Kenya’s Transport minister should have resigned

Thursday August 04 2022

The Modern Coast bus which plunged 40 metres down the Nithi bridge in Tharaka Nithi County, killing 34 people. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The recent bus accident in Nithi in the Mt Kenya region, in which 35 passengers died and others were injured, is a gruesome reminder of the death trap that is Kenyan roads. In a previous column, I compared the death toll on our roads to that in theatres of war.

I said that we lose more people on our roads every year than America lost in her decades-long war in Afghanistan. That is a damning indictment of the management of the transport sector. Therefore, just as corruption is a national crisis, so too are the unconscionably high number of deaths on our roads.

What is the problem? Is it the design of the roads? Is it defective vehicles? Is it reckless and drunken driving?

It is all three. We do not expand or redesign roads according to the latest standards because the concerned officials are otherwise lucratively engaged.

Defective vehicles ply our roads because police officers take bribes to look the other way. Often, the drivers are either not schooled in road safety or ignore traffic laws. Sometimes, the drivers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

All these deaths, therefore, are a result of human failure in one way or another.


But there is a larger context that abets — in fact, encourages — the all-around laxity and failure. A culture of official negligence. This culture has grown deep roots in our society because there are no consequences.

Buildings will collapse because of a disregard for building codes. When there are security lapses, the concerned officials are transferred to other duty stations at worst, or given a slap on the wrist at best. One incident encapsulates this culture of negligence.

A few years ago, a dam — illegally constructed on private land — broke its walls. The deluge swept away peasants living on the slopes as they slept. Scores drowned and others were injured. Investigations that followed showed a litany of failures by officials — from the permit givers to the inspectorate.

The owners of the dam were taken to court, but the heaviest punishment should have been reserved for the negligent government officials.

While we must begin to hold negligent officials personally liable, we must also begin to demand the resignation of those in overall charge of concerned departments. The principle of resignation is not just symbolic. It sends a signal of zero tolerance for negligence down the ranks. The next official who takes over will endeavour to avoid the fate of his predecessor.

Transport minister James Macharia has overseen the largest infrastructure development since Independence. He is not personally responsible for the accident at Nithi, but the principle of resignation demands that he and his principal secretary take political responsibility and resign.

During the deputy presidential candidates’ debate, Kenya Kwanza’s Rigathi Gachagua mocked the resignation of Azimio’s Martha Karua as a minister in Mwai Kibaki’s government because of graft. He called it running away from duty.

Gachagua’s cynicism about the principle of resignation is exactly what we must seek to change.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.