The festive season is here. But for matatu owners plying the 43-kilometre Kangare-Kaharati route in Murang’a, there is nothing to smile about.
While other public service vehicles in other parts will probably be cashing in on increased travel upcountry, their Murang’a counterparts will be reeling from increased extortion from the Mungiki gang in the area.
Some matatu owners along the route told the Nation that the gangs have increased the amount every public transport vehicle has been paying to the gang daily from Sh200 to Sh300.
“Every new matatu owner who wants to do business along the route pays Sh40,000 as membership fee to the gang but, for new entrants this December, the gang has increased the fee to Sh50,000 with the directive that all new vehicles that have KDA plates pay up,” a matatu owner confided.
He said the matatu owners association in the route has written to the County Commissioner Mohammed Barre seeking intervention.
The gang has been consolidating itself on the route since 2010 when all public transport vehicles were ordered by the then Transport Minister John Michuki to belong to a Sacco or a company for easier policing.
“Earlier, area transport sector had been controlled by gangs but when the Michuki policy directive was implemented, we emerged under the control of one organised gang that set about entrenching itself along the route and seeking road user monopoly where every matatu in our membership had to pay daily protection fee,” said a man who is a former route manager.
He said that so far, there are about 200 vehicles that ply the route and ferrying passengers to Nairobi, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Murang’a, Thika, Maragua and some plying the Kaharati-Kangari route.
“Simple calculations will reveal that the gangs now rake in Sh60,000 per day from us, up from Sh40,000. Its members have established ‘toll stations’ along the route where they flag us down and get the cash from matatu crews. Woe unto you if you defy remitting the daily fee even if you were not in operation,” the man said.
He claimed the gang leaders have invested in motorcycles that they use to patrol the road.
Murang’a County Commissioner Barre confirmed receiving the complaints but sought to set the record straight.
“It is true that this road has been under the control of the gang. We know the ringleaders of this syndicate are not area residents but criminals from neighbouring Kiharu Sub-County. Since 2010, no other matatu Sacco, apart from Kigumo Travellers, has used this route, a monopoly that we broke in January this year,” he said.
Mr Barre said a vicious security operation saw the Nairobi-Mugoiri (Namu) Sacco gain route use licence as well as Kamunyeki and Occupy fleets.
“We had a consultative meeting where it was agreed that the new road users exercise self-censorship in observing the rule of law and keep off paying any illegal fees to the gangs. It is now apparent that some matatu owners did not adhere to our agreement and have started sustaining the gang by paying out monies,” he said.
“It is also true that we have had some isolated cases of security compromises with the gang members hence fading out government vigilance and enforcement programmes, but we have dealt with the threat internally where we have a new reputed hands-on Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) team leader mandated to give us results.”
The administrator warned those found paying out money to the gangs that they will be arrested and charged.
He said already there are five people identified by authorities to be behind the criminal enterprise along the route as well as 25 matatu owners who support the gang;s activities.