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IDS held a seminar on “Using dignity as a thought framework to improve paratransit” on 28th March 2024 at 2.00 EAT.

Mary Mwangi, the host of the session began by welcoming participants to the seminar.

Mr. Constant Cap, the moderator, gave the opening remarks on the value of such forums that enable exploration of challenges, opportunities, and actionable strategies that can foster a more inclusive and equitable transportation landscape. He concluded by introducing the speaker of the session, Ms. Wambui Kariuki.

Ms. Wambui Kariuki, holds a BA in political science and sociology from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa and a Master of Public Policy and Management from Strathmore University, both in Nairobi, Kenya. She previously worked at Strathmore University as a teaching fellow, where she taught law and literature and law and development. At present, she is a PhD student at Technion University, in Haifa, Israel. Her PhD explores the use of the concept of dignity in transport as an overlooked perspective in the transport planning narrative. She focuses on the perspectives of users and crews in their shared dignity encounters and focuses on paratransit transport in African cities.


Ms. Wambui's presentation on using dignity as a thought framework to improve paratransit.

To begin her presentation Wambui, highlighted her focus was specifically on matatus which fall under the umbrella of paratransit. For her overall PhD research, the objective was to:

“Examine how dignity violations and promotions affect future use of paratransit services among diverse population segments of the population, and how decision-makers relate to dignity and the violations in policies.”

Based on her objective there were 4 research questions her PhD aimed to tackle, the questions were based on the perceived dignity violations and promotions experienced by users and members of crew. How reduction in dignity violations could enhance attractiveness of informal paratransit transportation and finally the role of transport decision makers in promoting and violating the dignity of informal paratransit through their relation to dignity in policy.

The research was also informed by two theories, Norah Jacobson’s Taxonomy of Dignity Violations and promotions and Jonathan Mann’s Taxonomy of dignity violations.


Her case study was done within Nairobi County, which she noted quite a lot of research in terms of the usage of matatus from different aspects, be it on organization of paratransit, the conditions of the crew, and the delivery service towards the users’ geographies around mobility had been done.

Ethnography formed part of the methodology. The activity entailed “ride along’s” which entailed accompanying a diverse group of people on their journeys in matatus. This was done in addition to making observations and doing follow-ups with post riders’ interviews about their experiences, whether positive or negative, and how they interpreted these experiences. The presentation covered output to this level. Other field activities such as focus group discussion, document analysis, and interviews with policy makers were still ongoing.

For the part already completed purposive sampling was used to identify 3 categories of users, in total there were 18 users and 18 crew members. Among the crew we had 11 drivers and 7 conductors, one conductor was female and among the drivers, we had three female drivers. We had 9 paratransit dependent, 5 former women, four car-dependent, three or four were women, five walking dominant, two women, and three men. The routes were randomly selected based on the participants and where they were beginning and terminating their journeys within the central business district.


In terms of data processing and analysis, multiple readings of transcriptions were done of the transcribed interviews and through a detective process keywords and synonyms that match with those in the conceptual framework were identified.

Based on the taxonomy of Man and Jacobson, the outputs presented had negative and positive themes and among the positive, there was acknowledgment and recognition (to be seen), autonomy (ability to direct your own life), and advocacy (for self, for others and by others).  For the negative themes, three emerged which were diminishment (made to feel small), labeling (group identity), and minimizing (coping strategy).

The transport ecosystem was also mapped out in terms of actors and interaction. At the top of the pyramid transport policy, enforcement, and oversight agency tasked with aspects of revenue and transport provision. This was followed by employment entities which include SACCOs, TMCs, and owners that generate revenue and create employment. The third level included the crew which entailed the drivers and conductors, below was the transport service (passengers), and lastly the general public.

Dr. Jotham Njoroge, Discussant

Dr. Njoroge commended Ms. Wambui’s for dedicating time to look at something very practical, yet very much based on a humanistic approach. “Humanising transport.”  He further went on to share some reflections based on the presentation. He noted based on the theories that dignity in the medical field has advanced, from what it was in 1800s and when looking at dignity the first encounter is at a physical level. However, he recommended that it may be good if in the entire research, there was a clear distinction between aspects of dignity that are physical and those non-physical/psychological. For instance, the bodily aspect would be leg room, which would affect passenger’s choice of seat to avoid discomfort. For non-physical and psychological, factors such as the language used towards female passengers, the kind of music playing, and the volume were highlighted.

He also noted that a distinction between the internal factors and the external factors would be necessary. The external factors would for example include road terrain or County Council officials, who would affect the dignity of the passengers, the driver, or the conductor. Internal factors would look into aspects of drivers' and conductors’ etiquette, type of vehicle design (aisle space), and the dignity of the profession, the perception of the dignity of the profession could lead certain people to shy away from it, even though they may have the competencies.

To conclude he examined the dignity aspects that are incorporated in the historical development of paratransit, as well as the existing policies that ensure there are some standards. He noted that this is important because the more you travel around Africa, the more one realizes that dignity means different things to different people.

Questions raised from the presentation.

This is a qualitative and theory-building form of research, right? If so, does it have to start with the taxonomies, or it'd have begun purely inductively? The taxonomies could close out experiences.

I'm not seeing a strong focus on policy aspects in the taxonomies. Since the transport side was outlined in the literature part, what does it say about policy and dignity? In Kenya, the "Michuki Rules" constitute a legal dimension and I believe it was very much on dignity.

Is the Transport Ecosystem developed out of the data collection? Lots of those actors have not been mentioned in the data unless what was presented was an example/sample. I would not put together policy makers and development actors under "General Public."

Bathrooms within the transport sector are questions of dignity, can the study pick on this? The study primarily focuses on dignity through interactions. Have you considered the aspect of dignity in the context of infrastructure inadequacies?

Would the study look at driver training and if it incorporates dignity?

Could use of informal language like 'Sheng' be an attack to human dignity based on the age variations?

Is jumping out of matatus before they stop a culture? Matatus tend not to be having time to let passengers off with dignity. Can it also be classified under absence of dignity for passengers?

When we talk about dignity, many are working on a target system and still have to pay police, city council, crooks, mechanics? How dignified do the crew feel about being treated by there employers? Are they covered in instances of accidents. what about the long working hours of the crew to achieve the daily target?

Considering dignity in transport is good to the extent of seeking a service you can afford, with the option of choices because you can then choose your preferred means of transport. But look at dignity in a situation where you cannot afford a service. It is akin to begging. Do you have any dignity as a beggar? Can we look at donor funding in this way?


We always forget dignity in many aspects of life and I love what this study has conceptualized; if many Kenyans would be honest, the matatu industry in Kenya has really infringed on the dignity...

Very good valid relevant timely work Wambui

Perhaps, the study could be more large scale so that the results are robust enough and for generalization; maybe a comparison with what dignity in Matatu Industry in the rural areas looks like

Dignity in transport can touch on so many other aspects; sexual harassment for our girls and women, time-wasting where you board a matatu and have to wait for people to leave their homes, hiking of fares simply because it has rained....

Dignity violations within the matatu context are everything involved including the outlook of the vehicle, crew behavior, etc. I suggest the focus be specific to certain aspects.

Dignity on touts and drivers; how do they feel when they drive very old matatus? How do we people/users address them? I even hear many people abuse them; do they suffer from societal judgment of being a "donda" and "dere."

Can we look at dignity in terms of noise from the music that is being played in the vehicle? my experience with Supermetro finds me disliking the noise as you are on board.

In the context of health, dignity is institutionalized…we have actors (i.e. doctors and nurses) who are conscious of care and are governed by oaths…In the paratransit context, the main motivation for operation is profit…There lacks training on care and poor enforcement of laws…


In summary, Ms. Wambui noted the recommendation to have a distinction between the physical, non-physical, and psychological factors. However, she noted that currently, it was difficult to do so due to the overlap between these factors.

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