December 20 2013

The “Man-Eat-Man” Mentality of Nairobi Roads

The traffic lights go red, and drivers continue to drive. Only a near collision with another vehicle will make someone stop. The Nairobi road culture is interesting, a culture where red may mean go and green may mean stop. Even with the new digital traffic lights that synchronize and indicate time, drivers will try to get about their own way. On top of that, many times traffic officers opt to interfere with the automated traffic control, overruling the lights and controlling the traffic.

Drivers are told to stop by a traffic Policeman when the lights are green and a pedestrian crosses the road

This is a culture where road etiquette leaves a lot to be desired. Road signs tend to be mere decorations in the absence of a traffic policeman. Stopping at a red light may lead to other drivers getting angry at you. Giving way to someone or driving within speed limits may lead to those behind you thinking that you are insane.

Not surprisingly, local dailies have horrific stories of road accidents, with hundreds dying every month. A blame game starts soon after, with the police blaming drivers, citizens blaming the police and the government finding themselves somewhere in between. Government commissions are set up to investigate the causes and come up with action plans; but these are rarely looked at once done, and the carnage continues. Within the city, I am reminded of one of the phrases of the late Julius Nyerere, who would call Kenya a “man-eat-man” society where everyone wants everything for himself.

Pedestrian footbridges are mere monuments, as pedestrians would prefer to skip through moving traffic and cross the road. Rumors of thugs waiting on top of the bridges do not make it sound better. But as a driver you dare not knock down a pedestrian, for you will face the wrath of other pedestrians who will descend upon you and your car as a mob seeking justice.

What is sad is the sight of school bus drivers going against traffic rules, overloaded and speeding, oblivious of the bad example to the children they carry. Sometimes this resulting in tragic accidents.

There is always hope though. Until a few years ago, “zebra” pedestrian crossings were completely ignored by drivers. The City Council started punishing drivers who did not give way to pedestrians, and many now follow the rules.

Vehicles stop to allow pedestrians to cross the road at a zebra crossing

Social media bloggers and the mainstream media have also made an effort to fight this with campaigns like Road Hog and websites like Overlap Kenya. Additionally, the President of Kenya recently set up the National Road Safety Authority to harmonize operations of key transport departments.

What more is required to stop the carnage on Kenyan Roads? What citizen initiatives can bring order and sanity to the roads in Kenya?

Credits: Images by Constant Cap. Data linke to sources.

Constant Cap

Constant Cap is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. He holds an undergraduate degree from the same university. He regularly writes about urban planning issues online and in local dailies. Constant was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and is passionate about the planning issues facing African Cities. He has a deep interest in sustainable transportation and the application of ‘new urbanism’ in Africa. He intends to work as a planner on the African continent and assist in bringing about modern sustainable urbanism. He currently works at the Advancement Office at Strathmore University, Nairobi.

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 20th, 2013 at 9:41 am and is filed under Constant Cap, Infrastructure, Social/Demographics, Transportation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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