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EXPOSED: How cartels run the show at Machakos country bus station

Machakos Country Bus station is a stage just like any other in Nairobi only more famous, right?

Wrong. Unknown to many, this bus terminus has sort of a semi-autonomous government complete with hierarchies and laws.

Failure to follow the laws, just like with a government, will land you in trouble.

Here, there are a group of individuals who wield power and their word is law. They are out of sight, rarely spotted at their ‘fiefdom’. They operate incognito.


The infamous bus stage has a hierarchy of power through which tasks are executed by those working there. The chain of command runs from the lowest ranks — made up of proxies — to high-ranking individuals, only referred to as wadosi (bosses).


Under them, are managers who report to them, not in words like cabinet secretaries report to the President, but in cash.

Other than the agents who pick passengers outside the stage and rush them to those issuing tickets, who in turn book them into the buses, the station also has the ticket managers, who dispatch the tickets, the stage’s managers and another higher authority.

They determine who enters the station, who gets a parking slot, for how long, how much is paid.

Did we mention that failure to bow at the altar of these cartels is sacrilege punishable by ostracisation?

For a new bus owner seeking ‘admission’ to the station, it wouldn’t be a hard task, according to Joseph Wanjohi (not his real name), a manager at the stage.

Bus brokers fight over a passenger’s luggage at the Machakos Country Bus Station in January. PHOTO | FILE
Bus brokers fight over a passenger’s luggage at the Machakos Country Bus Station in January. PHOTO | FILE


“You first register with any of the managers whom you can be introduced to by either the agents or ticketers. They will then advise you on the rules and directives to follow,” he says.

According to Mr Wanjohi, the manager will then assign the bus a “hole” (slot), where the vehicle will be parked in the duration it waits for passengers to board for which the owner will have to pay an amount ranging from Sh1,000 to Sh2,000, depending on the size of the bus or minibus.

To an extent, the route it is assigned, given that different routes are perceived to have different passenger numbers.

The paid amount usually covers for a single day’s slot allocation since many of the buses travel long distances and hardly ever make more than one trip per day.

“We can also help the bus owner to join any of the transport saccos working here since it is a government directive that transporters ought to belong to a sacco,” adds Mr Wanjohi.


Mr Charles Munyau, an agent, notes that the stage managers are the ultimate authority on the ground.

“It is only them that we can communicate with in case an issue needs addressing. We only know there are other authorities, who, however, we only hear about, but not see,” he says, adding that while it is true many of those working there are unruly, there are also honest individuals.


Matatu Owners Association Chairman Simon Kimutai points the accusatory finger at the county government, which he feels should take control of the bus stage.

“Where on the planet would you find passengers being harassed and forced into vehicles they hadn’t planned to use? It probably is only here,” says Mr Kimutai who also accuses police of laxity.

But the county government says security is a challenge as they are not as equipped as the national police.

However, Central police boss Robinson Thuku disagrees with Mr Kimutai, saying stringent measures are already in place to ensure security.

He says brokers and agents are in the station illegally and should not be allowed to harass travellers.