How Matatu Drivers Blow My Mind Away

Guest post by Carrey Francis Ronjey


Matatus aka Mathreez, Ma3, Nganya, Mat, or Javs are undoubtedly Nairobi’s chief necessary evil. By coincidental design, they have just as many faces, personalities, differences, similarities and peculiarities as the real Wathii of Nairobi.

Let’s start with a few distinctions

Manyangaz are the big pimped out ones, like the fancy mini busses now plying most Nairobi routes-like ROGs of Ceevoh and Umoinners of Umoja-Innercore. Head and Thorax are the now rare ones where the driver sits in a completely different capsule that being in front, is now the head while passengers sit in a bigger compartment attached to the head-making it the thorax, like the Dandora and Eastleigh Sacco’s 69s.

Then we have the pimped out 14-seater vans (or 20-seater depending on how law abiding cops, kangez and pedestrians on your route are) that are now endangered courtesy of the county government’s new public transport infrastructural design. They tend to be more expensive presumably as a result of high maintenance and greedy costs of their little spruced up image and operation.

Finally, Mkebe is synonymous to Others and they are the very old public transport vehicles and trains pulling a Mugabe on our roads like all Karen and MP Shah javs.

Caution: Avoid close contact with these because you are most likely to die if they hit you-not from the impact… tetanus.


A sector with many players

The matatu industry is run from the top by well spoken, suited gentlemen and on the streets by a calibre of seemingly mindless, heartless and cruel network of unkempt vermin covered in a thick cocktail skin of street wisdom and sheer bravado.

You know that feeling of hope whenever you are about to take a jav? That you find a sit in your preferred side of the jav– maybe next to an actually opening-and-closing window, a pleasant co-passenger, or just where you can alight easily whenever you want to?

Some hope for a pimped out ride with deafening music, others for just a little entertainment amplified by moderation and some, some want Ma3s with no music at all-so they can plug their own earphones, be anti-social and listen to their own play lists because the new age street djs don’t mix music any more.They play horrid sound effects (haarthi hwaaat!?) laced with really bad local music from moneyed up-coming musicians or just pop music from around the world (as in Nigeria, TZ , Jamaica and US). Then there are also those that don’t care about sound, as long as they get to their destinations.

Matatu crews on the other hand have just one expectation in regard to you-that you pay as much as they want. On a bad day or depending on your route, you might get packed in those hot and sometimes smelly containers like a can of meatballs. Occasionally, they will employ unscrupulous methods like not saying how much it costs only for you to realize when it’s already too late that you have to pay double for the discomfort of your shared seat.

On the other side of everything is another outfit all together- traffic cops. Cops often get you intimidated, which makes them everyone’s last wish during anything. But depending on how fast one wants to get their destination and the vibe in the jav, one may or may not want cops getting involved.

Most of the time, I wish no cops interrupt my mathree drive but that doesn’t mean that I’ve never on several occasions wished for a psychotic police officer to show up and cover the driver and his conductor in a calming round of ammunition.


A story of ingenuity

So one morning while enjoying my playlist next to a driver who had been doing everything possible to get us to town in time by by-passing everyone and everything, he overlapped at one of those intersections where a dual carriage slims into one. A cop suddenly crept out of air and confiscated the key. He literally turned off the ignition, ordered the passengers to alight and walked off to the other direction like a boss-not.

The driver tells the conductor to tell everyone to relax as I start to wonder whether he thinks that we the passengers have got time to be involved in his bribe negotiations. In my angry confusion, he reaches to some little camouflaged cabinet on the completely defaced dashboard and fishes out another key and off we go.

I was so amused by the driver as I wished I could ever know the cop’s reaction when he realized that his game had beaten him at his own game.

The original version of this post and other Nairobi stories can be found on

About the author:
Carrey Francis Ronjey is an “omnibus of life experiences as witnessed by one soul”. A Kenyan blogger and reporter, he’s a constant wanderer and a “Jerk Of All Trades” that either lives life or documents the life he lives before he leaves.