Matatu station in Kampala, UgandaThe origin of the word matatu is ascribed to different sources. One attribution is that it is derived from the Swahili word tatu, meaning three. When matatus made their first appearance in the late 1960s, the standard fare for a trip was three shillings. Matatu are sometimes known as 'ma3' as the swahili word for "three" is tatu, normally used in text messaging and more recently, as 'mats' in Sheng, Kenya's creolised swahili language. Matatus are mostly Isuzu minibuses; other popular models include the Nissan Caravan and Toyota Hiace.
Until the Kenyan government enforced new laws to regulate the matatu sector, matatu vehicles were characteristically painted colorfully, commonly featuring pictures and caricatures of anything currently in vogue. If, for example, a single by Beyoncé were at Number One, one might easily find a matatu named after her or her song, with her picture prominent on both the inside and outside of the vehicle. They also use names of famous people all over the world be it singers, sportsmen, etc. like Martina Hingis, Jennifer Lopez, George Bush and so on.
Many Kenyan matatus were also equipped with powerful car audio systems, including high-powered woofers and sub-woofers. Loud music was a popular means of advertising, the theory being that the matatu with the loudest and most fashionable hip-hop or reggae music would appeal to a larger crowd, hence making higher profits. That is why the youth normally use the 'dot-com' mathrees usually referred to as manyanga/nganya and the older people use the more quieter ones-wangora or ya wazazi (for parents). This is because majority of them have no music at all and are always slow.
Unsafe behavior by matatu operators, including speeding and violations of traffic laws, allegedly contributed to increasingly dangerous driving conditions on the streets of Nairobi. For this and other reasons, the government of Kenya implemented laws regulating the matatu industry on 31 January, 2004.
More generally, 'matatu culture' has been characterized by a cut-throat approach to business that emphasizes quick profits. Numerous anti-social practices have allegedly been linked to the matatu business, including:
*Bribery of traffic policemen Corruption
*and sexual molestation of young girls by matatu drivers or crew
*Petty crime: Outright theft from passengers, overcharging, pickpocketing, physical assault, verbal abuse and general intimidation of the travelling public
*Young men dropping out of school to become touts and drivers
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