It was almost a week ago that local investigative unit, Africa Uncensored, launched their newest exposé targeting local traffic police and the multi-billion shilling matatu industry, trending second highest in the country on Twitter.
The first two episodes of #InspectorFisi seem to have opened a Pandora’s box of new statistics and figures around the extent of the corruption in Nairobi’s favourite public transport system, which serves the sprawling metropolis of more than 4.5 million inhabitants.
The investigation unit’s previous exposé, 2016’s #KanjoKingdom, resulted in the suspension of five city council askaris and the further dismissal of another, with various court cases pending against more than 10 city employees. The Head of Nairobi’s Inspectorate, Hillary Wambugu, was also one of the officials dismissed following the investigation. #InspectorFisi seems as if it might have even more heads rolling.
When looking into the finer details and numbers released by HUYO! and Africa Uncensored, the impact on the larger economy becomes clear. An estimated 80 per cent of Nairobi’s publicly commuting residents rely on privately owned mini-buses as their main mode of transportation, according to Quartz Africa. This creates a hugely lucrative sector, ripe for the picking by corrupt traffic officials posted at 45 places around Nairobi and various major transport hubs, such as bus and railway stations.
On a normal day, passengers from the outskirts of Nairobi are charged an average Sh100 for a one-way ride to or from the city centre. If one takes into account that there are over 30,000 matatus operating in Nairobi alone, with an occupancy of between 15 and 50 seats per vehicle, then it’s easy to see why this is such an easy target for traffic officers extorting bribes from operators.
This hustle is further exacerbated by the fact that Kenya is one of the only countries in East Africa that arrest drivers for even the most petty traffic offences. With the time and manpower needed for a traffic officer to arrest, impound, file paperwork and process each of the thousands of matatus stopped daily in disrepair or breaking the law, one could see how paying and taking a bribe seems like the less complicated solution. This furthermore creates a huge bottleneck in the country’s judicial system, just as it does in other African states like South Africa, says high court lawyer Richard Chemaly.
“While the government needs to look as though they’re taking a hard stance on traffic offences — especially leading up to an election — this in reality has the opposite effect of efficient service delivery. The magistrate courts system, already stacked with major backlogs, are unnecessarily burdened with minor offences that could be resolved with a demerit point system or fines like Rwanda’s spot-fine system where an arrest is not necessary.”
He further says that these stricter traffic laws also open up the playing field in the realities of day-to-day traffic and serious congestion for corruption as an alternative to stacks of paperwork for the average police officer and matatu driver.
“Many police have become a law unto themselves, partly because this structure and system incentivises police to believe that taking a bribe still punishes the perpetrator but affords them gains in the process.”
The implication from this statement is that if neither the drivers nor the officers want the burden of being dragged into the legal process of an arrest, this just creates a huge loophole in which one would not be surprised corruption was running rife. Many critics and local lawmakers believe this is the opposite effect of the zero-tolerance traffic system politicians like to advertise.
A large focus of the investigation is on the amount of money lost to corruption in the public transport sector. Africa Uncensored’s figures conservatively indicate a daily loss to corruption through traffic police bribes from matatu drivers at approximately Sh14.2 million a day in Nairobi alone. For the whole country, the figure climbs to over Sh2.13 billion a month and Sh26 billion lost to the traffic police annually.
ACTING WITH IMPUNITY
The investigation unit’s editor and founder, John Allan-Namu, says the remaining two episodes will delve even deeper into the machinery behind the seamless and systematic ways in which Nairobi traffic officers solicit bribes from matatu drivers and the damage it does to Kenyan families who have lost loved ones in matatu accidents that could have been avoided if the police were doing their jobs.
“The evidence is shocking and the impunity with which these officers collect bribes is even more shocking. Episode three will take the viewer deeper into the systems in place that take billions of shillings off the roads every year that should be improving our city, and the suffering and bloodshed this system has created for thousands of families, including mine,” John says.
He adds that the timing of the investigation couldn’t be better, with an estimated third of the country’s economy lost to corruption annually, according to Reuters, quickly becoming a big-ticket issue in the hotly contested elections scheduled for August 8. In the end, the numbers seem to speak for themselves.
Tune in for Episode 3 of INSPECTOR FISI on Sunday 9 July 9pm on KTNNews or follow HUYO! on Twitter @huyoke