by Helvine Achieng
March 12, 2021
Gabriel Maina, aka Mandechu, a matatu operator who is known for the 90s' popular Buruburu 58 route, passed on early this week. The News of his demise has become a trending topic on social media after friends started posting condolences celebrating his life.
The award-winning actor and film producer Ainea Ojiambo described Mandechu as an icon who pioneered and popularised The Matatu culture.
"Everybody in Eastlands used to like him as he was polite and very stylish. He derived the name Mandechu from his 'bling bling' golden teeth and neck chains. Because he was a cool guy, he was often referred to as the ladies' man,"
"If there is one thing he will be remembered for, it will be the fact that he introduced matatu graffiti and pop culture in Buruburu a few months after the trend started in Outer Ring where he had been operating his first matatu. He also instilled sanity in the matatu industry as you would not alight from his matatu while it was on the move,"
Ojiambo recalled how he used to ride in his matatu, enjoying mixes by the legendary DJ Paco Perez and other pop mixes of the 90s. Mandechu later got a job with popular city bus service City Hopper, the transport company he was working for before his demise.
A reggae music lover, Mandechu would frequent the then Kengeles restaurant near Nyayo National Stadium - in Nairobi West, where he would unwind with friends. Friends described him as a lively man who lived his life to the fullest. Narrating how he grew up admiring his 'cool', stated Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) director of communication Philip Etale.
'When I was young, living in Buruburu and always commuting to the CBD, there was this man who had a different swag. He was smart and had a golden tooth. Maina was one of the matatu crew operators plying route 23 from Outer Ring to town. He Later moved to route 58 operating from Buruburu Phase 1 roundabout to town. Maich as we called him, was a social animal and loved his job. He was a friend to my first cousin Freddy who passed on in 2001. Today I have learned of his death. It is devastating. Rest in peace Maich."
The matatu culture, which began in the 80s, has been profiled across the world and has received praise from international quarters.
The phenomenon became popular due to the artwork done on matatus both inside and out, leather seats, neon lights and screens.