Pimp my ride, Kenya-style

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Kenyan Matatus

(By Nicolas Delaunay) “Turn on the bass, yeah!” shouts Dennis, conductor and ticket tout onboard the Brain Freeze, an eardrum-bursting tricked-out Nairobi bus studded with blue neon lights.

This commuter bus, or matatu as it is known in Kenya, is like a nightclub rushing down the jam-packed streets of the east African capital.

Deafening music pumps from countless loudspeakers fitted into the vehicle, while clips of skimpily-dressed girls in music videos flash across flatscreen television screens.

And among the 30 passengers there’s neither a grey hair nor a balding head to be seen.

“It’s like a club, this matatu is really cool,” says Mary Nicola, a 20-year-old student with long, bright red braids.

By night the Brain Freeze is still more striking, its mobile sound and light show winning approval on Facebook pages dedicated to customised matatus.

Brain Freeze has only been on the road for a few weeks but it is already making an impression.

Around 90 percent of Nairobi’s commuters use a matatu daily. Competition for customers is fierce and a pimped ride can make all the difference.

For some, spray-painted matatus like the Brain Freeze are a glamorous stage on which to display social status, interests and what’s cool.

Matatus are named after Manchester United footballers, Alicia Keys, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and Pope Francis.

– ‘Nice paint!’ –

On the Brain Freeze, no detail is left to chance: wheel rims and headlights are metallic blue, the radiator grille is stretched out like a snowplough and at the rear a string of red lights illuminate when the bus brakes.

All in all it cost seven million shillings ($70,000; 61,000 euros) to buy and customise. The owners were anxious to attract a large audience of the young and hyperconnected, so they put a trailer online showing the bus being redesigned.

“This matatu is fashionable,” says Casper, another tout, sunglasses on his nose. He smiles and steals a sidelong glance at Nicola. “If good-looking girls come here, other young people want to come.”

Kennedy Aina, a 22-year old student with four thick silver chains around his neck, fits the Brain Freeze’s target audience.

“The matatu was here when I was done with my class, it has wi-fi and it’s quick,” he says.

Arriving at its destination in a neighbourhood east of Nairobi, Brain Freeze stops a few metres from “Rolling Stone” which, like the 1960s and ’70s era it pays homage to, is showing its age, its once-pristine white paint marked by the years.

Nearby “Wayne Rooney” pulls past Brain Freeze. “Nice paint!” shouts Rooney’s admiring tout, leaning dangerously out of his matatu’s doorless entrance as it roars away.

– Bob Marley pictures –

Nearby, in a warehouse whose roof is riddled with holes, the smell of fresh paint assaults the nose, but Roy “The Great” Mungai — a much-in-demand matatu artist — is unfazed as he adds the finishing touches to a new Rastafarian-themed bus.

The green, yellow and red exterior is adorned with an image of former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie while inside are pictures of reggae icon Bob Marley beneath a ceiling decorated with old vinyl records.

Nearby, “Gucci” is ready to go and its owner, Chris Nsungu, is delighted. “Tomorrow, it will slide along the road!” he says.

Another day, another newly customised matatu, and for Brain Freeze and the rest the competition just got a little tougher.

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  • “……..
    Miguna, who spoke with fervour…..” Does he ever talk any other way…..?

  • serenity

    An angry man indeed! We need to put our tribal and political sentiments aside and soberly examine what this man is saying. He can’t just be yapping for nothing. I have always suspected that none amongst the present crop of politicians is clean. They are all there for their own selfish ends. No wonder 50 years of independence and wealth continues to be accumulated amongst a select few while millions wallow in poverty.

  • I love Miguna. He fears no one. We need more politicians like these.

  • mgharo

    For Gods sake Miguna’s books portrays him as a primitive scholar and an amateur in resolving issues. I havent read this infamous book and i don’t plan to waste my time to read it. Kenyans are going hungry without food, and most Kenyans will buy food rather than waste their hard earned cash to buy this book by a man who has no teeth top bite. Many politicians in Kenya have done worse things more than the PM. Why did Miguna pick on Raila his own tribesman? Central legislators are involved in all sorts of mischief and ills but none of them will dare attack his fellow comrade. Miguna claims to be a criminal lawyer but this book illustrates him as uncivilized and an idler who puts his precious time to come up with a whole crap of a book! It is a shame for a degreed Luo man to behave in this manner. First Miguna should have thought of his audience and secondly the readership culture in Kenya. Miguna is supposed to be practicing his law rather than embarking on political character assassination against one- Raila. It is the likes of Miguna who will take Kenya backwards as they play the fox part which are meant to destroy the vineyards of the Lord. A man who has lived in Canada is not supposed to show such primitivity of this magnititude! Let Miguna grow- up and embrace Raila ideologies if not then he should shut or zip up his idle mouth!

    • Njamba

      Sorry, I do not understand your point!. Miguna Miguna is talking about his experiences. He has not said that he is a better politician. He is just reporting on his personal experiences .
      IT LOOKS L IKE YOU JUST FEEL HURT JUST BECAUSE He IS TALKING NEGATIVELY ABOUT A PERSON YOU FAVOUR: AM I WRONG: THIS IS WHAT MAKES US KENYANS fAIL: THE MESSAGE I PERSONALLY READ FROM MIGUNA MIGUNA IS(I COULD BE WRONG) is: whether it s Kenyatta, Moi, Kibaki or the next president things will not change for the common man. So MAKE YOUR CHOICE WISELY.

      THIS WHAT MANY KENYANS DO NOT WANT TO HERE.

      • mgharo

        I have watched keenly the interview Miguna had with Jeff on the bench and one point came out clearly that Miguna’s credibility is questionable when he speaks about Orengo’s shopping preference . But Orengo’s has the right to buy what he likes and not what Miguna likes. Miguna’s personal experiences are biased and only good for unschooled characters like you are!. I am 100% that Raila office has not done more harm in kenya compared to how central mafias have to done to Kenya. Kenya has witnessed drug-barons, financial -market manipulation and corrupt land deals mainly from central greedy leaders. Miguna does not seem to be balanced in his book but is more of Raila and ODM. Any sound- minded person will wonder why does Miguna expose the PM while the finance docket was in mess under UK. Go to sheria house and get all the mess. Miguna should have done good research work by going round all the ministries and show a balance report. What experience are you talking about when Miguna talks about people’s personal lives! Every time Miguna opens his mouth he talks about ODM and Raila ..Kenyans are not idiots, we know that the country was messed up since Kenyatta regimes through Moi and the current leadership. What new issues does Miguna bring on the table that we are not aware of. Who are the propagators of evil in Kenya? Nobody will take Miguna to court. For what? If he is a competent lawyer he should look for a job and stop character-assassination. I will respect Miguna when he talks openly on all political parties. Miguna is a typical african man who peddles stories and can easily cause divison in the country. One thing Miguna should do: find better avenues of addressing Kenya’s issues wisely. ODM neither Raila is responsible for the country’s mess as Miguna claims!

        • kenweed

          Just so you know “current leadership” is a coalition government which includes ODM. It is so ludicrous you’re defining Miguna as biased while you’re oozing biaseness your self.

          • WachanaNaHawaMashenzi

            Leave these Luo Nyanza sycophants alone. These guys will still worship and absolve Raila Odinga even if they find him red handed in bed raping their mother.

          • kiqie

            you really made me laugh Ken…of which is very true..they worship Raila as if he is thea daily meal

          • ITS ME….

            Very true and this is what devides kenyans,you can not correct a mistake with another..this is what people should know…

        • Abagusii associations

          i have keenly read every thing about miguna miguna character assassination book surprising enough he is only concerned about the pm,s office.why is not telling us about the presidents side to look balanced?mr miguna who ever who has cheated you on this …….mark mi words will never …never welcome you in his house,now that you know every thing happened that nearly divided our great Nation apart,instead of you going round assassinating the pm,s character go and file ur application at the international criminal court and if its accepted then we will truly know that u ar brave and serious about this issue and ur not being used by individuals to cause commotions in this election year.

        • ITS ME….

          I can see you are not in good mood on this report but if you think central mafias are more corrupt then come up with your own book like miguna did,you seen to have a report on central drug dealers please bring this light to the entire kenya ok.

    • Njoroge Njeri

      That is your point of view. You are the likes who said that ”since so and so had read the katiba, i won’t read it…” For how long will people follow someone blindly…? Miguna has done his part.

      • mgharo

        Which part are you talking about? You think by reading Miguna’s book Kenyans will have better lives..what new thing has this book brought to the table apart from the common things known by all. I would better follow “jicho pevu”than Miguna’s crap!

        • Josech72

          It hasnt brought anything but neither has it taken anything from kenyans unlike the so called lake victoria mafias

        • ITS ME….

          You are not everybody if you know this things,thats your experience, let those who dont know be told..ope now you can see what miguna called experience..dont think everybody knows everything that you know ok.

    • kenweed

      It is through the Miguna’s and the Githongo’s of this world that we get to unearth what cuts within the corridors of power however real or absurd they may sound. At the end of the day everyone is entitled to an opinion. Just because he’s exposing a candidate you fancy doesn’t quite make him uncivilized and idle. FYI you don’t exactly represent the masses, if you won’t buy the book some of us will. I won’t sit back and wait for summaries.

      • mgharo

        @” Miguna and Githongo of this world” which world does these two represent. Are you sure with their revelation the country will change. Find out the real issues facing Kenya and propose solutions rather than defending idlers!

        • mzalendo

          It is very unfortunate that people like mgharo stink of hatred and prejudice against specific regions. These are the issues miguna miguna is castigating and condemning. Issues which are clearly illustrated in the great book he has written. Like it or not, miguna is above tribal prejudices and stinking sycophancy and inconsistencies.

      • mgharo

        Who told you I must represent masses to comment. You buy the book and read then give me 20 ways it has benefited you and the country. We Kenyans suffer because we fail to tackle issues wisely. Corruption is a common thing in the country and we need to devise ways of correcting it. When Githongo revealed corrupt people did things change? engage your mind and be open to ideas for a better tomorrow!

        • kiqie

          Mgharo..everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion as Ken stated,the opinion is ur opinion counts as well as myn

      • ITS ME….

        Let us tell this person KEN,he talks as if some benefits will be barred from him and this is a clear indication that he is part of those behind the mask.

    • ITS ME….

      Please if you have not read the book and you think is a waste of time to do so make no point of commenting on what miguna said,you think he is attacking one person,he has alot to say about the other politicians.let us think like kenyans and not tribalistically.

  • chizi

    Miguna is hilarious! how can anyone be so conceited? anyhow, looking forward to getting a cheap copy on kindle.

  • kanges

    MY HOPE TO SEE LIKE MINDED MEN COME OUT AND CLEAR THIS NEST OF THUGS AT THE TOP OF OUR LEADERSHIP, MIGUNA MIGUNA GO FOR THE TOP CEO JOB, WE WANT MEN OF YOUR STANDARD UP THERE AND THEN ONLY THEN WILL VISION 2030 OR BEFOR THEN WILL WE GET THERE. CONGRATULATIONS FOR YOUR BRAVE MOVE.

  • samuel thuita

    that’s so brave sir..

  • samuel thuita

    time has changed,things have changed,technology and so as reality.its a high time our politicians realise that people like miguna miguna and others likes have seen the light at the end of the tunnel of black corrupt policies and politic of olden days..may God protect miguna miguna from enemies and the devil and you share more wisdom with us

  • TheEddie24ful

    more whistle blowers like miguna needed asap

  • VONAKY

    IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVVVVVVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE MIGUNA MIGUNA.THAT WHAT A TRAITOR IS SUPPOSSED TO GET.THA BOOK S THE BEST.HV NEVER READ NONELS BT 4 THS 1 HAHAHHHAA LAZMA.AM A KENYAN N I HV TO KNW ATLST WT HPMG.BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIG UP MIGUNA

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