What you need to know:
- Fast-forward to now: that youthful legislator is the governor of Nairobi, and the proposal to decongest the city is back on the table.
- For every 60-seater bus on the road, there are four small matatus, or two slightly bigger ones. It will need to be phased out gradually, of course, so you don’t end up with a whole segment of the population rendered jobless overnight.
- The National Transport and Safety Authority would probably make bucketloads of money with stronger enforcement of laws and on-the-spot fines for offenders.
Exactly 10 years ago, a flashy, young businessman named Mike Sonko moved to court to block an attempt by the Nairobi City Council to bar matatus from the heart of the capital after it built the Muthurwa terminus.
Public Service Vehicles would also drop off passengers at Khoja, Bus Station, Machakos Bus Station, Railways and Hakati. The plan fizzled out and the city endured a full decade of pandemonium in the roads of the Central Business District. Fast-forward to now: that youthful legislator is the governor of Nairobi, and the proposal to decongest the city is back on the table.
Gazzette Notice 4479 of May 12, 2017 went largely unnoticed, like most other routine gazzette notices, but it wasn’t until the county reminded residents that it takes effect today. There are now 11 termini where all passenger vehicles feeding into the city will conclude their journeys.
The 2007 list has been expanded to include two at Fig Tree on Murang’a Road as well as Central Bus Station, Ngara Road, Park Road, Desai Service Road, and Central Bus Station. There is also a circular route connecting all of them to the city centre and Upper Hill.
It is a bold ambition which has failed several times before and will likely meet great resistance one more time. That the public transport system in Nairobi is broken is not in doubt, but this is exactly how not to fix it. Even if this works, it solves only a fraction of the wider problem of how to move the city’s nearly four million residents around.
What Nairobi needs as urgently as yesterday is a roadmap for an affordable, efficient mass transit system. Public transport for any decent city cannot be in private hands like it is in Kenya; it is simply too critical for the proper functioning of a metropolis to leave to cartels.
The much-beloved and equally hated 14-seater matatus, while great for creating employment for countless citizens, cannot be relied on to transport a city this big reliably. Too many of the city’s notorious traffic jams are caused by these quick fixes trying to game the system and getting everyone stuck in the process.
For every 60-seater bus on the road, there are four small matatus, or two slightly bigger ones. It will need to be phased out gradually, of course, so you don’t end up with a whole segment of the population rendered jobless overnight.
So unpredictable and unreliable is the timing of the current matatu system that when Google added commute times to its Maps feature, the American company just assumed one is always available every five minutes. What the city needs is a public transport operation that runs on time, whether there are customers or not, and has no business relying on seat fillers to make it look like it’s just about to leave. In May last year, Dar es Salaam’s single-line bus rapid transit network began operations and I have been most impressed by the semblance of order it has brought to a chaotic city. A year before that, Ethiopia opened a much-praised light rail that any city worth its salt needs.
Trams and underground rail may be no more than just pipe dreams for a cash strapped Nairobi City County, but a public bus system is not only within reach, it can be made possible even in a few short moths.
Government intervention aside, there is enough blame for why the Kenyan capital is stuck to go around. Motorists will have to explain why they are unable to obey even the simplest of traffic rules like lane discipline or indicating when turning unless there is a policeman looking. If drivers won’t let pedestrians pass at zebra crossings, there is no amount of infrastructure or money that can be thrown at the problem.
The National Transport and Safety Authority would probably make bucketloads of money with stronger enforcement of laws and on-the-spot fines for offenders. It’s almost as if we are not programmed to obey rules unless there is Big Brother watching over us to make sure we do what is right, so a little ‘motivation’ would go a long way. The situation is made worse by policemen who hang around intersections ostensibly controlling traffic flow but end up with disastrous results.
Why removing roundabouts only worked in the Westlands area and failed spectacularly everywhere else might also need further review. I’ve lived here long enough to know that our common sense dissolves in water when it rains and leads to epic snarl-ups, but many of the other gridlocks are also caused by selfish, idiotic ‘personal car’ owners. If only we stuck to the Highway Code or there were strong enough penalties for when we didn’t, we would all get where we’re going faster. In the meantime, we’ll lock out matatus from downtown and wonder why nothing changed.
Is he right? Is the plan to decongest the city a piss in the wind? E-mail him at [email protected]
Hate speech cases are just legal hot air
I ran into the new Narok Senator Ledama Olekina at the Pangani Police Station the night Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and former Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama were there. He was trying to see Muthama but the kind Officer Commanding Station couldn’t let him because the leaders were only under his care but he wasn’t the one giving the orders. He was almost apologetic when asked why their families couldn’t see them or what they were to be charged with. We got talking with the Senator about why it was hard to successfully prosecute hate speech cases under current Kenyan law. “If he recorded the statements in question, he would have to show up in court and prove that he is qualified to operate that camera and give its serial number,” he said while pointing to NTV cameraman Eric Isinta.
Predictably, most cases caught on video are soon terminated because hardly anyone ever owns up to have filmed the offending clip, and they certainly do not fancy appearing before a judge. Politicians who speak carelessly know that, so they never worry about any consequences of whatever incendiary things they might say. That is why nobody prominent has ever been convicted of hate speech in Kenya, and probably won’t be any time soon.
Don’t argue on Twitter, it’s not worth it
Being on Twitter has taught me many lessons, the greatest of which is restraint. Because there’s an outbreak of trolls, it takes every fibre of my being to walk away and not respond how I really want to. They don’t teach you that in journalism school but it is a useful skill that I recommend to anyone who dares enter this business. So when I saw an update from Channel 4 News, I was intrigued. “BREAKING: The world’s problems will not be solved by arguing with strangers on Twitter,” the tweet said. “We’ll update you when we have more on this story.” This is near the top of my list for Greatest Tweet of all Time, and for very good reason. It is pointless trying to argue an intellectual point 140 characters at a time. The potential for getting misunderstood is practically endless and malicious people are always lurking waiting to to misinterpret. Kids, don’t argue on Twitter. It’s never worth it.
Feedback from last week
OPEN-MINDED: Larry, I particularly liked the fact that you addressed issues that affect us as Kenyans in your last article. Instead of taking the bull by the horns and tackling our issues head-on, some of us are quick to point fingers and incite others. I believe this is a culture that has to end and I wish to thank you for your campaign against it. In your words, “there is more to life than seeing a political angle in every story and reducing people to be representative of which tribal leader they align themselves with”. Your article showed that there are open-minded people out there who think outside politics and are willing to see the gaps and faults left by our leaders.
Felix Mbugua, UoN.
GOOD GOVERNANCE: Larry, first let me disabuse you of the idea that some Kenyans don’t love peace. They do. I do. Second, there are fundamental questions we must ask ourselves as a nation. What will hold this country together after these elections? Is it peace or justice? Is it democracy or authoritarianism? Going by the current shenanigans, somebody is not ready for any transparent electoral process; victory is a must irrespective of who conducts the elections. We — you included — are avoiding the issue of credibility and transparency, which is the foundation of peace.
C O Ouma.
ETHNIC DIVIDE: Larry, we need more non-political leaders like you, so make more sirens and blow them even louder! Kenya is on the verge of collapse and if we sit back and let the politicians take us down the drain we will all be flushed away in a week and lose what we have been working for since independence. I remember former president Daniel arap Moi’s refrain: Siasa mbaya, maisha mbaya. This is where we are heading. Our divide started widening with the advent of multi-partyism and the new Constitution made it worse. We need to think of a system that can serve our diverse country as what we have today is not working. We have a tribal Legislature, Judiciary, and Executive, and I sense danger after October 17 if things remain the way they are. Please ask other journalists, religious leaders, and community mobilisers to echo your sentiments. You are a special Kenyan whom we admire, and if most of were as politically mature as you are, we would have a great nation.
EMBRACE DIVERSITY: Larry, I’m a lawyer from Kenya but live in the UK. Your article made me pleased to see there is hope that we can start moving conversations towards some middle ground. I like the idea of us sharing. We can have differing views but still work, live, and socialise together as one people.
Mwangi wa Wanjiru