatu routes in the capital, Nairobi.


Kenya Matatu Welfare Association chairman Dickson Mbugua agrees, adding that the government should not rush the implementation of the new directives.

"We cannot really absorb all these new requirements - the seat belts and the speed limiters are very expensive. We are talking about over 100,000 shillings ($1,300) for each unit... bearing in mind that there are 40,000 Matatus in this country," said Mr Mbugua.

But the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Gerishon Ikiara, says the Matatu owners were given enough notice to comply with the directives.
Matatu vehicle in Nairobi
Full of Colour - Matatus ignored an earlier directive to tone down their colours

"There is no deal to strike here... we have given them good time and we expect him to comply," says Mr Ikiara.

The Matatu operators are threatening to down their tools next month to force the government to rescind its decision, but Mr Ikiara warns that the authorities will stop at nothing to enforce the new laws.

"There has been some pressure on this ministry to take measures to safeguard the lives of innocent travellers, and the various arms of government will take over when the law is broken - the police, the courts, the laws of the land will apply," said Mr Ikiara.

Loud music

Ordinary Kenyans support the government in its campaign to reign in the Matatu operators.

"The Matatu touts should be given rules, like they should not overload vehicles, so that there are no more accidents," said one commuter in Nairobi.

Matatus are the main form of public transport in Kenya and this is not the first time the government has proposed reforms in the sector.

Last year the government ordered Matatu owners to get rid of graffiti and loud music from their vehicles as well as introduce uniforms for their employees.

But that ultimatum has largely been ignored - the Matatu road madness in Kenya continues.

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