Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Don't blame the ma-three

One member of the Fat Wallet Association of Kenya thinks that the solution to the increasing numbers of accidents on the still-shiny Nairobi Expressway is to ban matatus from the road. In her considered opinion, an opinion shared by a few members of her social and economic class, the design flaw in respect of the highway is the drivers. (She means matatu drivers - not the wabenzi for whom the road was built in the first place.)

I am privileged to own a car. I drive, I hope, with care and respect for other road users, even the ones who drive other road user up the wall with heir asinine antics. I have driven long enough to know that assumptions about certain kinds of road users aren't always true or accurate. The most destructive assumption is that matatu drivers are automatically bad drivers; and those who drive top-of-the-range multi-million-shillings SUVs and limos are automatically the best. But if one has driven on any road in Kenya, one can see that the quality of drivers, regardless of the cars they drive, is broadly the same.

The problems on the roads in Kenya are design problems, many of which have been identified by urban planners and road-builders over the past decade. Kenyan roads are not designed primarily with safety in mind; they are designed primarily to resolve "traffic congestion". The Nairobi Expressway was designed to ease traffic congestion for those "going to the airport". Safety may have played a role in the design, but it was not the primary concern of the designers of the road. And it shows.

You can see this cavalier approach to road design on Ngong Road, which has led to such terrible and tragic outcomes. You can see it in the design of Outer Ring Road, which witness deaths at such a high rate that one is shocked all that blood has not motivated the Kenya Roads Board to take any action whatsoever. Thika Superhighway kills with impunity. And before Kenyans on Twitter rallied to the road safety banner, the brand-spanking-new Waiyaki Way was well on its way to being awash with he blood of pedestrians and other road users. The poor road design is the primary contributor to road traffic accidents in Kenya.

The second, in my opinion, is the extreme laissez-faire attitude of the forces of law and order. The Highway Code, the Traffic Act, the National Transport and Safety Act and the several bye-laws on traffic management and road use are enforced with an extremely light thought for some road users - the wabenzi of today - and in increasingly draconian ways for those unwilling and unable to pay the bribes solicited/demanded by traffic police. You have seen the casual and reckless way in which GK-plated Prados are driven at high speed on the wrong side of the road because "mkubwa anachelewa mkutano ya muhimu" while the rest of the driving masses are stuck on the side of the road negotiating hefty bribes for minor traffic infractions. The contempt for the law, both by law enforcement and road users, has contributed to the dangerous state of the roads and so long as we continue to treat GK-plated Prados and similar "official" cars as if they were occupied by minor gods of greek mythology, all the beautiful road designs in the world will not eliminate the death and destruction witnessed on our roads.

I pity our Fat Wallet correspondent. She labours under a false sense of outrage at the antics matatu drivers get upto on the road. In the parlance of the bible, she ignores the speck in her eye all the while railing and cavilling about the plank in ours. So long as she is silent about the poor road design and the differential traffic law enforcement, she is complicit in the death and destruction on the highway. If she cannot use her platform, her brand and her access to high-ranking government officials to advocate for saner, and safer, road design policies, all she is doing is pissing up our legs and telling us that it is raining.

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