The matatu and bus owners, drivers, touts and thugs have downed their tools for what they term as an arbitrary and punitive law, the Traffic Amendment Act 2012. Reasonable reading of this law reveals that it embodies a renewal in our society. This strike is telling on the overall conduct of the matatu industry because the strike is taking place despite the fact that the law itself has not commenced. For some of us, though we are dismayed by the theatrics and sideshows can understand their anguish; this is a sector that has implicitly for a long time operated on its own terms and laws, a sector which thrives on disorder, anarchy, profanity and corruption. Change will in most instances be resisted by those comfortable with the status quo. It is subsequently expected that any effort to bring or restore sanity by the government will be vehemently opposed. Those who think that they are above the law of the land and want us to sue for peace are daydreaming, we are for the law, we won’t retreat from it. Kenya is slowly burning the bridges of impunity. They can try other means – like becoming criminals, whereby death is guaranteed when they get caught by the people.
The Act is broad and deep in scope with key objects and purposes, but it has a single intent; safe roads and transport for all of us. Why only the matatu people are on strike and not drivers of Government of Kenya and Parastatal vehicles is an indication that this change is an idea whose time has come. The GoK drivers have the predilection to be notorious when it comes to contravention of the Highway Code and contempt for all known traffic laws; this is the law that will nab them – once and for all. In 2003 and 2004, John Njoroge Michuki alias Kimeendero, the then minister for Transport introduced stringent rules commonly termed as Michuki Rules which immensely restored the confidence and trust of Kenyans in public service vehicles. Among the measures the rules set out was the installation of speed governors, compulsory fitting of safety belts, obtaining of certificates of good conduct from the Criminal Investigation Department, Registration of drivers and conductors with the Kenya Revenue Authority and being issued wit badges, wearing of crew uniforms, painting of vehicles in a peculiar manner so that passengers would be able to tell which routes the particular vehicle plied, the capping of the number of passengers in particular size of vehicles, the hanging of photos of the drivers in the vehicle amongst other requirements. These gains have almost been erased through inaction by the Kenya Police.
The recalcitrant matatu people vowed that they would never comply, the government dug in, the people trekked but supported the government. Finally, the matatu industry had to comply. Among the raft of deterrent measures included in the new act, Drink driving will have you liable for a fine of Sh500,000 or 10 years in jail or both, Causing Death by careless driving will be is punishable by life sentence, the prevalent norm of overlapping, obstruction, driving on pavement or through a petrol station to avoid traffic will set you back to the tune of Sh100,000 – 300,000 or one year in jail or both and Careless driving, will be punishable with a penalty of Sh500,000 or 10 years imprisonment or both. The power of making enforcing the law has been has cast a wide net, the Administration Police has also been vested with Traffic powers. Order and discipline makes life and work easier, statistics available show that there was a high dip in the number of road accidents in the post Michuki era as compared to the previous era. This law deals with all drivers, not just P.S.V. drivers it is therefore speculative and mischievous for a particular group of drivers to get jittery and claim that the law is targeting them.
These measures are largely and entirely meant to curb the road carnage which has continued to claim lives of people (most of them in their prime and productive age) while dealing a heavy blow to the economy of the country. Let us be firm, stoic and focused on the purpose of this good law. Amos Kimunya must know that we have his back because he is for our welfare and means well for the passengers and pedestrians on our roads. Let us walk today for a better tomorrow, for if we join the matatu people in their arguments, explanations and call for anarchy, to do away with the law, we will be the losers in this tug of war between the government and the matatu sector. Dickson Mbugua of Matatu Welfare Association and Simon Kimutai of Matatu Owners Association have to be practical, reasonable, and respectful in their protestations. If they empirically think that perhaps the range of fines is punitive and exorbitant, let them petition their leaders to lobby their legislators to attenuate their fears by way of altering or amending the Act and revising downward the provisions pertaining to fines payable for particular offences, arm-twisting, threats and blackmail will not work. But in the meantime, let the bottom-line be that laws are enhanced and applied fully in the spirit and letter.