Last week a new law was announced by NEMA (National Environment Management Authority) banning loud noise and excessive vibration. If you do plan to make noise or excessive vibration, you must have a licence. The most outraged were the matatus (minibuses) who love to pump out sounds and they threatened to strike. In fact they did strike I think briefly on Wednesday morning leaving commuters stranded in the rain. The elderly plumber who comes to our house from time to time says the pounding noise in matatus sometimes makes his head shake.
There is a vibrant 'matatu culture' here and there's a always battle to be the coolest one of the pack, especially when touting for customers. It's all linked to hip hop, fashion etc. Touts hang out of sliding doors at high speed, leaping off as the wheels are still rolling to cajole potential passengers to embark. The price is decided by the tout and is variable, depending on whether it's raining or rush hour, or a national holiday etc.
'They have hiked the prices again' the lady who works in our house often laments.
The brakes were put on the matatu culture when new safety related laws in 2004 were introduced by gov minister John Michuki (known as the Michuki rules). Passengers were limited to 14 only per vehicle (IE no more packing them in like sardines, standing room only). Speed governors were compulsory. Each seat had to have a seat belt, but most disturbing - all graphics on the outside of the vehicle were to be replaced by white paint with a single yellow stripe. Oh, and drivers and touts were told to wear a rather unfashionable uniform of matching burgundy or navy sleeveless jacket and trousers. Meanwhile, the traffic police had a field day implementing all these rules.
Now, with the safety record having improved, the old graphics are creeping back on the sides of the vehicles. Uniforms are not always worn. Music booms out and screens inside show the coolest music videos on a loop. At night, many of the matatus are decorated in flashing, coloured lights. The matatu industry also provides a huge source of employment for the youth. There are even avenues for matatu graphic designers whose skill is honed specifically for this market.
I think the the 'noise' law is like a last straw for matatu operators - their wings have already been clipped so harshly. Next time a matatu pulls out in front of you without signaling, count to ten, think of the passengers trying to get home and have some patience for this pivotal part of Nairobi culture.
I looked at a few YouTube clips and think that the one below best describes matatu in Nairobi.
Meanwhile, I am just concerned that NEMA are going to slap a fine on our household for the excessive noise and vibration emanating from my daughter's new drum kit! It's bringing the house down, literally!