Thursday, September 05, 2013

The futility of good intentions.

Allow this blogger to wade in once more into the moribund debate on road safety. It is not that, especially, Nairobians do not realise that their lives or limbs are at risk every time they board a matatu flying from one part of the city to another. It is not that they do not care for the welfare of other road users when they bully their way in and out of traffic in a bid to make it to their places of work in the shortest period. It is that despite all these and many more cogent reasons, they simply do not care.

In Kenya, today, the prime motivator is profit at all costs. We no longer frown at the unseemly Mammon idolatry that defines our lives. Indeed, even the institution that once mightily caviled against mammon, the church, has gotten it into its head, and heart, that it is God's will that you die rich. The Prosperity Gospel has done more to liberate people from their morals than the destruction of civic institutions such as political parties or schools or places of high learning.

This attitude is starkly reflected on our roads. The national Executive, whether through the Ministries of Transport or Roads or Internal Security, can produce facts and data detailing why public transport and road safety are in the toilet. They will produce reams of White Papers detailing what must be done to stop the rising death toll on our roads dead in its tracks, pun intended. They know who is to blame. They know what is to blame. They know what must be done, from an administrative point of view, to solve the problem. And they know that what they know is hogwash. Kenyan lives will not be preserved on or off our roads because the Executive has successfully implemented this policy or the other. All the policies, programmes, interventions and whatnot will not reverse the death toll unless a key ingredient is added.

The political will to enforce the rule of law on the roads will have a salutary effect on road safety and public transport. Matatus in Nairobi have always been a law unto themselves. Since the colonial era, matatus have played a game of cat-and-mouse with the forces of law and order. In the over five decades of matatuness, tens of thousands of road users have perished in what our print media love to call horrific accidents. The rise of the matatu culture has mirrored the descent of law enforcement into the pits of sloth and corruption. Policing and matatus are the Siamese twins responsible for the untold suffering (another print-media favourite) of families. The reform of the one must necessarily lead to the reform of the other.

Sadly and tragically, Kenyans are not interested in the proper enforcement of the rule of law. Their intentions for the for forces of law and order are to keep their enemies from interests, legitimate or otherwise, not to prevent them from circumventing the rule of law, every now and then, for their benefit. Kenyans are happy when the rule of law applies to a mysterious Others, not to them as individuals. It is why a motorist will resist, strongly, the suggestion that he must pay for any damage he cause with his motor vehicle. It is always someone else who is responsible. The motorist is encouraged by his political representative, elected or otherwise. 

The political class is no stranger to the concept of cutting corners; few of its members have ever gotten to where they are playing by all the rules, save for those that advance their political careers. When elected to parliament, it is their duty to protect their constituents from harm, which include ensuring that they are alive at each election save when natural causes (a particular favourite of the print media) intervene. The reality, as in most things in Kenya, is truly shocking. The politicians will conspire with their equally culpable constituents and forces of law and order to frustrate the lofty, but misguided, ideals of the Executive. Every time. And every time, the death toll will keep receiving new adjectival phrases from the print media to express the horror.

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