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November 21, 2018

Nairobi daylight muggings a show of wholesale institutional failure

This week, I meant to write about road running and healthcare. I don’t run for charity. That’s not to say that I don’t think maternal health (or eye surgery, or heart surgery, or elephant protection, or cancer research) aren’t excellent things to pursue. They just don’t make me run. I can just M-Pesa some cash and roll over in bed again – much easier.

I take part in Nairobi runs because I really like road runs. It’s the rare chance to get to play on the roads downtown and (extra treat) not worry too much about traffic, or getting pick-pocketed, or mugged. I’ve even spotted smiling police men during the runs; true story.

At the First Lady’s run, I suffered my way up through Upper Hill, and then the good bit started: down Mbagathi Way where you recover from the climb, with a lovely look over Nairobi, still covered in a bit of mist even though the sun had already risen quite high (yes, I’m slow, thank you for asking). One of those moments that soothe my ruffled Nairobi feathers.

An engagement for maternal health is a safe pick for a First Lady’s cause: you really can’t argue with it, and improvements in that area in Kenya are desperately needed. So, Mrs Kenyatta deserves the credit that she got, and I do very much hope that she turns her maternal health initiative into a strong organisation. There is so much need that everything helps.

Nevertheless, I wanted to write about how the extensive PR and praise given to her run should not distract from the fact that there is already a key player in this sector, and this key player needs to be held accountable to finally do its job: the government of Kenya.

As always, this is a question of setting up competent, functional institutions, and at the moment, you will find healthcare horror stories, not just in maternal health, pretty much every day when you open the papers (and those are just the ones that managed to get media attention).

Yet, rather than think about that, I’m still stuck on roads. A friend just posted this warning: ‘Reports of motorists being robbed at gun point on Uhuru Highway near Toyota EA showrooms at the roundabout, Landhies Road (near Kamukunji Police Station), Westlands Waiyaki Way/Chiromo roads roundabout between 6.30pm and 8pm when traffic is heavy. Lock doors and keep windows rolled up'.

Last week, walking the intrepid doglet on the road behind my house in the late afternoon, I was only 300 metres away from three women being mugged by guys with guns on a moped – incidentally also something that KK Security had highlighted in one of their recent reports.

I know that the police force is an institution that doesn’t work (well, not for the vast majority of citizens anyway – it certainly seems to work a treat for senior officers). But, this is 2015.

Kenya – the largest, most diversified economy in East Africa; a banking hub; tourism destination (and the latter one is looking increasingly shaky); and looking to attract international investment. Yet, mugging in broad daylight is happening in the capital. How on earth is this possible?

Everyone is exhausted by the constant risk of crime, and especially violent crime. The threat of carjackings at your gate at night is terrifying. And now just by being in traffic, in the middle of the capital, in broad daylight, you face armed robbers? Yes, this is wholesale institutional failure and I understand that this will take a lot of time to fix. So, surely there must be some way of finding an immediate, if interim, solution, or at least something approaching a solution?

Thanks to Facebook, we have found out that Mr Kidero can walk just like us civilians. Nice. He may have regretted the decision to post photographs of himself getting out of his car stuck in traffic to walk to his next meeting venue, the Kempinsky. And adding the comment ‘I totally feel your pain’. The shade came hard and fast. Do we need to wait until he gets mugged on such a walk before something happens?

PS: I am, in an abstract sense, immensely entertained by the media coverage of the vetting of senior police officers. Such drama! Tears, hand-wringing, tales of diligent savings, and as side-hustle in, apparently, some impressive payment processing for their wives’ businesses through their personal accounts. Who knew that all those millions could be so awkward! It would be hysterical if it weren’t so depressing.


Bonstedt is an independent country risk analyst.

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