Kibera Muchai: Mololine matatu Owner who rose from Tout to a Millionaire

In the history of Kenya’s public transport sector, Mololine Services has an entire chapter to itself thanks to its creative and visionary founder millionaire businessman, Kibera Muchai.

Muchai died at the Nakuru Level Five Hospital on September 14, 2021 after a short illness and was buried at his Ribot village home in Elburgon, Molo yesterday in a ceremony attended by ODM leader Raila Odinga and top government officials.

Muchai is credited with many changes in the modern matatu sector, most of which the government adopted from Molo Line, a company which he founded alongside other businessmen.

He was born in Mweiga, Nyeri, in 1958 before his parents relocated to Turi Farm, Molo in 1966 from where he launched his business ventures.

After sitting his Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) at St Peter’s Boys in Elburgon, Muchai joined Elburgon Secondary in 1973 and later trained as a mason in Narok.

Described as a man of big dreams by his close friends such as former Njoro MP Joseph Kiuna, Muchai briefly worked at a Nakuru hardware before joining the matatu sector as a tout in 1980.

“In the early 1990s, he brought together young men from Molo and Elburgon to form the most domineering public transport company – Mololine Services Limited,” his family said.

Muchai who had by then acquired his own matatus, guided his peers in bringing their matatus together to form a fleet operating from Molo to Nairobi which informed the naming of the company.

At the company, Muchai was a director and vice chairman until his death. 

Insiders at the company credited him with the introduction of electronic fleet management, a queuing system that has evolved to e-ticketing, low capacity shuttles (11 seaters) and executive shuttles.

His close ally, former Molo MP Jacob Macharia, described Muchai as a man who loved order and fairness hence his creative ways of transforming the chaotic matatu sector.

Despite having multi-million-shilling business investments in Nairobi, Nakuru and Molo, Muchai led a simple life.

“He was always trying to find solutions to problems affecting people in his village and town. You wouldn’t know that he was a millionaire unless someone told you,” said Macharia.

In a past interview with The Standard, Mololine Services Limited chairman Joseph Kariuki popularly known as Bumasu who was the company’s think-tank alongside Muchai, said their journey had not been smooth.

“Previously, the government had been against our efforts to organise our business into a matatu sacco. We only succeeded in 1994 when we registered the sacco as a limited liability company,” said Bumasu.

Beyond business interests, their move was informed by a desire to bring sanity in the chaotic sector which was surprisingly unfriendly to its own clients.

“There was no order in the sector, and this is what Muchai and other like-minded directors wanted to do away with. Passengers would be manhandled as touts scrambled to get them to board their matatus,” said Bumasu.

Irked by the behaviour, the new company introduced an orderly uptake of passengers at the terminus, a move that was seen as an attempt to deny touts an opportunity to eke a living out of the chaotic operations.

“We began by puting up signs guiding passengers to the right matatus. If we didn’t have a matatu waiting, they would queue and get issued with tickets,” said Bumasu.

In 1998, the company took yet another bold step in the onslaught of touting by introducing uniforms for conductors and drivers from whom the passengers could safely seek assistance from.

“In 2004, then Transport Minister John Michuki introduced reforms in the sector through the famed Michuki laws. For us, the only new thing was the introduction of safety belts which we immediately complied with,” said Bumasu.

The company continued to thrive, and even won the trust of the then electoral body, Electoral Commission of Kenya which awarded it a tender to distribute voting materials across the country.