When I was young one of the games we used to play was police and robbers this was where some of us would pretend to be thieves and the rest would be robbers. We would set up a scene from which the thieves would steal and the police would chase after them and the game was only over when all thieves were arrested.
Seated in a matatu going towards the western parts of Kenya on this sunny Friday morning, I am reminded of my younger years of how the thieves would strive to evade the police. This time our matatu driver was trying to avoid the police. We were moving swiftly along the highway for quite a distance until a certain point where the driver stopped the matatu and parked along the road to talk to some men idling about.
I was later to discover that these men were actually at work, they were informants and guides. Informing the drivers of both matatus and some buses of where the police roadblocks were and provide alternative routes for evasion of the bribe seeking men in blue. Believe me none of their services are on philanthropic basis but their fees are affordable when compared to what police demand.
The driver being new to the route seeks the services of one such informant, they negotiate on the fee and in a matter of minutes the informant opens the passenger door and orders some passengers to squeeze for him to sit. We travel for less than 500 meters and he directs the driver to follow the tarmac road until the end. The driver gets out to pay him for the services he has rendered and we continue with our journey but in the first five minutes, we could see that the driver was apprehensive and wondering whether the informant had been genuine.
His fidgeting wakes some of the passengers and they begin asking why we were veering of the road. Those familiar to the routine explained it to the ignorant and first timers like me, that they were probably several roadblocks ahead and the driver wanted to avoid the police. Some are unsatisfied with the reply but when become content when they see other matatus and busses ahead following the same dirt road.
I recalled a similar incident occurred when I was travelling on the Nairobi -Nakuru highway and the driver took a diversion around kijabe and we were on it for two hours. At that point I was scared for being in the middle of nowhere with no service on my mobile phone incase of any emergency and that we spent more time on the diversion than we would have for the whole journey on the main road.
It is therefore not shocking that even drivers in major towns and cities have resorted to such hide and seek games with the men in blue and only down their tools for demonstrations when they run out of options or are unable to predict where the police will strike next.
The police need to know that the brighter they become with putting many roadblocks at different points, drivers are becoming wiser and more knowledgeable on their geography. Today’s drivers have become skilled enough to know which dirt road leads to what section of the main road and have a wide array of options incase the police decide to move their roadblocks.
But such diversions leave room for thugs and hijackers to continue their trade. They might board the matatu like ordinary passengers and once it is on the diversion far from the main road and with no network coverage on mobile phones they commander the vehicle.
Many matatu owners are ignorant of the games their drivers play and sometimes the high monetary targets they set for those operating the matatu on their behalf forcing them to engage in such. The police system is also screaming to be looked into with all drivers running away from their presence yet they are to maintain law and order. Acceptance of bribes is unethical and probes should be conducted to reveal those who take part in it with strict penalties.
Unless otherwise don’t be shocked when you board a matatu and find your self off the main highway, they are just playing police and drivers.