As the world mourns victims of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 crash and consoles the bereaved families and friends, Kenya — specifically the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development — will feature prominently in the search for answers to the disaster.
Instructively, of the 157 passengers and crew who perished in the Sunday morning accident outside Addis Ababa, 32, including the pilot, were Kenyans.
But there is another problem that falls under the docket of Mr James Macharia, the Cabinet Secretary, that has been haunting the nation: The carnage on our highways.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 3,000 to 13,000 Kenyans lose their lives in road traffic crashes every year.
The majority of these people are vulnerable road users — pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists. In addition, nearly a third of the fatalities are passengers, many of whom die in unsafe forms of public transportation.
Knee-jerk reactions usually follow like night follows day.
One of the most famous highways for the usually fatal crashes is the trunk road from Nairobi to Nakuru and onwards to western Kenya and Nyanza, with the Salgaa sector particularly notorious for that.
The rise in ownership of motor vehicles has put pressure on our road infrastructure. Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data show that in the year 2000, there were 899,444 registered vehicles in the country, a figure that has risen to more than 2.8 million.
I am not sure what formula should apply to measure the increase in constructed roads, but I can make an educated guess that the mileage of tarmacked roads has not risen as sharply as the vehicles.
It therefore gladdened my heart and raised my anticipation when the ministry announced plans for building a superhighway from Limuru to Mau Summit.
I have a direct interest here — as do millions of my fellow Kenyans — since that is my route home to Sio Port in Busia County.
I have lived the frustration of heavy traffic that often leads to indiscipline as impatient drivers try to make do with what has become an overstretched resource.
This indiscipline, which should be nipped in the bud by the traffic police, has often come with severe consequences.
In the past weeks, I have however been disheartened that the government’s efforts at building this highway — allow me to give it the moniker of “legacy highway” — appears to be headed in the wrong direction.
I call it a legacy highway because its construction will belong in the league of memorable acts by ministers of bygone days whom we fondly remember for their gallant service to the nation — in the league of John Michuki (‘Michuki Rules’), George Saitoti (Free Primary Education) and Raila Odinga (ejection of grabbers from Nairobi bypass routes).
Sadly, going by what I read in the latest edition of Sunday Nation, this legacy might escape Mr Macharia, thanks to delays.
This beautiful project appears headed to a stall because of the reported dispute about how the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) arrived at the ‘winning’ bidder.
A petition now sits with the Public-Private Partnership Committee for determination.
But while it is any party’s legal right to pursue justice, here is my worry: The dispute could drag on at the PPPC, procurement authorities and courts for eons. We, the would-be beneficiaries of the highway, will also pay for it directly through toll charges.
It therefore behoves Mr Macharia to ensure that we get this one dead right.
We are a heavily taxed country and we still will have to pay for that road out of pocket, so we deserve that the arrival at how the money is spent it should be spot on.
We and our children and their children cannot afford any misfiring about the math involved.
From the news reports, there are differences in the total costs of the project — in the tens of billions of shillings — between the two contractors.
One particularly caught my attention because it has to do with something about how the tax levied on the contractor is calculated.
If we shall pay out of pocket under the PPP arrangement, then let the CS ensure the contractors pay the correct amount of taxes.
We already have enough headlines — from Kimwarer/Arror to Kabura — and these are yet to be resolved.
My plea is simple: Ensure that the officers get it right the first time, and quickly. We are on borrowed time; we should not lose another life and then blame it on road design yet we can move things along fast enough.
Mr Mugwang’a is a communications consultant based in Nairobi. [email protected] @Mykeysoul