The rise, success, death and resurrection of Michuki rules


The matatu that was involved in the Narok-Mai Mahiu road accident. Photo/COURTESY
A matatu that was involved in the Narok-Mai Mahiu road accident. Photo/COURTESY

In Summary

  • The late John Michuki will be remembered for introducing the public transportation reforms in February 2004 when he served as Transport minister.
  • The stringent laws, which were then christened the ‘Michuki rules’ after the man who brought them to light, served to bring some order to the disorganized matatu industry.
  • The rules required all PSV crew to wear uniforms, display their passport-sized picture on the dash board and to install safety belts and speed governors to limit speed to 80 km per hour.

The late John Michuki will go down in Kenya’s history as one of the country’s most easily remembered – or popular – politicians.

Mr. Michuki will be remembered for a lot of things; among them being considered one of the best performing ministers in then President Mwai Kibaki’s government, being one of the longest serving civil servants in the country as at the time of his death, or just for his no-nonsense approach towards issues (business, politics or otherwise).

But, perhaps, what the jolly ol’ late son of Murang’a will be remembered for most is introducing the public transportation reforms in February 2004 when he served as Transport minister.

The stringent laws, which were then – and still are – christened the ‘Michuki rules’ after the man who brought them to light, served to bring some order to the chaotic matatu industry.

The radical ‘Michuki rules’ were frowned upon for a while, with matatu owners and operators staging strikes saying they were expensive to comply with, but were soon embraced after Mr. Michuki put his foot down and refused to budge.

It also helped a lot that the public were willing to walk and refused to side with the PSV operators saying they supported the move to bring sanity to the sector.

The rules required all Public Service Vehicle (PSV) crew to wear uniforms, display their passport-sized picture on the dash board and to install safety belts and speed governors to limit speed to 80 km per hour.

Mr. Michuki further scaled down seats for small matatus to 14 from 18 and ordered branding with a yellow line as well as labeling of route names on the vehicle.

Sections of the press even previously reported that the laws reduced road accidents by a whopping 74 per cent nationwide.

So, the question we ask is, if things were going so well with the ‘Michuki rules’ in place, then where did the rain start beating us that we abandoned them?

When the Cabinet was reshuffled in 2005 after the proposed referendum was rejected by Kenyans, Mr. Michuki was moved to the Internal Security ministry and the implementation of the public transportation reforms all but vanished.

Before long, road accidents were back and deaths spiked.

In 2007, with Chirau Ali Mwakwere heading the Transport ministry, the country saw a spike in road accidents.

Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) boss Francis Atwoli even drafted a statement accusing then Transport minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere of remaining lip-tied “at a time when the whole country is virtually witnessing pools of blood on our roads.”

In the midst of all these chaos, the issue of ‘Michuki rules’ was once again raised and Mwakwere’s office denied any responsibility.

Then Transport P.S Gerishon Ikiara issued a strongly worded statement saying the rules were still very firmly in place.

Mr. Ikiara further stated that the perceived notion that laxity in implementing the rules was the cause of the accidents was misplaced.

Years after Michuki left the ministry and his subsequent death, disorder and chaos, once again, ruled the roads as rogue matatu operators made their way back into the system.

Any attempt to revive the Michuki rules were dealt a major blow when then Transport minister, Engineer Michael Kamau, rubbished any hopes of their return with a speech during celebrations to mark the Matatu Owners Association’s 10 years of existence at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi.

Speaking during the event, Eng. Kamau said the rules would not be reintroduced, further terming them “no longer implementable.”

“I have never said this but we cannot bring the rules the way they are now. Some of them go against the plans we have in place, including allowing passengers to stand in buses. We must introduce buses with standing passengers. There is no other way we will deal with the traffic congestion in the city apart from buses. The Michuki rules do not allow that,” said Kamau.

After that, the issue never came up again until two weeks ago when Interior CS Fred Matiang’i and his Transport counterpart James Macharia brought them back and started implementing them on Monday, November 12, 2018.

Like in 2004, the matatu sector is against the rules and have vowed to stay off the roads but the government has shown no signs of relenting.

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Story By Ian Omondi
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