Chaotic road closures doing more harm than good

Lang'ata roadblock

A roadblock mounted by traffic police officers, in conjunction with the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), along Lang'ata Road in Nairobi on April 13, 2021.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

On Saturday, the Government of Kenya decided that it was (actually) time to enforce the curfew and put roadblocks on major roads, namely Thika Road, Mombasa Road, Langata Road and Waiyaki Way.

The ensuing traffic snarl-up was vast and far-reaching in its consequences, but not so much in its planning. Several hundreds of people were stranded in the middle of highways, with no recourse, and no way to move or leave, whether they had emergencies or not.

I am of course aware  of the existence of a curfew and a lockdown, as they are apparently important in the fight against Covid-19.

I am, however, uncertain that a curfew, lockdown, or roadblock is the way to make sure the virus doesn’t spread. For one, the coronavirus doesn’t take time off past 8pm. In addition, the curfew and lockdown only seem to be for the masses who cannot afford to pay off anyone or call someone to get past whichever barriers may be set up – it is only for the people who are not well connected enough to survive in Kenya.

These laws are not made for the bourgeoise. These laws do not apply to your member of Parliament. These laws are not for you if you can afford to pay a police officer at a border of the disease infested zone. Just try and leave Nakuru for proof – slip someone something at the border and you’re home free. It’s a well known occurrence - even Tom Mshindi wrote about it on Sunday.

And much in the vein of this, international aircraft and tourists are still allowed to move freely in Kenya, as long as they’re paying for those plane tickets.

On the same day as this extensive roadblock, a plane full of Ukrainian tourists touched down at the JKIA, ready to experience this so-called magical Kenya that we live in.

Government's failures

The way we fight Covid-19, by the way, is trying, when possible, to stay at home, getting the vaccine if you can, testing if you suspect symptoms and proceeding to isolate, wearing masks if you can’t stay at home, and washing your hands.

Meanwhile, the government itself is not making sure that these basic measures are in place. I haven’t seen anyone giving out masks in a sustainable, efficient way, other than private players like Looks Like Avido from Kibera, which appears more concerned about Kenya than the government, which is paid to be concerned.

In another example, in Kenya, a lack of basic sanitation leading to diarrhoeal diseases kills more people than road accidents, HIV and malaria combined every year. There is no water for people to wash hands and it doesn’t look like a budget will be allocated to that instead of roadblocks.

Our rollout of vaccination campaigns for people above the age of 58 is one of the most disorganised ever, save for a few private and public hospitals, in the bid to supposedly get just 30 per cent of the population vaccinated by 2023. 2023. 2023!

This roadblock – this fear tactic – was meant, I assume, to show that the government does care about stopping those flouting the curfew law, even though it clearly has not been since the virus touched down in Kenya (I mean this in all senses of the phrase).

But there was no provision for essential workers who were outside at that time in multiple ambulances, with patient in dire need of medical aid.

There has been no provision at all for the common man who queues waiting for a matatu from 4-6 pm, then stays in that matatu for another two hours, only to be teargassed by an unfeeling puppet at a roadblock because of ‘orders form above’ – which is a common story from the people who were there last night.

There are no extra matatus, or laws dictating that people need to leave work early, or punitive measures for employers who do not release staff at a reasonable time.

Respect for humanity

The roadblock, much like this curfew, was not thought-out, and I don’t know how long the people in power will take to start thinking again, because as they make these laws from the comfort of their home ICU wings and private transport, as their wallets have not been at all affected by this Covid-19 season, it’s hard to imagine that they will all of a sudden start to care.

I’m not saying everyone who was on the road is innocent. I’m saying if there was an actual strategy, those who came from parties (or wherever the middle class are going to let loose) could have easily been apprehended, instead of punishing thousands of people for the sins of the few.

Remember when Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja was given a fine and a slap on the wrist? Would spot fines on Saturday night have been difficult to implement? Would it have been so hard to respect the humanity of hardworking citizens of Kenya – citizens who are working hard because at this point in 2021, they don’t even have a choice?

In Kayole, youth moved the roadblocks and demanded access for ambulances, deep into the night. There are videos of people moving cars whose keys had been taken by the police force, and just driving through.

Maybe we need to learn a lesson from Kayole and simply agitate and move the obstacle in our path. We are, after all, more than they are.

Think about that the next time you’re at the ballot box that they’re so actively stealing money for.