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The Unacceptable face of Capitalism in Kenya: The Matatu Fare Madness

By Nicodemus Minde
Capitalism; Hidden Mysteries. A matatu in Nairobi's Thika Road
Francis Fukuyama famously declared the ‘end of history’. This was the antithesis of the belief that history is progressive and cumulative. All in all, his thesis was that liberal capitalist democracy had triumphed over communism.  The author explored the dynamics of international relations with the end of the Cold War. He was the literati progenitor of the discourse of the universality of post-Cold War triumph of capitalism. Alan Greenspan once said that ‘Capitalism is based on self-interest and self-esteem; it holds integrity and trustworthiness as cardinal virtues and makes them pay off in the marketplace. Capitalism is constructed by the thirst for more profitable productivity at the expense of moral obligations and societal virtues. Karl Marx, the greatest critique of capitalism says that this system saps into the original source of all wealth, from the soil to the laborer. Society has been built on such exploitation. From slavery to colonialism to now globalization, the cruel face of capitalism has oiled the engines of life.

Matatus in Nairobi
Britain’s Prime Minister Edward Heath is credited for coining the phrase “the unacceptable face of capitalism-to refer to the activities of Lonrho, the predecessor to Lonmin (the mining company operating in Marikana, South Africa). These companies are the embodiment of global corporate capitalism which saps not only the soil but the laborer in which the end result is profit. The phrase ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism” has caught my eyes in Kenya. Tanzania’s founding president Julius Nyerere famously labeled Kenya as a “man-eat-man society” ridiculing its capitalist approach to post-independent policies. Kenyans rebuffed this label by saying that ‘Tanzania was a man-eat-nothing society”. This was also a public ridicule to Tanzania’s socialist policies. Kenya has grown into a nation of extreme capitalist tendencies which has ruined the social fabric of its people. Hitherto, every form of the Kenyan society has been based on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. This has led to growth in the ugly face of individualistic capitalism. The class divide in Kenya is now of concern.

No where has this divide been much visible than the transport industry in Kenya. The capitalism code calls for non-state interference in the economy and the stringiest application of market forces of demand and supply. Today the matatu transport industry is in the hands of capitalist investors whose aims are profit. The matatus charge fares according to the ‘market forces’ of demand and supply. The demand and supply here is (1) flow of traffic, (2) weather changes, (3) residence status, (4) time of day etc. This has also led to a unique scenario which I believe only occurs in Kenya. The transport fares to the city and back are different. But again, this is a relational type of equation to factors affecting ‘the demand-supply’ of people’s needs when it comes to transport. 

Even with the completion of arguably the best highway in East Africa, the Thika road route remains the most notorious when it comes to fare variation and cruel exploitation of the public transport users plying that route. The matatu people have now solidified the exploitation of people by charging exorbitant and sometimes ridiculous fares. This is not unique to the Thika road route but is rampant in all other routes across the city of Nairobi. The Ministry of Transport and the government in general has not reprimanded this heinous exploitation of its people. The sad part is that people are now adjusting according to this ‘matatu fare madness’. These adjustable mechanisms are only unique in places where the tenets of capitalism have triumphed.            


  1. hey bro well written article!! Indeed the ministry of transport must step in with some changes!!!
    While agreeing with you majority of this article content i do differ with the demand and supply mechanism that brings such drastic changes to the matatu fares! Deco these drastic changes are experienced in every country. For example now here in Mogadishu the bus fare for morning is lower compared to the bus fare in the evening! The forces that bring these changes in Mogadishu is that of Security, and road traffic. Even though the demand and supply forces of Mogadishu and Nairobi do differ but the extreme capitalistic exploitation is even expereinced in the war torn Somalia!!! Liked your article bro and more of this please!!!


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