Thursday, October 05, 2023

The love language of shameful silence

One of the meanings of "careful" is "making sure of avoiding potential danger, mishap, or harm; cautious", while "careless" means "not giving sufficient attention or thought to avoiding harm or errors". One of the hallmarks of a careful person (or institution) is pride in their name. Careful people will not hide their identity (unless they are careful crooks). In the public service, this who take time t think through their decisions, consult widely when taking decisions, and speak honestly when taking responsibility for their actions, rarely see the need to hide their identities. Their intention is almost always to avoid danger, harm or mishaps.

Careful is not the image that comes to mind when you think of the Kenya Roads Board or its roads authorities, the Kenya National Highways authority, Kenya Urban Roads Authority or Kenya Rural Roads Authority. It is no longer the image that comes to mind when one thinks of the National Transport and Safety Authority or the Traffic Department of the Kenya Police Service. Most road users in Kenya think of these institutions, and their managers and boards of directors, as careless. The death, injury and destruction of property caused by their carelessness is all the proof one needs.

Many factors have contributed to the death, injury and damage caused on our roads. The corruption of the Police and NTSA when it comes to the operation of roadworthy or unroadworthy motor vehicles on our roads comes to mind. The incredibly poor driving skills of the majority of motorists, including drivers of public service vehicles and other kinds of commercial vehicles, cannot be ignored either. The fatalistic risk-taking by other road users can also not be gainsaid.

But of all the factors that contribute to the current dire situation, one of the major ones is that the roads we have are badly designed. Perhaps the design on paper applied the latest techniques adopted in other jurisdictions that have lower rates of death, injury or destruction. But designs on paper don't save lives. IN Kenya, praise is always given for perfect documentary designs. There's that apocryphal anecdote of Kenyan policy documents being successfully implemented by Asian Tigers while the very same policies gather dust in ministry archives. The same may be true when it comes to our roads.

Maybe the implementation of those old designs is sacrificed at the altar of greed, corner-cutting and outright theft of funds and construction material. But the fact that when you try, for example, to find out who the members of the KENHA board are, you end up with a blank page tells you everything you need to know about the nature of the institution. It is not proud of its work. It is not proud of its oversight bodies. It is not proud of its managers. And it is deeply, deeply ashamed of the quality of its work. Why wouldn't they hide their identities?

Very few are nowadays unaware that Kenyan roads are not fit for purpose. Not even for the motorists for whom the roads are ostensibly reserved for. The shiny new elevated expressway is very good at connecting the various exits along its 27 km stretch, but every exit leads to a traffic jam. Thika Super Highway is a funnel that brings clogged traffic into the CBD in the morning and sends it back to Githurai in the evening. Langata Road has a beautiful interchange at T-Mall but only so that it can deliver yo to the Nyayo HighriseEstate/Nyayo Stadium traffic jam in all haste. What all these somewhat impressive feats of civil engineering lack is any sort of common sense. Little or no accommodation is made for Nairobi's legion of pedestrians, nduthists, mkokoteni pullers, and brave-beyond-belief cyclists. Our focus on cars and car drivers has not solved the "traffic problem" and has, instead, made the roads quite unsafe.

So I revisit the shame of the Kenya Roads Board, its roads authorities, the Traffic Department, NTSA and the men and women who make decisions that cause untold harm and damage. They hide their faces because they now that they cannot afford to admit that they are the charlatans who have led to so much death and injury. They hide their shame because in Kenya, shameful silence is their love language.

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