It is madness. The figures vary depending on which media report you read but at least 3,100 people died on Kenya’s roads in 2012 whilst over 7,000 were injured. 54 people died in road accidents over the New Year period in two days of carnage, so it looks like we have started 2013 in the way we mean to go on.
42 people were injured in separate accidents just before Christmas in Taita Taveta and Nakuru counties, 28 of them in a Mombasa-bound bus that collided with a lorry.
On Boxing Day, three people were killed and a further 28 injured at Bobaracho on the Kisii-Keroka Road. Almost inevitably the accident involved a matatu that veered off the road and crashed into a ditch. The driver ran off and is being sought by the police.
Next day and a lorry smashed into a stationary matatu at Rupingazi in Embu town: seven people were killed.
The carnage continued. On December 30, two people died in a pile up between several cars, a truck and motorcycle in Kibarani, Mombasa County.
NEW YEAR MOTOR MANSLAUGHTER
And so we welcomed in the New Year…
In two separate accidents that occurred just after midnight on New Year’s Eve, fourteen people died, eleven of them in one horrific crash at Migai, near Salgaa on the Nakuru-Eldoret highway. Again, the collision involved a matatu, a bus and a truck.
Over the three days of New Years Eve, New Year’s Day and 2 January, 54 people were killed on Kenya’s roads. In one of the worst of the crashes, 20 people died as the result of a matatu going out of control and crashing into a quarry in Molo, Nakuru County.
We need not go on indeed it is too depressing to do so. The never ending tale of lives lost and more lives ruined as a result of the madness displayed on Kenya’s roads is too much to bear.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Is there anything that can be done to stop it? Is there a reason, or a series of causes that can be addressed? Who and/or what is to blame? What can be done?
A new hospital is to be built in Nakuru just to treat victims of road accidents. This is good news but it deals with the symptoms of the problem, not the cause.
A CONCRETE WALL IN MOMBASA
The traffic police chief in Mombasa has called for a concrete wall to be built in the middle of the Makupa Causeway on the Kibarani stretch, a notorious black spot for accidents, including one on Saturday 29 January in which two people died and 13 were injured when a truck driver lost control of his vehicle and rammed into oncoming traffic. This again, however, deals with a specific problem but not the underlying cause.
POLICE INSPECTOR GENERAL BLAMES SENIOR OFFICERS
After the New Year motor mayhem, the new Inspector General of Police, David Kimaiyo, laid the blame at the door of police commanders for not enforcing the new traffic rules. Kimaiyo has a point but it is difficult to enforce traffic laws in the middle of the Tsavo National Park section of the Nairobi-Mombasa road, for example, and there are other associated problems.
KENYA’S NEW TRAFFIC RULES – AND CORRUPTION
The new traffic rules do seem to have an effect on the behaviour of matatu drivers in Nairobi but they have also given corrupt police officers more scope for garnering bribes. The number of dangerously overloaded lorries on the Naivasha-Nairobi roads appear not to have diminished despite numerous police check points.
Writing in The Standard last Wednesday, Pravin Bowry posed the disturbing proposition that the new traffic rules are ‘breeding more criminality’, not ‘acting as a deterrent and a mode of social change’.
‘Ask motorists in Nairobi’, wrote lawyer Bowry, ‘where in the last month or so the police are using the new traffic laws to extort large bribes – unashamedly and unabashedly, with no agency capable of curbing the corruption for the giver and the taker of bribes!’
INDUCING ‘POSITIVE BEHAVIOUR’
Writing in the Standard on Sunday, Angela Ambitho, CEO of Infotrack Research and Consulting, argued that ‘positive behaviour’ can be induced by continually repeating the messages of road safety, knowledge of the Highway Code, obeying traffic rules, knowing when overtaking is acceptable, and so on.
Ms Ambitho is surely right up to a point but you have to be some sort of lunatic to overtake on a bend over a hill, crossing a yellow line in the process, something that most drivers in Kenya will have witnessed time and again.
KENYANS CAN’T DRIVE?
Mutuma Mathiu’s column in the Daily Nation last Friday was perhaps the bluntest on the subject. The title of the article was, ‘Kenyans can’t drive, which is why they are so busy killing themselves’.
Mathiu wrote: ‘I was on the Thika superhighway on Christmas Day. It showed me that there are three reasons why we are dying on the roads’.
The three reasons given by Mutuma Mathiu were that Kenyan motorists ‘can’t drive’ because they are untrained; that matatu drivers are both untrained and ill-educated (if at all); and that ‘we don’t keep our vehicles in very good shape’.
The Kenya Forum agrees with Mr Mathiu but there’s more to it, surely?
One Kenyan lawyer told this Forum correspondent that in his opinion, the phrase “I was speechless”, was one that was not used to mean that in such-and-such a situation one is genuinely left unable to speak, except, he said, when driving and you watch the madness of Kenyan drivers.
WE ARE ALL RESPONSIBLE
Too many people are dying on our roads. Too many lives are being ruined. We need to genuinely teach and test new drivers. We must keep reminding drivers of the rules. We must enforce the traffic laws. Yes to all of that, and more. But most of all, Kenyans, all of us, have to take responsibility. Fundamentally, it’s not the other guy, the policeman, or the road surface that are the root cause of the killings on Kenya’s roads: it is each and every one of us who drive in the Kenyan way.