‘Road bump’ mentality will be our undoing

Sunday March 27 2016

A road sign erected by residents of Mweiga along  Nyeri-Nyahururu road. The residents heaped rocks and mud to make three bumps and even put signs to warn the motorists. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A road sign erected by residents of Mweiga along Nyeri-Nyahururu road. The residents heaped rocks and mud to make three bumps and even put signs to warn the motorists. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By LUKOYE ATWOLI
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In the understanding of an enlightened layperson, road construction is a specialised field bringing together designers, engineers, contractors, surveyors and many other professionals.

The involvement of these varied professionals might explain why it takes such a long time between the awarding of a road construction tender and the initiation of the actual road works. Meticulous attention must be paid to detail because small deviations from accepted standards will, over time, significantly reduce the lifespan of the road and even pose a danger to road users.

If lots of intellectual capital is expended in designing and building our roads, how then do we explain the impromptu modifications we frequently encounter on our roads, including transnational highways?

Every so often, a pedestrian will get knocked down on one of our highways, occasioning demonstrations and protests by residents in the area.

Sometimes they will mount roadblocks and burn tyres on the road to make their point, initiating damage to the road surface that eventually only serves to increase the risk of further accidents. Other times they will take it upon themselves to build road bumps to reduce the speed of traffic and, therefore, in their thinking, also reduce the risk to pedestrians.

We are made to understand that the construction of road bumps is a scientific process guided by several factors including the actual intention of erecting the bumps, the desired road speeds, and the need to minimise damage to the road and to vehicles using the roads. Obviously, angry villagers do not have the benefit of scientific calculations to guide them, so they end up erecting monstrosities of rocks and soil that can only be negotiated by the most skilled of drivers in bigger than average motor vehicles.

Why do the responsible authorities allow villagers to do this? Is it perhaps because they also agree with the villagers that the bumps are necessary, and that they are the best method to reduce road accidents and control traffic? If this is the case, then one is left wondering if these same professionals are the original designers and builders of the same roads they allow villagers to modify. Why didn’t they think to erect the bumps as an integral part of the road design in the first place?

THROW MOULDS OF SOIL

Indeed, it might be excusable for angry villagers to be allowed to throw mounds of soil and rocks on a road in order to slow down traffic ostensibly to protect pedestrians. But how does one excuse a government agency presumably staffed with competent professionals in all aspects of road construction? Is it because the agencies do not have qualified professionals to advise them? Is it because even the professionals are cutting corners?

The haphazard placement of road bumps, and the recent phenomenon of impromptu placement of speed limits, constitutes evidence beyond reasonable doubt that something is wrong in the agencies concerned with road construction and road safety.

It is a product, in my view, of the Kenyan “road bump” mentality. In much the same way we consider road bumps to be the quick fix for reducing injuries and deaths on our roads, we often come up with impulsive “solutions” to problems that often have other underlying causes that we studiously ignore. Eventually the quick fixes inevitably fail, and we go back to square one, applying more “road bumps” despite the damage they are known to cause.

For instance, the most potent source of corrupt practices is the average family’s dinner table. At the dinner table, ill-gotten wealth is distributed and discussed by adults and children alike.

Corrupt behaviours by “one of our own” are condoned and even applauded at the dinner table, and upright decisions by the “fool next door” are ridiculed. Our children pick their life’s lessons from their elders at the dinner table. In our “road bump” mentality, we seek to end corruption by creating commissions to monitor it and grill us about it, rather than addressing the goings-on at our dinner tables.

These literal and figurative road bumps will be the death of us!

Atwoli is associate professor of psychiatry and dean, School of Medicine, Moi University; [email protected]