The public transport sector was thrown into a spot of turmoil over the past week as the government moved to enforce the so-called ‘Michuki Rules’.
In typical fashion, matatus pulled off the roads in protest. Or more likely because many of the vehicles were not compliant with the rules intended to restore order and sanity to the organised criminal enterprise that passes for the country’s commuter transport system.
The action spearheaded by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, as his Transport counterpart, Mr James Macharia, looks on, is welcome and ought to be strongly supported by all, including those who were inconvenienced when matatus and buses withdrew services.
But let’s face it. This was also long overdue. Announcing a decision to apply existing laws, and even giving a grace period before enforcement starts, indicates that somewhere down the road, there was actually criminal dereliction of duty.
It tells us that the laws governing public transport operators had virtually been suspended over the past few years. During that period, thousands were killed and more maimed because of the complete lawlessness that prevails on our roads.
We are talking about numbers approaching mass murder and genocide for which no one has really ever been called to account.
Should the Cabinet Secretaries and police chiefs who refused to enforce the laws be held personally responsible?
Will they be hauled before the courts in handcuffs and leg irons to face multiple murder charges in respect of each and every victim of carnage from the killing fields that are the Kenyan road network?
Will the Jubilee Party electoral strategy of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto that struck a Faustian Pact with matatu industry leaders — the vote in exchange for licence to operate with impunity — take responsibility for highway deaths on an industrial scale?
As welcome as the latest crackdown is, let us remember that we have lost count of the number of times the authorities have vowed to tame the transport operators, but within a short time abandoned the effort.
You can bet that every time there is a particularly nasty accident, tough words will be spoken and traffic police will be directed to enforce order and discipline in the sector.
We should hope that this time round, Dr Matiang’i will have the resolve to stay the course. He is widely recognised as one of the few effective Cabinet Secretaries.
He projects the picture of a tough, no-nonsense administrator who gets the job done. Some even admire him for the dictatorial streak employed against legitimate political foes of the Jubilee regime during the standoff over the last presidential election.
He probably is the right man for a very difficult assignment, but let’s not carried away by personalisation of the task and prescriptions that do not address the core of the problem.
First, something is definitely wrong when law and order depends on the presence of a Michuki, Matiang’i or other tough and headstrong individual who can stare down criminals.
Secondly, we are in a fool’s paradise if we believe that the mere application of the laws will contain the lawless public transport sector.
You do not force the mafia to reform or to comply with the laws; you cut off its head!
It’s as simple as that. The matatu industry is essentially an organised crime enterprise. It follows that solutions will only be found when the criminal elements are driven out of town, and the way opened for legitimate investors to enter the public transport sector. Anything else amounts to just papering over the cracks.
What we need is visionary leadership that will create the right environment for an orderly, efficient, safe and well-regulated public transport system.
It can be done, and with no need for the parasitic classes to go on those scandalous benchmarking joyrides to Dubai, Paris, London, New York or anywhere else.
I grew up in a Nairobi where one could tell the time by the good old Kenya Bus Service. It is scandalous that instead of improving on what we had, we have regressed into a noisy, chaotic, and lawless public commuter system that in many ways reflects that culture of those we entrust with leadership.
And here we must also look inwards and recognise that we get the leaders we deserve. We vote them into office, and choices have consequences.
Anyway, good luck to Dr Matiang’i. And he can show he is serious by also cracking down on fellow Cabinet Secretaries and other big shots in big cars who set the worst example of impunity on the roads.