NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 7 – Thousands of Nairobi residents were stranded on Tuesday morning following a City-wide strike by matatu operators who grounded vehicles to protest alleged harassment by police.
Public service vehicles on major routes on Jogoo road, Thika road, Ngong road and Waiyaki Way were not operating, forcing commuters from Kayole, Komarock, Umoja, Githurai, Uthiru, Kibera among others to walk to walk long distances.
The strike, organised by the Matatu Drivers and Conductors Association, was meant to address numerous grievances ranging from extortion by Mungiki sect members and harassment by police and City council askaris.
The association’s deputy secretary general Njuguna Kahenya told Capital News that they resolved to down their tools after the government failed to show concern for their plight.
“We had given the government a notice of 21 days and they were to address our grievances before the expiry of the notice but they failed. We will not resume unless our conditions are met,” he said.
In a letter dated March 17, and addressed to the Ministry of Transport Permanent Secretary, the association had threatened to mobilise their members to ground their vehicles beginning Tuesday morning.
In the letter, they accused the police of taking advantage of matatu crackdowns to extort money from innocent crew.
“Our people (drivers and conductors) are being made to part with money any time they are arrested, and yet they are in most cases arrested because these policemen want money from them. We want our industry to be recognised and respected because we offer crucial services,” he said.
“The government should streamline the sector to end victimisation by the police,” he added.
Drivers and conductors who spoke to Capital News accused police of stopping them ‘even ten times a day’ to demand bribes.
“As you are operating on your normal duties, police normally block the road, they enter into your vehicle and then they take you to the police station. You can not leave there unless you give them money,” one matatu driver stated.
Affected commuters at the Globe Cinema bus terminus said that they had been inconvenienced by the strike and called on both the police and matatu operators to deliberate the issue.
“They are hiking the fares and people like us cannot go to school now,” Daniel Kimathi, a student at a local college said.
On Monday, a similar strike was staged by operators on route 44 to Githurai, prompting violent confrontations with the police who fired live ammunition and lobbed tear gas at some of them who were found stoning motorists at Githurai.