Do not shut up when you need to speak up!


I have various problems in my life but a hearing challenge is not one of them. Therefore, when the matatu loader (tout? How do you call the people who call out for passengers to get into the mat?) said that the cost to my destination was 50/-, I was sure of what I had heard. A few minutes later, the tout (now the one collecting fare) asked me for money and after I gave him 50 bob, he asked me for ten shillings more.

Waiting at the stage. Image from

“Hawa wote wamelipa 60bob,” he said with that voice that will tell you that he has smoked various things in life.

When I know that nothing can make me change my decision, I do not bother raising my voice. I learnt this from Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, she is an anthropologist you might want to read about and listen to her arguments.

“Mimi niliambiwa ni fifty nikipanda. Sijui hao waliambiwa ngapi,” I said. I could tell he was getting impatient with me. Then the passenger next to me also said that she had heard fifty and not sixty and just like that, everyone started talking and reinforcing the fact that the mat was supposed to charge just fifty bob. To cut a long story short, I paid just fifty shillings and so did everyone else in that matatu. The ones who had already paid 60bob were refunded ten shillings each.

This incident got me thinking about the numerous times that the matatu touts have tried to pull this stunt on me – of changing fares after I was inside the mat. The only time they succeed is when I do not have lose money. But seriously, why do we, the passengers allow these guys to rough-ride us like that? Why do we keep quiet even when we know what we should say?

Not too long ago, a story of a woman who harassed a conductor in a Nairobi mat was featured in the news. The conductor refused to give the woman her change and she wasn’t having that. Well, I am not about to go into all the ills that reportedly happen in our matatus but at least that will give you an idea of how much change you may leave in Nairobi matatus if silence is your policy.

I know there are people who do not just like talking, it is not their personality – it is not in them to speak. Remember that friend who always knew the right answers but never raised their hand in class? Yes, I know there are people like that.

I am not, however, going to give you a secret formula of how to change this aspect of yourself because I do not have it; perhaps you do not even want to change. Instead, I will tell you what this culture of silence does to you.

  1. The people who speak literary rule the world.

Have you been to a meeting and they ask for suggestions about what sitting arrangement would work better? Then everyone remains silent except the ‘idiot’ amongst you who stands up to give his ‘idiotic idea’. If five ‘idiots’ speak up and give their suggestions which are silly and all the geniuses remain silent, trust me, one foolish idea will be implemented and that is how you will seat. You can murmur all your intelligent ideas but no one cares because when it mattered most, you were quiet.

Therefore, if you do not want to be run by stupid ideas, learn to speak up and table your intelligence.

  1. It takes just one person to break the silence.

It was very easy for me to get the support of other passengers after I stood my ground and told the tout that I would not spend more than I had been initially told. What I am trying to say is that, if you are sure of what you are saying, speak up no matter how tense or complacent everyone else seems to be especially if the issue affects you directly. You might actually be surprised by how many other people were holding the exact sentiments as you but just needed someone to speak up for them. Be that light. Remember, what is right remains right even if no one supports it and what is wrong remains wrong even if everyone supports it.

So you see, when you fail to speak up, you give permission for an unintended consequence that could sweep you along with it. Do not keep quiet when you need to speak up.

  1. When you remain silent you stifle your power

You are thinking politics, right? Well, I am not just talking about political power. It could be the power to pay the right fare in a bus home; it could be the power to save a woman who is being harassed on the streets or even the power to be a role model – to show someone next to you the importance of speaking up in such situations. When you remain silent and let other people trample on your rights, you do not help yourself.

  1. You fail to exercise your fundamental right.

Okay, maybe not fundamental but don’t you think that it is quite odd for everyone to give their opinion or suggestion about something and you remain silent? Well, it is a different story if your mind is blank and does not have an opinion to put on the table.

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