I was speaking at the Maasai Mara University in late November and was still engaging the students when the sun began to dim and night approached menacingly.
It wasn’t until 6pm that I left the campus in Narok and started on the way back to our nation’s capital. By the time we got to Mai Mahiu, the light had completely given out and I became uneasy as I usually get when I have to be on the road in the dark.
I am terrified of driving at night in Kenya because there are far too many factors beyond my control.
I would like to stay alive for a long, long time and driving on Kenyan roads after nightfall severely reduces the chances of that happening. So as far as possible, I only do short distances within the city and am always on the lookout for anything out of place while I’m behind the wheel.
I am grateful that I can take these precautions and I fully realise that it comes from a certain degree of privilege out of the reach of everyone that I can decide not to use public transport in the dark.
For millions of Kenyans for whom that is not an option, they are unknowingly putting themselves in danger every time they board a bus or a matatu and hope they get to their destination in one piece.
As this holiday season alone has shown, nearly 100 people never made it to where they were going and countless more were wounded in the process. Suspending night travel like the National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA) has done is too little too late, akin to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Just like the menacing deregistration of driving schools, it does not address the fundamental weaknesses in our profit-driven public transport industry.
Taking any public transport in Kenya is to knowingly put yourself in danger. The driver might be drunk, or unqualified – often both.
They might have worked through the night and the day before without rest, or they might be trying to hit an impossible target, forcing them to keep pushing themselves.
The crew of the matatu might be undercover gangsters or working in collusion with them to rob innocent passengers, or any other range of criminal acts that could visit you while you’re there.
The vehicle itself might be mechanically faulty or even a write-off that was somehow restored and put back on the road. It might not have a speed governor even though the law still considers it a requirement, or it might be owned by a policeman, which provides cover for all its wrongdoings.
If somehow none of these issues faze you or you don’t have a choice and you do jump in anyway, another vehicle driven recklessly might still kill you.
There are no minimum standards for crew discipline, vehicle maintenance and roadworthiness or guidelines for public transport in place today and even if there were, they are not enforced.
Matatu crews know that they can get away with any infraction, however major, by bribing the policeman at the next roadblock and moving merrily along.
Passengers know that they don’t have to wear their seat belts as long as nobody is looking, even though it protects them in case of an accident.
The government knows that it doesn’t have to provide clear road signs or any reasonable measures to alert road users of what is ahead because there will be no consequences.
Our public service vehicles are death traps on wheels, the roads might as well be slaughterhouses and everyone knows all this and everyone does nothing.
Nobody will take responsibility for the most recent holiday deaths because that is how it has always been. NTSA will put out statements and the transport Cabinet secretary will make half-hearted attempts to correct course but nobody will resign or even issue a public apology.
There will be no national outrage because this has been normalised over several generations so nobody is really shocked anymore.
Poor lives do not have the same value as those of the wealthy, so it will be business as usual soon enough, and the same life-threatening way of doing things will continue unabated.
We cannot, and should not, continue sending poor people to die in public service vehicles and assuage our guilt by paying for their funerals. All this carnage can be eliminated without introducing a single new law but simply enforcing the existing ones and shutting down all the avenues for bribery. When fatigued drivers are allowed to go long distances without getting a break, accidents inevitably happen. When conditions on the road are less than ideal, visibility is poor and there are no repercussions for cutting corners, people perish. Our roads are far from safe and that is why I am petrified of driving at night and you should be too. We deserve better.
Is he right? Send your comments to Larry Madowo @[email protected]
FEEDBACK: ON THE HABITS KENYANS SHOULD DISCARD.
What you said in your article last week was very true. Our people are comfortable with very low standards! I’ve taken the Madaraka Express to Mombasa; we left Nairobi at 8am and arrived at 2pm. For a $3billion project, I don’t think it’s worth it. I saw your picture of the train that does more than 300km per hour, which is fantastic. I believe we, Africans, consider development a favour from the government, and since we don’t want to be “victimised” for speaking the truth, we suffer. Personally, I believe it is government contracts that have ruined this country.
People sponsor politicians to power so that they can get government tenders, and it happens in every sector, including health and education. The reason we have bad roads, inadequate medicine, no proper school infrastructure, is that the people given those contracts want to make money. Kenya really needs a “messiah”.
Regarding corruption, when President Barack Obama was here he talked about how the money lost through corruption can actually be earned by a legit person working, thus solving unemployment. Do you know that Japan has an unemployment rate of 2.7 per cent? I also read somewhere that the GDP of Malaysia is $5,000 dollars thanks to a very development-oriented, no-nonsense dictator.
We call ourselves lower middle class yet nealy half the country’s economy is controlled by a few prominent families.
Larry, I agree with you that we should not believe everything we read online. There was a lot of fake news in circulation last year and I fault the Kenyan media for doing little to not countering such false information.
From your article, it is evident that you in the media knew that the claim against Deputy President William Ruto was not true but you di not come out to say it. You left many Kenyans at the mercy of fake news bloggers to feed us with information. You should understand that people tend trust the media when it comes to information and your input in countering fake news would be of very important.
However, Kenyans must be on the lookout for fake news peddlers this year.