No sooner did news come in that UBER, the somewhat controversial taxi service, was going to expand to Mombasa was it also learned that another attack on an UBER car in Nairobi had taken place.
‘Is this company gambling with the lives of those they take under contract? Is this company really careless enough to provoke more attacks by announcing a Mombasa rollout at this stage? I sharply condemn the regular taxi driver association and those hooligans responsible for such attacks on UBER drivers and cars but I must also question the wisdom of UBER to push into a market where their contracted drivers can expect violence at any time? What company I ask you does such things, apparently factoring in such losses in terms of assets and grievous harm to their drivers to advance their own market position?’.
In Nairobi’s suburb of Riruta was an UBER driver yesterday morning lured to take a fare by a yet to be identified passenger. At a certain point the passengers requested the driver to stop briefly, purportedly to answer a call of nature, but no sooner had the car stopped did accomplices emerge from a thicket, doused the vehicle with petrol and set it alight. The driver escaped unharmed as the attackers then also ran away.
This follows the attempted murder of another UBER driver in another part of Nairobi a few weeks earlier who barely escaped from the burning car with his life but suffered serious burns.
Subsequently was the timing of UBER’s announcement to start operations in Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city, taken with some incredulity with regular readers questioning the sanity of such an action given the raging conflict between regular taxi operations and UBER drivers.
Mombasa’s entry into the UBER network brings the company’s locations to over 400 around the world though entry into such hotly contested markets like Kenya, where violence has been used on many occasions, remains a disputed business strategy at this point.
While UBER executives profess to care about their contracted drivers and have sought the protection of security organs and the police in Kenya to prevent future incidents, is it also clear that lipservice is simply not enough and that aggressive rollouts, like in Kenya, need to be better prepared through prior ‘alliances and peace deals’ instead of lamenting incidents as an afterthought.
UBER’s business model has no doubt been a success elsewhere in the world, similar to accommodation newcomers AirBnB though the latter did not encounter such outright hostility from hotels and conventional B&B’s as UBER drivers did in Nairobi.
Local sources from Mombasa consider it only a matter of time before the first scuffles break out in Kenya’s main port city too and expressed their hope that no further escalation beyond fist fights happen as was the case in Nairobi.