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December 11, 2018

Roadside declarations

Vehicles stuck in a traffic jam. /BBC
Vehicles stuck in a traffic jam. /BBC

One of the reasons why I quite like Uber is that I’m quite prone to road rage. There are times when I know the traffic will be so horrible that it will be much better for my peace of mind to call an Uber if I absolutely must go somewhere and do not want to get there angry and bothered (It is also an effect of Nairobi’s traffic that I basically don’t want to go anywhere anymore. If you want me to leave Westlands, better have a very, very inviting offer. And I can get pretty amazing cake in this part of town).

I think there have been a couple of attempts to estimate the costs of Kenya’s traffic silliness – and we’ve (yet again) seen the horrific costs in terms of human lives and suffering with a couple of particularly gruesome accidents recently. I’m still baffled by the official reaction to this. Say, banning night-time buses, in what is supposed to be a 24-hour economy. Now the NTSA has been ordered off this beat by the president. It is not quite clear to me on which legal basis because I was under the impression de-facto roadside declarations were no longer supposed to happen.

This isn’t policy making. None of this is policy making, and none of this will fix anything (the police are likely rubbing their hands in anticipation of a bigger payout again). Fixing the traffic mess has a whole lot of obvious points: clever city and road planning, ensuring that driving licenses are obtained after proper training (not by handing over a couple of thousand shillings), actually enforcing traffic rules (not using them to extract more thousands of shillings), possibly an awareness campaign on how not to kill your neighbours in traffic (not driving drunk would also help, thank you very much. Take an Uber). Ensuring the roadworthiness of vehicles. None of this is technically complicated – but consistently prevented by the multi-million shilling industry that the associated bribery is. Tackling that may well be a suicide mission. So what do we do? Just leave it and let people keep dying?

Because it seems that not even bringing in professionals helps: I was discouraged to see deputy governor Polycarp Igathe’s recent Twitter justifications on how and why the Sonko Rescue Team suddenly had the contract to clean the city. It was his educational background and managerial experience that likely gained Sonko a few more voters. He understands the technicalities of procurement. But suddenly he treats us all like idiots. Me I don’t know.




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