, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 5 – The Matatu Welfare Association (MWA) said on Tuesday it had called off the nationwide strike after an agonising two days for commuters, following a pledge by Prime Minister Raila Odinga that he would resolve the operators’ grievances.
MWA Chairman Mr Dickson Mbugua said the strike ended after drivers and conductors received an assurance from the PM would hold meetings with them this week to deal with their persistent complaints.
“We have met the Prime Minister who has listened to our grievances and he has agreed with us that we have a genuine case. He has agreed to address the issues. Therefore, the strike has been called off,” Mr Mbugua told reporters at a press briefing at the Prime Minister’s boardroom where he was accompanied by other officials of the Drivers and Conductors association.
“As representatives of the operators, we are very grateful to the Prime Minister because he has shown a lot of concern to the plight the operators are facing,” he said and added: “We had tried to seek the intervention of other ministries in vain.”
Mr Mbugua said the matatu industry had incurred losses amounting to Sh720 million for the two days the public service vehicles remained out of the roads.
“This means the sector is very vital to the country’s economy because even the economy has lost some two million litres of fuel that amounts to Sh150 million” he said.
Mr Mbugua recounted how he was called for a meeting at the Office of the President which was convened by the Internal Security Ministry but failed to agree on the way forward.
A similar meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning failed to materialise after the Internal Security Minister Professor George Saitoti travelled to various parts of the Rift Valley Province to assess the devastation caused by the floods which have so far killed 34 people.
“We have been holding meetings… even on Monday evening but no solution was found, until this afternoon (Tuesday) when the Prime Minister jetted back to the country and realised the agony Kenyans were undergoing,” Mr Mbugua whose organisation planned the strike said.
Officials of rival Matatu Owners Association (MOA) kept off the Tuesday’s meeting at the Prime Minister’s office.
Earlier in the day, Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua had invited journalists for a press briefing at the Internal Security Ministry offices but it failed to take off after officials there denied any knowledge of a planned briefing.
An official at the Ministry’s Public Relations department told journalists “we are not aware of any press conference here. In any case, our Minister (Prof Saitoti) is away.”
Dr Mutua later told Capital News the press conference had been cancelled and said “Prof Saitoti would make a statement in Nakuru.”
At about 1 pm, Prof Saitoti told journalists in Nakuru that he had “ordered the Police Commissioner to engage the two matatu associations in discussions in order to end the strike.”
No word was forthcoming from police headquarters on whether the meeting was to take place until later in the afternoon when the Prime Minister’s office took over the matter.
The strike caused agony to hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who were forced to trek for long distances to various destinations due to lack of public transport.
As the PSV strike progressed members of the public bore the brunt of the boycott with some missing crucial appointments. There was also an unprecedented increase in traffic after private motorists who rely on public transport opted to drive into town.
The strike which saw a matatu plying the Shanzu route set ablaze and several other PSVs on the route damaged by stone throwing mobs, drew angry reactions from commuters who said they had waited for hours on end for transport.
“I feel so frustrated because this is a small matter that can be resolved between those that are concerned yet it has been allowed to drag on for two days. I stay in Uthiru and I had to pay Sh100 to get to town which is almost three times what I pay on a normal day. How long will it take before this issue is resolved?” posed one commuter.
The commuters who spoke to Capital News blamed the government for the strike saying it could have averted the situation before it got out of hand.
“The government should have done something before things got worse because this is really inconveniencing. Some of us were late for work and others didn’t show up…I don’t know what explanation we are going to give. The cabs are asking for exorbitant fares and you cannot bargain. I had to pay Sh2,000 from the airport to town and I don’t know how much I will pay to get home,” said another commuter.
As the strike got to its peak, commuters were forced to cost-share the transport charges as the few available PSVs had doubled their fares.
“I have to wait for someone who is willing to split the cab fare so that we pay sh300 each but I don’t even know if I will get someone. The taxi carries six people and then everyone has to contribute to the total fare,” said a commuter who had allegedly paid Sh300 from Highridge estate to town.
For some private car owners the sad situation became an opportunity to make an extra buck (from desperate commuters) as their cars were converted into taxis overnight.