Since January this year, more than 60 people have died on Kenyan roads. This statistic indicates a gruesome trend till the end of the year. In 2021, more than 4,000 people lost their lives.
By contrast, the United Kingdom, with a population of 65 million people and 32 million cars, recorded about 1,400 deaths on the roads in 2021. In Germany, within a comparable period, about 2,500 people died on the roads in a population of 85 million and 48 million cars. Thus Kenya, with a population of 50 million people and only two million cars, registers more deaths on the roads.
Since we have, over the years, become insensitive to road deaths, here is more shocking perspective. The deaths on our roads are twice the number of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan during a 20-year war. To extend this analogy, an American soldier would have been more likely to die on our roads than in Afghanistan. Similarly, a Kenyan soldier in Somalia is many times more likely to die on our roads while on a few days leave from the battlefield. Our roads are more deadly than the killing fields of Afghanistan and Somalia!
The problem can be divided into three main areas of inadequacy — road infrastructure, personal discipline and enforcement of traffic laws. We only started increasing the road network in 2003 when the NARC government came to power. The previous regimes of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, obsessed with power and accumulation of wealth, neglected development. Of Kenya and other African countries of that period, an economist wrote that “development was not really on the agenda”.
Money that should have gone into building highways, byways, bypasses, all weather roads and town streets went into the pockets of officials. Kenyan roads in the 80s and 90s resembled those in a country at war. The massive investment in road construction today is really trying to undo the effects of all those wasted years. However, even as we welcome this effort, we should ensure that the roads are being built to the highest international standards with proper signage, lay-bys, and with convenient pedestrian bridges and crossing points.
The other issue is greed and lack of personal discipline. Julius Nyerere once described Kenya as a “man-eat-man society”, to which the late Charles Njonjo retorted that Tanzania “was a man-eat-nothing society”. But Nyerere’s meaning was more profound. Since embarking on a cut-throat race to accumulate wealth, Kenyans lost some values; a sense of responsibility towards your fellow citizen. So drivers will endanger others while trying to get to the next shilling. We will steal everything; children’s school fields, Covid-19 funds, and we will even sell identity documents to terrorists.
Last, and which is related to the point above, police officers will comprise safety standards for a bribe. Thus death traps disguised as cars ply our roads.
The truth is that the gruesome harvest from our roads is a direct result of financial and moral corruption of our society.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator