The Daily Nation reported yesterday that Nairobi’s infamous “matatus” will no longer be terrorizing the streets within two months time. The 14 seater vans, used as privately owned and largely unregulated “buses” are notorious throughout Kenya for their reckless driving. They are cited in road accidents almost weekly in Kenyan media. This story was published alongside another article reporting that annually there are 13,000 reported accidents, 3000 deaths and 6000 serious injuries annually in Kenya, this President Kibaki says is “The worst in the world”. Doubtless many if not the majority of these involve public transport, Matatus being the most dangerous method of such by far. The Nation reports that the 14 seat vans will no longer be registered from January next year as a part of the Integrated National Transport Policy which aims to make Kenya’s roads safer. Some Matatu owners are upset as they have made lucrative businesses out of buying and hiring out the vans but they will have no one to blame but themselves, if safety had been a priority in this industry. They would not be in this situation now. The Transport authority is encouraging owners to pool their money and buy safer 25 seat buses. I for one (and I don’t think I’m alone) will not miss the mats for a second! Having been cut off, nearly hit and almost run off the road by these four wheeled terrors way too many times, I say good riddance!
As an American I have been raised with the idea that pedestrians have the right of way all the time. In fact there are laws in the US to such effect. It is understood when walking on the streets in States that if a driver spots a pedestrian entering a crosswalk (or even if there isn’t one) the driver MUST slow down. A $200 ticket is not uncommon for a driver who enters a crosswalk while a pedestrian is already there, even if they are 5-10 meters off. Walking the streets of Nairobi is a different story, to put it mildly. On my first visit to Kenya I was shocked at the close quarters between cars and pedestrians. I didn’t understand how a vehicle could carry on full speed with pedestrians crowding the streets, the people somehow narrowly escaping the speeding cars time and again. Having lived here for a while I now understand that the driver pedestrian dichotomy is reversed here. Might makes right it seems, and it is rare for a motor vehicle to give way to a pedestrian. There is some commentary on democracy that could be inserted here; about protecting the most vulnerable of society, etc but I will spare you for now. Until recently my perspective has been mainly from inside the car which is scary enough, but experiencing this dynamic from the pedestrian’s standpoint is downright terrifying. As a person who knows my “rights” as a pedestrian I find myself getting offended every time a car speeds by me as if I’m not there. I know that it is only myself and other Ex-pats who feel this way but perhaps it’s time for a culture change? I wonder if drivers really realize how much responsibility they wield when commanding a 1500 Kilo hunk of steel at 80 km per hour. It wouldn’t be so bad if the drivers at least stayed on the road. On a recent jog in my very (relatively) quiet and secure neighborhood (where people typically travel at 60+ Km per hour despite the presence of schools and pedestrians) I was narrowly missed by a car who was attempting to overtake three other cars on a blind corner. The lead car made a right turn at the same time, forcing the over-taker off the road just meters ahead of me. From a defensive driving standpoint the whole scenario was wrong in so many ways. 1. There was no need to overtake as there was an intersection just 20 meters ahead. 2. It was a blind corner so if another car happened to be coming the opposite way there would have been a head on. 3. The driver was attempting to overtake three cars at once, never a good idea. 4. The driver did not anticipate the possibility of one driver making a legitimate right turn (which was what forced him off the road). I had not continues for more than five minutes to find another car off the road. This was a very nice SUV that had found it’s way into the irrigation ditch, it’s front end smashed into the concrete aqueduct for a hotel driveway. It was not hard to guess what had happened. The lady decided to overtake in ill-advisedly and was forced off the road either by oncoming traffic or someone making a quick turn. She had no one to blame but herself for the damage to her car, but imagine if a life had been lost. Amazingly, I found a third accident on the same jog, a motorcycle had been dragged under a bus on a busy road. These incidents are so common I find myself restraining myself from hollering at cars as they speed by on residential streets “SLOW DOWN” I scream in my heart. Sadly it will take much more than one guy’s frustration to change the culture of Nairobi streets.