0 Replies Latest reply on Dec 9, 2017 11:19 AM by Jerry Rawlings Mbabali

    The Unique Matatu culture in the urban public transport of Nairobi Capital, Kenya.

    Jerry Rawlings Mbabali

      The Catalyst Matatu transports passengers in Nairobi capital.


      Public transport minibuses are known as Matatus which dominate the public transport system of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

      The youths call it “Club on wheels” while others “Museum on wheels”  which fill the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, blaring music as they bounce and weave through traffic.

      Each Matatu is louder than the next, complete with graffiti-style artwork, custom designs, flashy lights and onboard entertainment to pull the youthful passengers’ attention.

      The Matatus are cheap, convenient and sometimes a tad chaotic although they are the choice mode of transport for most Kenyans. But Matatu culture may soon be under threat from government bans and alternative forms of public transport.

      Art on the move in Nairobi

      Matatus sport diverse designs featuring hip-hop artists, international pop stars, athletes, political icons and even religion. Much like rolling local radio stations, these minibuses blast homegrown music promoting up-and-coming Kenyan artists.


      DriftGP Matatu with heavy graffit artwork carrying passengers in Nairobi’ downtown business area.


      Vesta Matatu having Bobby Marleys’ graffiti image and lots of music in Nairobi.


      West Coast Matatu driving through the downtown of Nairobi, Kenya.


      At night; Matatus are covered with disco lights to stand out and brighten up its look.


      When you see the Matatus and the art, you really understand Nairobi, because Nairobi is a city that is run by the youth.

      In Nairobi, Matatu minibuses add a colorful flair to the city's streets, whilst providing locals with a fast, alternative means of transport.

      In order to beat the competition and attract riders, Matatu owners need to cough up a lot of money to ensure their minibuses are top class.


      Benefits of boarding a Matatu as opposed to other public transport means;

      Fewer traffic delays, Matatus are very quick in dodging traffic jam in Nairobi city (the capital of traffic jam in East Africa) which is not the case for other public transport providers.

      Loud music, Matatus mainly attract the youth who prefer listening to loud music while in transit, all Matatus have huge bass speakers to cater for this.

      Free Internet, Matatus offer Free WiFi internet to all passengers onboard, youths can Facebook or WhatsApp while in heavy traffic jam without using their own internet bundles.

      Entertainment, Matatus offer visual entertainment like movies and music videos on the big flat television screens.

      Comfortable seats, all Matatu in Nairobi have good seats which offer comfort while traveling.


      For a minibus to gain the status of a Matutu should have;

      Slick artwork paint graffiti design on the exterior body

      Loud music bass speakers

      Comfortable seats

      Internet WiFi for all onboard passengers

      Flat screen television for passengers to watch movies, news or music videos

      CCTV cameras to monitor the security inside the Matatu


      One of the hottest Matatus in town is known as "The Flash." This sleek vehicle has a slick paint job, free onboard WiFi and a flat screen television inside.
      The construction and customization of a new vehicle can cost upwards of $20,000 as it is mostly done by hand and local mechanics.


      The Flash matatu which is one of the hottest Matatus in town


      Each matatu is built entirely from scratch, usually from the stripped chassis of a new truck. Fabricators then weld the skeletons and attach the panels. Once the blank canvas is ready, matatu artists embellish the vehicles with graffiti, hand-painted portraits, and bold designs.

      Matatu minibuses are painted or pimped with designs representing Nairobi's urban youth culture.


      The interior of Matatus (public transport minibuses)


      The interior of Catalyst Matatu containing music speakers and small screens on each seat.


      An airplane like interior for one of the Matatus.




      Do you think Africa’s public transportation needs such modifications to attract and make passengers move with comfort?

      Which other African cities have adopted such innovations in public transport?


      Source: African Motilities Observatory’s field visit to Nairobi, Kenya.


      laurence Ullmann

      Joseph Semuju marie-pascale baye