The government has announced plans to phase out 14-seater matatus in favour of larger vehicles in a bid to ease congestion on Kenyan roads. Some 45,000 of the small, privately owned minivans otherwise known as Nissans after their Japanese manufacturer currently serve routes across the country, providing employment for 90,000 mostly young men and the preferred means of transportation for 75 per cent of public transport users in Kenya. Many operate from bases in and around Nairobi city centre.

The proposal has been criticised by matatu operators, who reject claims that the 14-seaters are responsible for congestion, blaming poor roads and traffic management instead. They have also expressed concern at the greater cost of hiring or purchasing the 25-seater replacements, with the result that many small entrepreneurs could find themselves out of business.

The plans follow the introduction of tough new road rules three years ago in an attempt to rein in buses and matatus in particular. Matatus are often overcrowded, drive fast and frequently crash, contributing to the toll of around 3,000 road deaths countrywide each year.

Interested parties are due to meet to discuss details of the changeover, for which no timetable has been given.