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Rush hours on mornings and evenings in Nairobi are riveting to witness. Of course, more on weekdays since these are the scheduled “working days”. Nonetheless, traffic is a staple in Kenya’s cultural cuisine so it shouldn’t take you by surprise if you are tailgating – bumper to bumper – on a Saturday or Sunday. It’s nothing moot; it’s just being in Nairobi doing as Nairobians do.

The honking, audacious overlapping and charitable hurling of epithets among motorists consummately adds flavor to the Kenyan driving experience. Creating this ensemble of a melee. Cyclists, Tuktuks, pillions, handcarts, join vehicles en masse during the morning arrivals and evening exodus as people make their way in and out of the country’s heartbeat, Nairobi. Not to forget human traffic, pedestrians too have places to be and form part of this locomotive posse.

We do not have a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system nor do we have pedestrian walkways or bike paths to aid human transit from hither to thither. It would also be quite candid to assume that our public transport system was designed like a free market economy.

Mainly because there’s little or no government control over it. Road usage in metropolitan Kenya is largely unregulated. From time to time, traffic police intervene to ease congestion but even they have a price. Find the right palms to grease and almost always there are no repercussions for irresponsible road use. In short, many a time Kenyan road users are a law unto themselves. And one key ingredient is necessary for survival on Kenyan roads – avarice.

My hunch is that urban planners had two scenarios while designing Nairobi. Either they thought all Kenyan city dwellers would use only motorized modes of transport hence informing their stingy view of road construction. Or perhaps, they banked on the fact that we were Africans. And we love sharing. And so with Ubuntu we’d find a way to use a perfunctory public transport system together. Though bundled and huddled on the roads, we’d make do and travel together in hordes, arriving safely at our destinations, happily ever after. Quite romantic isn’t it?

Back to the nub of the issue. It’s a Friday evening and whether you are plying Waiyaki way, Mbagathi, Mombasa road or Jogoo road, the whole town is mired in gridlock. If you want to enjoy a front row seat in this madness I’d offer that you drive through a round-about. Alternatively, you could as well land at any T-junction and enjoy the mayhem. At that juncture it is enough to conclude, we have greyhounds for drivers in Nairobi. You wouldn’t suspect that the motorist next to you is holding an MBA or could even be a priest for that matter. Regardless, of the nuances of cars on the road, be it an SUV, a modest beetle and at worst a belligerent matatu. The behavior of motorists remains remotely the same.

Everyone seems tetchy, worked up and very hard pressed to get to wherever they are going. Even if it means all manners, courtesy and rules are forsaken. I’ve seen decent men go past red lights just because a cop was not looking and you wonder if that act of petulance will get them a raise at work the next week.

Giving way to the next vehicle is construed as meekness and an attempt at being lick-spittle. We’d rather have a cramped junction rather than movement so long as none of us yields to weakness. The weakness of giving way.

We are sticklers for honking, unpalatable finger wagging, heckling and exchanging not so kind words to each other on the road. Are you even a Kenyan driver if you haven’t cussed out another motorist?

This behavioral quirk of unending indignation on the road which we have taken to as a character trait is something I find telling. Something I would prescribe as a psychological depiction of us a country. Kenyan road rage says a lot about who we are, where we are and what we stand for.

How solipsistic we are in our dealings. Is it not young people rushing and jumping the line to get the Covid-19 vaccine at the expense of older people who need it most?

So long as nobody is watching you can always get away with anything. How an adult of sound mind could walk in and out of Kemsa and secure a 140 million tender within 24 hours. Without worrying diddly-squat about due process or legality. It’s not a coincidence then why someone would speed past a blindsided traffic officer. For us, the law is not to be followed rather to be evaded.

Given the reality that while driving, we are always at loggerheads at junctions and roundabouts. It is safe to say maybe this is why all election results in this country are contested. Everything is do or die. Winners and losers cannot coexist. Losing is akin to having your neck in the noose. It’s why people view leadership as an avenue for settling old scores because ascendance to public office translates to “it is our time to eat”. 

Remember, nobody wants to give way on the road. Everyone wants to bully the other into submission. We strongly believe that someone else’s gain is our loss. We can only thrive when we trample on others. Nothing informs the psyche of elitism more than this. It is written in the book of elitism, “Where for one to have the rest have to lack.”

The edgy tailgating, disregard for basic rules and manners over the collective good only point at who we are. And that’s the Nairobi T-Junction. Everyone seems to be in haste. Everyone seems to be going. Where? We don’t know. But what comes out clearly in these junctions is that my destination is always more important than that of the driver next to me. We forget that the road was built for us all and if we use it collectively with regards to each other we might just travel farther, faster and to better destinations than those we were in a hurry to go to.

Recently a tweep, @niilexis, encapsulated Kenya’s modus operandi in a few twitter characters

“Nobody is trying to fix the problems we have in this country. Everyone is trying to make enough money so the problems don’t apply to them anymore.”

We have ourselves to blame. Hopefully, when all is said and done. More will have been done than said.

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