Nairobi News


‘Madaraka Express’ offers priceless lessons on timekeeping for Kenyans

By NAVIAN NKATHA February 16th, 2018 3 min read

Kenyans of an older generation, those born before and at the dawn of independence, would nostalgically tell you that there is a time public transport buses actually kept time.

In fact, in his presidential campaign, former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth was fond of saying that he would return Kenya to these glorious days when the town was spick and span, and buses ran on schedule.

It is a culture that would later be undone by the advent of the characteristically uncontrolled matatu culture.

The ever available matatu services found all too willing ‘buyers’, entrenching the notion that Kenyans are utterly poor timekeepers.

But what goes around comes around. The Madaraka Express or the SGR’s selling point was speed and comfort.


But there is currently every indication that it is also bound to inculcate the highly deficient culture of punctuality among us.

All one needs to believe this is a brief engagement with the SGR services. This could even mean the brief ride to Athi River. Once on board, observe the operations, or befriend the attendants and ask them subtle questions.

They will tell you that the Chinese is a no-nonsense worker and boss who pays attention to detail; and is a stickler for time. The train is always on time.

For instance, if you book the Athi River train, it will leave Syokimau at exactly 0800 hours, and arrive at 0822 hours.

Already, the staff, and the frequent travellers who have been regularly using the services since President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off the first train in June 2017 have had no option but to adapt to the strictness and keep time.

It’s not a culture out of the blues. In the western world, time is money.

They observe punctuality religiously and many believe minute wasted is an opportunity gone; and money lost. No wonder they are much more advanced than us?


Likewise, the Chinese are known to keep time. In fact, they are legendary for arriving early to a meeting, sometimes 15, 10 minutes early.

And they will call to alert you that they have arrived. They also value your time, and after a meeting, they will apologize profusely for taking up your time.

President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off the standard gauge railway cargo train yesterday as Deputy President William Ruto (left) looks on. PHOTO | DPPS
President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off the standard gauge railway cargo train yesterday as Deputy President William Ruto (left) looks on. PHOTO | DPPS

At the stations and in the trains, timeliness is observed with a sense of order. In the intermediate train that serves the substations, you are notified 10 minutes to time to prepare to alight.

Over the loudspeakers, you are told the train will be at a particular station for two or three minutes. A watch confirms adherence to the very second.

Outside, there are other staff -both Chinese and Kenyan- waiting for the train. Ten minutes to arrival, they stand attention at the platform, perfectly aligned to where each coach’s door will be positioned once stationary.


Passengers are then organised according to the coach number, and even though a huge number of passengers alight at the stations with an almost similar number boarding, the process is systematically smooth.

It is only upon alighting, with ample time to spare for business or holiday, that one really appreciates the need to keep time, and ends up cursing the last-minute rush that seems in-built in most of us.

With the China Communications Construction Company set to run the Madaraka Express alongside Kenya Railways for 10 years, one can assume that the sense of order exemplified by its services is here to stay.

With the SGR services now being extended to Kisumu and beyond, this presents a priceless opportunity and ample time for Kenyans, including government authorities, to assimilate this admirable culture, and uphold it long after the Chinese have left? And with this, the country will change for the better.

The writer comments on social issues.