Funding for the public transport system in Kenya, unlike most developed countries, is by the private sector. This has left country’s mass transport system grappling with effects of privatization such as poor safety, inadequate infrastructure, lack of adequate regulation and the rise of cartels. The privatization of this public utility has turned the Public transport industry into a chaotic sector and turned it into a breeding ground for crime, harassment, and violence against commuters.
The recent incidents involving violence and drugging of female commuters in Kenya’s paratransit Public Transport Vehicles (PSVs) popularly known as Matatus have brought to the forefront the escalating level of unruliness that has been allowed to thrive unabated.
In both incidents, there has been no public outcry. This, it turns out, is becoming the new normal in Kenya.
Women’s Safety in Kenya’s Public transport Vehicles (Matatus) an escalation from Insults
Last month, an incident involving a female passenger and Matatu crew in Kenya turned the spotlight once again on the public transport industry.
The lady recounted an alleged attempt to drug her by Matatu crew. Her story became a trending topic on Kenya’s social media prompting the mainstream media to pick it up. The police apprehended the vehicle driver and a case is pending in court.
A few weeks later, a lady motorist was allegedly drugged on Nairobi’s Uhuru Highway, by goons pretending to distribute leaflets.
As a new GeoPoll RapidPoll conducted among Kenyan residents on safety using Matatus illustrates, a majority of the population rely on public transportation for their commute with many using Matatus on a daily basis. A vast majority of those who commute using Matatus have experienced verbal harassment in form of vulgar language and have also witnessed a woman being verbally harassed by the PSV crew. Many of these cases go unreported as most Kenyans do not think anything will change once they report.
Use of Vulgar Language in Matatu by Crew
Despite the government through the National Transport & Safety Authority (NTSA) enforcing regulations that require PSV operators to join independent, Government-registered transport companies or Savings and Credit Co-operatives (Saccos), cases of verbal abuse and physically assault. Theft, hijacking, sexual harassment, and beatings are still rampant.
According to the GeoPoll RapidPoll, 56% of Kenyans said they have been harassed. The most common form of harassment mentioned was use of vulgar language by Matatu crew. 75% of male respondents said they had seen a woman insulted by crew in the last 2 months.
Verbal harassment is quite common in these vehicles mostly due to the low entry level requirements for anyone who wants to work in this industry. It has attracted unqualified youth, many of whom have minimal formal education and with no formal training.
The Matatu industry is run and controlled by cartels who are a law unto themselves. The Kenya Police have become complicit, often accused of accepting bribes offered on a daily basis on different routes to overlook traffic offenses.
Women in Matatus
When women respondents were asked about their personal experiences in Matatus, 47% said they had personally experienced harassment once, 33% had experienced it twice and 13% had experienced it thrice in the last 2 months from crew. The harassment was in form of insults.
Most Kenyan women who are violated in public transport vehicles do not report (71%) because they do not think anything will change. For those who report to the police, most cases do not go beyond appearing in police records. 50% of victims said that the only action that police took was to record the incident in the police Occurrence Book (OB). Only 19% of these cases were pursued in the Kenyan law courts.
When asked if they would report similar cases in future, 94% said they would. Those who said they did not bother reporting didn’t think anything would change even if they reported the incident. This sentiment was expressed by 57% of Kenyans. 35% did not think it was that serious.
Civic Education and Enforcing of strict laws
Most Kenyans believe that a lot would improve if enforcement of strict laws and punitive measures against vehicle crew and the Saccos were followed strictly. Civic education to the public and Matatu operators on customer service was also sighted as a solution to deal with insecurity in the public transport vehicles.
In an opinion article written by Dr. Ndemo last month, eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private places, including trafficking, sexual and other types of exploitation is one of the items in Kenya’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) .
Women must feel safe using matatus and it is upon NTSA through the Ministry of Transport to ensure that the growing cases of violence against women do not become the new normal in Kenya.