Kenya’s government is defending Uber against Nairobi’s taxi drivers

Uber has not had an easy ride of late.
Uber has not had an easy ride of late.
Image: Reuters/Charles Platiau
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Uber has an ally in its battle against Nairobi’s taxi drivers. James Macharia, Kenya’s transport minister, said the country adheres to free-market principles and pledged to protect anyone against threats to provide services to Kenyans.

That’s good news for the ride-hailing app, amid reports of traditional taxi drivers threatening and intimidating Uber drivers in Kenya’s capital. Earlier this month, two people were arrested for allegedly smashing a window of an Uber contractor’s car.

“We are in a liberalized environment and those who offer competitive services must be protected,” Macharia said. ”Uber operators and their clients will be protected.”

This is a more sympathetic response from government authorities than Uber has received in other places where traditional taxi drivers are lobbying officials to ban or restrict the service.

While denying that any of its members were involved in the violence, the United Kenya Taxi Association, a lobbying group for cabbies, said last week that it will bring Nairobi’s already bad traffic to a grinding halt unless Uber is “done away with.” This week, the interior ministry brought the two sides together to attempt to resolve the issue.

Cab drivers in Nairobi claim that Uber’s pricing model threatens their business, making them unable to compete and could render them jobless. Uber, which operates in nine cities across Africa and in 60 countries globally, is able to keep prices low because it identifies itself in Kenya as a tech company, The East African reports. This allows it to avoid certain costs and taxes that traditional taxi companies face—responsibility for those costs fall to the drivers and not Uber, the company says.

“We are a technology platform that partners with existing licensed drivers and operators, and therefore we do not need to apply for any local taxi or public service vehicle license,” Alastair Curtis, an Uber official, told The East African last year.

Kenyan authorities say they are aware of the challenges that a company like Uber presents and are grappling with ways to update regulations to acknowledge these differences. ”We are working on a specific dedicated policy to address the emergence of these innovations and to ensure their smooth regulation,” Macharia said.