Some Matatu Names

The main mode of mass transport in Uganda is the matatu (as it is in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania), a minibus which offers a lot of very crammed seats in a small space for a low cost. The name Matatu is derived from the Swahili word ‘Tatu’ meaning ‘three’, a form of transport which costs only three shillings. Nowadays the devaluation of the currency means most journeys cost thousands of shillings, but the name has stuck.

The matatus are renowned for their lack of comfort (well, discounting the pimped-out matatus of Nairobi) and their terrifying driving (wrong way down the road at 100kmph in heavy traffic while on the phone? It must be Monday…). But they take great pains to name themselves attractively, putting a big title on the front or back windscreen, and in some cases both.

My friend Melanie claims the names are written as a sort of charm to protect the occupants of the bus but they can be so insane that I’m not sure what deity they’re trying to appeal to. But here are some of the best:

To Ma Haterz

Allah’s Bomber

Texas Salon

Rash Time

The Supper Fighter

Straggle for Excellent

Mummy

Think of Hell Rasta

God Mustard Seed

The Gustav

And for a bonus point, the lorry I saw yesterday on the way home was called “The Appetizer”.

About Muzungu

I’m a Uganda-based freelance photographer (and occasional writer) working for a broad range of clients including NGOs, newspapers and magazines and development agencies. My work has taken me across East Africa, South America and Europe, and previous clients include USAID, the World Bank and the East African. I also work on personal documentary projects in my spare time. If you’d like to hire me or to know more, please feel free to get in touch.
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5 Responses to Some Matatu Names

  1. evesreflections says:

    In the 90s the artwork of Nairobi matatus was an advertisement strategy. The louder the design, color and of course, the music, the higher the probability that we would get on board. Those were the days…

  2. Paige says:

    Rash time for the win.

  3. Wa Makeri says:

    Nice post, Will! Was in a matatu the other day and it was branded on the inside. Each seat cover had the letters PMS emblazoned on it, with no indication of what those initials meant.

    And have you ever read those small sticker signs in matatus? They are interesting … like this common one, “For credit, come tomorrow.” I wonder what would happen if I called the conductor’s bluff.

  4. My favourite Kampala lorry is the one that works the quarry up on Tank Hill Road. It’s often parked in the side area there opposite the stone cutting machinery. It’s been imported from the UK at some point. Its slogan?

    “Roxy Mitchell is pure filth”

    I’m not sure the driver gets it. But it makes my day when I see my Roxy drive by.

  5. Martyn Linkyn says:

    The Appetizer …. lol yea that one!!!

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