Wednesday, August 14, 2013

When will we change?

The roads of Accra are narrow and truly inadequate to accommodate the thousands upon thousands of apparently new drivers on them. But a Kenyan would find himself at odds with the traditional Nairobbery-style driving that we seem to have perfected. The presence of uniformed traffic police on the roads of Accra is as rare as a sighting of the blue-fin tuna off the coast of Accra, but their absence seems not to have affected their discipline while on the road. Lane discipline is elevated to an art form here. While some may be frustrated by what seem like interminable delays while burning fuel in traffic jams, they take it in stride and wait their turn. There is no need for traffic police to supplement the traffic lights: everyone drives by the rules.

Ghanaian drivers have more than reinforced the stellar reputation of their fellow countrymen. Decorum seems to run in their blood. Hooting in frustration is rare. Overlapping is unheard of. Road traffic fatalities seem to be a spectre on the TV taking place in lands far, far away. And this too in terribly humid weather accompanied by crowded pavements that force pedestrians on the motorways. Bicycles and motorcycles are not considered menaces to be run off the road. Neither, it seems, are the hundreds of four-wheeled handcart pullers. Everyone and their uncle has the right to use the public roads so long as they observe the highway code.

Looking at the go-getting attitude of Nairobi drivers especially, one is struck by the sheer selfishness of road-users in Kenya. The Me-Me-Me attitude that makes Kenyans formidable in the boardroom is completely inappropriate to the road. When we all demand, and selfishly take, any and all public spaces for our own personal playgrounds, we create problems where none exist.

I do not know whether Ghanaian drivers undergo special training before they are let loose on the roads. Looking at the state of their vehicles, I think no. This is a nation that has something to teach Kenyans in the ways of giving way in the hopes of being given way.

Kenya's brand new highways have become death traps. The City Council of Nairobi used to have a chart on the walls of the Retail Market (the Landhies Road-Haile Selassie Avenue Roundabout) detailing the number of road accidents each week. They stopped updating the chart when the numbers of those killed and injured on the roads exploded. It is now left to the National Police Service to maintain such statistics.

These numbers are an indictment of the state of traffic policing in Kenya. It is not for nothing that despite the gongs the National Police seem to earn regarding their "customer care" that the police in Kenya are considered the most corrupt on earth. When they would rather collect bribes rather than enforce the draconian provisions of the traffic act, they ensure that the traffic problems that have bedevilled us for a decade will continue to do so for another decade. If the police are so contemptuous of the law, there is no incentive for the road users of Kenya not to do likewise. We are all in this together, corruptors and the corrupted alike. The thousands of litres of blood awash on our highways seem not to have pricked our consciences. Perhaps we like it that way. Perhaps we all really have death wishes. We are the change we seek. When will we change?

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