You’ll Never Walk Alone: Logistics and the Matatu Strike

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March 10, 2014

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Wednesday morning saw Kenya wake up to a rude shock: the most common means of transport for most of the nation, matatus, were on strike. Unlike the more passive strike witnessed last year, where operators simply did not show up for work, this version took a more aggressive turn: matatu drivers and touts actively blocked roads connecting residential areas to the city center, including the famed Thika Superhighway. As the nation remained determined to get to their various places of work, we embraced the Liverpool motto and banded together to make the trek to the Central Business District. Much to our horror, the situation in Town was no different: taxi operators had taken to blocking roads, some going to the extent of attacking public service vehicles operators who offered to rescue stranded Kenyans by offering transportation services.

The strike is thought to have been in protest of the recent parking fee hike implemented by current Nairobi Governor, Dr. Evans Kidero, which hit Nairobi residents where it hurts- in our pockets. Little can be said in defense of the fee spike – where a private vehicle would previously have been charged KES.140, a KES.300 payment is now required- the Governor insists that it was a move meant to raise county revenue for development. Matatu operators, seeking to temper the impact on their profit margins, had allegedly negotiated a deal to lower said fees, from KES.5,000 to KES.3,650 for 14-seater matatus and KES.8,000 to KES.5,500 for 41 seaters. Claiming the Governor had reneged on this deal, matatu operators took to the streets in a bid to have their plight recognized and remedied.

While the need for matatu operators to defend their livelihood is valid and almost understandable, supply chain managers across Nairobi had similar concerns due to the strike.

The first and most pressing concern for any supply chain manager would be for the wellbeing of their vehicles and goods. Strikes of this nature are rarely peaceful, as became evident when police finally intervened in unblocking roads. For a logistics manager, this means worrying about the delivery vehicles scheduled to be on the road, where stoning and further damage by striking crowds becomes a possibility. Similarly, one would also be right to worry about the possibility of looting eating into inventory and losing deliveries entrusted to the company by customers. In the chaos, delivery drivers may also be injured as they try to escape or protect their cargo.

Naturally, deliveries to clients expected to be made on such a day would be delayed, with the company losing a bit of customer goodwill regardless of strike difficulties. Where freighting was part of a tightly scheduled multi-modal transportation plan, delay at one point of switchover could cause a snowball effect, leading to each stage of the process being delayed and alternate trips having to be arranged at the expense and inconvenience of the company.

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The obvious concern also bears mentioning: where roads are blocked and transportation paralyzed, it is likely that employees working under a supply chain manager, or the managers themselves, may be unable to report to work. While a few operations in a logistics firm, warehouse or delivery center can continue to operate, proceeding while short-staffed will be a serious handicap to the company, with a natural outcome of reduced productivity and output, as employee safety is also not guaranteed during the strike.

While the matatu strike brought majority of Nairobi industries grinding to a halt, we opt to see the silver lining: the true face of Kenyan generosity and ‘Harambee’ spirit came to light as people found comfort in trekking in numbers and those with private means offered help where they could. As far as the optimist in us is concerned, the final outcome of the strike was unity. What was your experience with the strike?


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