REMEMBERING ACCIDENT VICTIMS

Killer roads: Families left in endless pain and solitude

The country always seems to be one major accident away from a temporary public outcry and subsequent crackdown, before it goes back to business as usual

In Summary

• Some 5,188 cases of road accidents were recorded last year involving 12,985 victims. As a result, 3,163 people died and 4,705 were seriously injured.

• 273 black spots have been marked across the country with factors including speeding, overloading, drunk driving, fatigue and wrong use of the road by pedestrians.

A member of the NTSA's road safety awareness team holds a placard in a previous campaign.
A member of the NTSA's road safety awareness team holds a placard in a previous campaign.
Image: COURTESY

It is not the mass deaths from bus and matatu accidents that drive up the number of casualties on Kenyan roads, even though they are what triggers action by traffic police officers.

Most victims are in fact pedestrians killed by speeding vehicles, which rarely gets much public attention.

On Sunday, Kenya joined the rest of the world in marking the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

 
 
 

As government agencies grapple with estimates of the economic impact, the crashes have left many disabled, caused grave permanent social and emotional damage, and reduced many families to poverty and painful solitude.

In Kenya, accidents with mass casualties draw extensive media coverage and public attention and sympathy, but this fades into thin air soon after.

CARELESSNESS BLAMED

In December last year, law student Tracey Mungai became the talk of the town for several days after she allegedly caused a fatal accident along Mbagathi Way.

The fourth-year student at Catholic University of East Africa was with three campus friends when the car crashed into a jogger who was exercising that morning.

Reports emerged that Tracey, who was driving the car at the time, was drunk. Witnesses said the car was speeding before it lost control, causing the accident.

 
 

Glory Msuya died on spot alongside the jogger, while Godsave Nabaraki and Tracey Mungai were admitted at the Nairobi Hospital ICU unit.

 

After numerous appeals on social media for blood donations to save Tracey’s life, she succumbed to the injuries and died on the eve of December 17. Nabariki was left fighting for dear life at the Nairobi Hospital.

Her death left mixed reactions on social media, with some quarters claiming that the fact that she was so drunk while driving had been ignored.

This is just one of the classic examples of how carelessly lives are lost on Kenyan roads, especially during the festive season.

MEASURES TAKEN

Following public outrage, NTSA and traffic police launched an operation to hunt down drunk drivers during the day.

Interior CS Fred Matiang'i further directed the IG to step up measures to ensure Kenyans are carried by responsible drivers to minimise fatalities.

“Do whatever you have to do. Even if you have to ground that bus at the nearest police station for the entire night, please go ahead and do it because the safety of the passengers is what is to be prioritised,” the CS said.

“For a country like ours, it is sad to be losing lives on the roads as a result of careless driving, and during this season, we must be committed to seeing zero fatalities.”

Just several days after Matiangi’s directive, 19 people died on the spot after their matatu crashed into a stationary tractor at Kamukuywa bridge in Bungoma county.

The matatu was on its way to Webuye from Kitale when it crashed on the tractor, which was loaded with sugarcane.

Out of the 19 people who died on that fateful night of December 17, 16 were from the same family.

Violet Sagina, 35, told the Star that 23 months down the line, the pain still lingers in their minds.

The fifth-born in a family of seven (five boys and two girls) said it has been a difficult and painful journey.

"Our family was left devastated. We lost our mother, cousins and in-laws all in one night. Every time I stare at their graves, it breaks my heart,” she said.

Sagina said her homestead has nine graves. One contains the remains of eight family members, while the other eight each of the other relatives.

“Our mother was everything. Even our 75-year-old dad is yet to come to terms with the death. He lost a best friend whom he got on with so well,” she said.

Sagina said her elder brothers fell into depression and their lives fell apart. She said her younger sister now takes care of their ageing father as she hustles to put a meal on the table.

"Most of the time I travel, I feel a cold chill in my body. I cannot stand to see a scene of accident. Even watching on TV drives me to tears,” she said.

“Accidents are bound to happen because they are just but accidents. But careless driving is what has killed, more than just the accidents.”

Sagina says the driver of the Nissan was just careless, a silly mistake that cost so much life.

She said her family was coming from a celebration from their in-laws, and all of them were in a celebratory mood.

“They were warned by some four other cars on the way. We tried to call them but no one answered our calls. We had been told the driver was not sober to drive. We wanted them to stop but unfortunately it was like they were running from us,” she said.

Sagina said life is so precious and rogue drivers should never be allowed on the roads.

PAIN AND SUFFERING

Former TV personality Richard Chacha was crippled from the waist down in an accident. He said the accident messed up with his career.

He said seven years down, the scenes are still fresh in his mind. The accident was a result of a tyre burst.

“The oncoming car did not pave way, despite signals. Our driver had to sway to avoid an on collision and that was it, my life changed,” he said.

Chacha said the accident drained them financially and left the family grappling with debts just to see him fine.

“I spent six weeks in ICU at Nairobi Hospital. Later on after recovery, I was put under care for three months, before I was taken to India for two months to receive specialised treatment,” he said.

"It was devastating. I was separated from the comfort of my house and my family. I was confined to a hospital bed. What even broke my heart is the fact that my two-year-old daughter, who was so close to me, rejected me when they came to see me.”

He said his daughter would cry every time he tried to hold onto her.

I had no facial injuries but was covered in bandages, this scared her. She cried and rejected me and this drove me to depression, making my condition even worse,” he said.

He said though he finally recovered, he wasn’t able to wake, and the end-result was confinement to a wheelchair.

My life was completely messed up. My career came to an end. With most of the infrastructure being inaccessible to the disabled, this was the beginning of a real struggle,” he said.

He said the condition finally forced him out of work. He had dabbled with public relations after leaving the media, but it had not earned him any coin.

“I shifted gears and told myself I can try PR. When I left NTV, I was not aware of where I was going. After three months, I met Governor Joho, who was a good friend. We had a chat and he gave me an opportunity to work at the county,” he said.

He recalls that parts of his body were paralysed and it remains so painful to him.

“My lifestyle has become so expensive. I need to depend on a driver, whom I must pay every month. I need a personal assistant to help me around the house, take you to the bathroom. Your life depends on medication, and for sure, it is a costly affair,” he said.

What hurts most is that seven years down the line, the insurance company is yet to compensate him.

Chacha said he is just lucky he has a supporting wife and family that has helped him pull through.

“Don’t ever keep quiet in that speeding car. Speak out. If not, just alight because there are some things in life that you cannot reverse when they happen,” Chacha said.

He said road accidents can effectively be dealt with if drivers are mindful of other road users.

“Driver discipline determines the safety of his or her passengers. If the other driver was mindful of what had happened to us, we would have been saved,” he said.