As a young boy growing up in Kiteta area, Makueni County, Stephen Mbolonzi’s dream was to venture into successful business. However, at the time, he wasn’t sure about what venture will do for him. After completing engineering training at then Mbagathi Training College, Mbolonzi was employed by then Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC), as senior engineer.
The organisation was in 1999 split into Telkom Kenya, Postal Corporation of Kenya and Communications Commission of Kenya. All along, however, he was pretty uneasy with a salaried job. “l hated employment because of earning a fixed salary. It could only be adjusted at the mercy of your employer. But in business, there was no fixed income and one could earn a lot of money depending on his or her hard work and strategy,” he explains.
It was lack of initial capital that had forced him into employment. He was to work hard and save enough start up capital. It was after working for several years that Mbolonzi eventually started matatu business, motivated by high daily returns. “Once the matatu hits the road, you’re sure of some cash,” he explains.
Apart from Matatu business, Mbolonzi, a father of three also deals with general supplies of stationery.
He started the Matatu business with Sh510,000 as capital
, of which Sh170,000 came from Posta’s Mawasiliano Sacco. He combined it with another loan of Sh340,000 from a Hindu named Shah, based at Uganda House.
Lucrative route Mbolonzi, nicknamed Wamasaa, started with three Nissan matatus which plied the Nairobi-Athi River route. The route was lucrative because by then, there were no direct matatus from Nairobi to Athi River. Athi River residents had to board Machakos bound public service vehicles (PSVs) and alight along the road.
He saw the opportunity and capitalised on it.
It was a fortuitous bet that gave him instant fruits. “My matatus could not rest because of the many people traveling to Athi River and its environs,” he explains.
This saw him repay Shah’s loan at Sh3,500 weekly. Increased demand saw four friends – Joseph Munyao, Daniel Mbolonzi, Charles Kioko and Alex Mumo, join him, with each contributing a Nissan matatu, increasing the PSVs to seven. Mbolonzi finally quit his job of 22 years in 2010, to concentrate on matatu business. It was during this time that government introduced law to have matatus operate under Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies (Saccos). He changed his company into Wamasaa Travellers Ltd, becoming its Chairman.
The Sacco has since attracted other transport operators and currently has 74 public service vehicles-Nissan matatu and minibuses. Of these,
11 vehicles-two minibuses and nine Nissan matatus are his.
The matatus, which ply Machakos, Makueni, Mulolongo and Athi River routes, have 91 employees. To ‘Wamasaa’ it wasn’t easy starting the business.
Immediately he hinted at starting matatu business, many people discouraged him, saying it was not a good idea, but he defied the odds to venture into the murky waters. Today, he smiles all the way to the bank. Mbolonzi says the matatu industry is profitable, as long as one adheres to traffic rules. “Traffic fines are costly if you break the law, and can ground your business,” observes Mbolonzi, who attended Kasuswi Primary School and later Makueni Boys High school.
In a month, he rakes in gross income of at least Sh240,000 and Sh75,000 after subtracting expenses that include salaries and services or repairs.
Last year, the Sacco was awarded the most disciplined in Athi River by former mayor, Patrick Makau, beating seven others. He opines that the numerous levies introduced by county governments are hurting transport industry, adding that stakeholders ought to have been consulted first before introducing them, or introduced in phases.
He also wants government not punish entire Saccos but individuals who break the law. He is inspired by Matatu Owners Association led by Simon Kimutai, because of its good management, and how it has expanded fast. He plans to increase the fleet and introduce long distance buses.