The pain of driving in Kisii town

Traffic along the road connecting Daraja Mbili market and Daraja Moja in Kisii on January 20, 2021.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

When Jeremiah Ontiri flew from the US to Kenya in December last year, he thought he would be driving in Kisii, his hometown, for the duration of his visit.

However, he was disappointed that his expectation was just a dream that could not come true.

Instead of driving himself, he had to request help from those with experience driving on Kisii streets.

"A car is a basic need, but it appears that here at home, driving is a nightmare. This is because most people don't follow traffic rules," he said.

"If you follow traffic rules, you will crash, I realised."

Mr Ontiri requested a relative to be his driver because he has experience driving in the chaotic streets.

"The behaviour of motorcyclists in Kisii is like they are the law unto themselves and that traffic law doesn’t apply to them. They flout traffic rules openly and nothing is done,” he said.

“Besides, there are no road demarcations, including zebra crossing areas. People just cross the road from anywhere. It is so scary I had to ask my brother-in-law to drive me around," he said.

Anyone visiting Kisii town for the first time will attest to Mr Ontiri's experience.

Major roads are congested and there are no designated crossing areas. Pedestrians, motorcycles, matatus, trucks and other vehicles compete to use the narrow driveways.

The situation becomes worse when people want to cross roads at busy times like market days, and in the mornings and evenings.

Although the road network is being expanded, there is evidence of serious encroachment on road reserves, impeding improvements.

The most notable, and thus the most important road, is that linking Daraja Moja and Daraja Mbili. It handles all vehicles entering and exiting town.

Vehicles from Keroka, Nyamira, Ogembo, Oyugis, Suneka and Kisumu use this road at some point, thus contributing to its congestion.

Daraja Mbili, the largest open-air market in South Nyanza, is the most affected. Traders display their goods on both sides of the road, putting their lives and those of others at risk.

There have been major accidents on this particular section of the road when drivers lose control of their vehicles and veer off the road, hitting anyone along the way.

Mr Vincent Sagwe, Kisii County's minister for Roads, Public Works and Transport, acknowledged that there is a problem but said that the county has little control over the issue.

"Highways belong to the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha), while the roads in the town are under the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (Kura)," he said.

"The population of Kisii town is increasing and the roads remain narrow. And these roads can't be expanded because there is no space to do that."

Currently closed

Kisii town had a population of 1,266,860 in 2019, according to census figures.

Mr Sagwe said that his department had engaged the authorities to upgrade and repair some of the roads.

"We talked with Kenha and Kura, and already some work has been done, and other roads are under construction,” he said.

“For example, the road from Kisii hotel to the old Migori junction is currently closed and (work on it) is ongoing. When it will be opened to the public, it will ease congestion in town," he said.

But he decried the state of the Kisii-Keroka highway, saying more needs to be done to prevent accidents on that road.

"The Kisii-Keroka highway is in very bad shape. It has so many potholes and is largely worn out. We talked to Kenha, and they promised to start work on the road," he said.

He blamed the road's poor state for an accident that happened last month at Kegati. On December 24, a crash involving a personal car and a matatu claimed three lives.

"That accident occurred when the driver was trying to avoid potholes. In addition, it is too narrow yet it is very busy. It should be upgraded to the level and quality of the Kisii-Ahero highway," he said.

Mr Erick Manyinsa, a leader and motorcycle taxi driver at the Makutano stage, blamed the county government for its laxity in enforcing traffic rules in Kisii town.

"Other towns such as Kakamega and Nakuru have very organised traffic flow because their county governments have put in place strict traffic rules,” he said.

“They enforce them to the letter, and they have brought order. In Kisii, things are totally different, and that's why there is so much disregard for traffic rules."

Poorly planned

As long as the county and the national government do not adopt and enforce rules, he said, motorcycle taxi operators will continue to take advantage of the situation.

"Kisii town is poorly planned and its roads are very narrow. We are also very impatient with traffic jams. I can't wait to allow someone or vehicles to pass if there is space where I can overlap and proceed with the journey," he said.

In addition to introducing strict laws for them, he said, officials should reach out to motorists regularly.

He also blamed some of his colleagues for the traffic problems in Kisii.

"We have some people who open boda boda stages anyhow, anywhere, out of their greed for money and leadership. They attract untrained boda boda riders, and they don't even vet them,” he said.

“Some of them are school dropouts. These are some of the people who are at the forefront in disregarding traffic laws because they don't even know them."

Meanwhile, Zachariah Arisa, a shuttle driver on the Kisii-Nyamira route, suggested that extra exit roads be set up in Kisii town.

"The town experiences haphazard traffic flow and traffic jams because most of the vehicles use the Daraja Moja-Daraja Mbili road. The other smaller roads in the main town centre are closed to matatus,” he said.

“The Nyankongo and prison exit roads are not enough for all the vehicles using the Nyamira route. In fact, when there is a traffic jam in town, even the Keroka vehicles use those roads, causing traffic snarl-ups."

Mr Arisa faulted the authorities, saying there are no markings on the roads in the town and blaming this for accidents.

"We have witnessed several accidents on these roads. A good number of them could be avoided if these roads were marked. That way, a driver will know where to overtake and where to go slow among other things," he said.

"In addition, there should be proper road signs along the roads to enable easy navigation. There should also be roundabouts and bumps to regulate speed.

“You can imagine this road, as busy as it is, has no single roundabout and bumps. That's why many accidents have happened because boda boda guys just enter the road at high speed from anywhere."

Mr Arisa also decried inadequate parking, saying that it wastes time for drivers and passengers.

"There are very few parking spaces in town, in comparison to the many vehicles. Even the main matatu terminus is so congested that exiting the stage alone takes more than a half an hour. Sometimes we're forced to go as far as Nyakongo to park there," he said.

But Mr Sagwe, the county executive for roads and transport, said that because of limited space, it is not feasible to build roundabouts on the roads in town. Alternative ways can be employed to bring sanity to the roads, he said.

"We can have traffic control at busy road junctions such as at Daraja Moja and the Ram Hospital junction. Traffic officers and traffic lights can be effective in curbing the problem, even more than roundabouts," he said.


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