The light is green, the light is red, who cares, this is Nairobi, just get a move on, will you?

Friday April 12 2019

Vehicles wait for the traffic lights to allow them to move along Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG


Driving through the busy streets of Nairobi around nine one morning, the taxi driver asked me if I were enjoying the music.

I said that it didn’t bother me. At that moment, I was busy responding to my flood of WhatsApp messages from the night before.

Catching up on conversations and jokes from the too many groups I belong to, which I was finding amusing but too late to respond to with an emoji, that ship left the dock about 7 hours ago.

Then the driver said, "But the music is for you, it's for your stress. Sometimes you can be so stressed in this city, especially by traffic, so sometimes the music makes the long waiting bearable. At least there is something to enjoy.”

Local radio stations have become jam-packed with talk and play less and less music. Thinking about his statement, I begin to finally see the reason why some drivers are so keen on listening to certain stations that play “gutter” talk during rush hour periods.

There are particular stories that are perennials, such as the mother complaining about her lazy son and how she is ready to kick him out of the house.


The couple who have marital issues and the man decides that apologising publicly on radio will somehow win her heart. Or the presenter plodding on about why men have several women in their lives that they cannot keep up with and fancy a lifestyle that they are fully aware they cannot afford.

Stop thinking of your own problems

Is all this so you can stop thinking of your own problems and listen to another’s? Is that the logic? Mushene is always mouthwatering when the person in question is not you.

I simply smirked, acknowledging that I was paying attention to his conversation while multitasking at best. Then he loudly proclaimed, "Why are we not moving?" Then he honked his horn and yelled, "Move!" to the car in front of us. We were in a very busy street. I remember looking up and wondering if I had actually ever seen that particular traffic light work. I was not very sure.

On this day however, it was as black as coal, showing no sign of functioning soon. Then my driver swerved till he was beside the car that had stopped, rolled down his window and asked, "Which country are you from?! Who would stop at a light on this side of town?"

He continued to shout, "Are you stupid?" As he sped off to drop me a few metres ahead, he continued to mumble to himself, “He must not be from here, because that did not make sense.”

But what does make sense? Does it makes sense to have traffic lights and police officers who decide at particular hours to control the traffic?

That we obey traffic lights in certain period and it is not formally regulated? Some cities, in order to control traffic, will make a particular major road in the city one-way, but only for certain hours—cities such as Washington DC.

However in Nairobi, during the day, you will sometimes find an officer perched at a corner to ensure that the light is followed and other times they are controlling the traffic.

Isn't it interesting that when it comes to systems or any sort of order, we view those who follow them as odd? Our true behaviour is everything that happens in the CBD, uptown is the idea of what Nairobi could be, and downtown is who we really are.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is the executive director of Nairobi-based Siasa Place.Twitter: @NerimaW