Friday, July 31, 2009

Road Problems..Simple Solution

I was watching Louis Otieno Live last week when they were in Mombasa talking about roads. The guests were the Mombasa Council town clerk (I forget his name), the roads assistant minister, Dr Machage, the Whitesands Hotel General Manager (I believe his name is Mohammed Hersi).

Truck drivers, truck owners and matatu drivers were also represented in the audience. As you'd expected, there was alot of back and forth about whose fault the poor road network is: Government blamed truckers (overloading) and truck drivers (agreeing to drive overloaded trucks), truckers blamed government (constructing poor roads), truck drivers blamed truck owners (threatening them with the sack if they refuse to drive overloaded vehicles) and government (cracking down on drivers who have no option but to drive trucks for fear of losing their jobs) etc etc.

The Whitesands GM, Mohammed Hersi then suggested something that made lots of sense to me:
Effecting a system of bans for vehicles that flout rules. Very simple and I think it would be very effective. It would work thus:
If a truck is found overloading or a matatu is found flouting rules, the vehicle is taken of the road for a given amount of time...say a week, two weeks, a month or whatever.
His argument was that as soon as it becomes clear that vehicles caught flouting rules are going to suffer a significant loss of income, owners and drivers will take a more active interest in ensuring rules are followed. "Hit rulebreakers where it hurts..their pockets".

The more I think about it, the more I believe that we do need to take this sort of approach. It would shift some of the responsibility for ensuring comnpliance away from police and over to owners of vehicles and by extension, the people they employ to operate their vehicles.

For some reason, this idea appeals to me even more than heavy fines. It just seems simpler; easier to understand & easier to institute. I think the fact that this particular punishment requires no input from the vehicle owner makes it attractive. Whereas someone may lack the funds to pay a fine immediately, a ban is lost income.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Road that Corruption Built...

This is Kigwa Road/Ridgeways Road in Ridgeways. Sometime in 2006 or 2007, the NCC tendered for the rehabilitation of this road, along with recarpeting of Garden Estate Road.

The tender was won by a company called Rawford Ltd (or Rawford Construction). Early last year, they started work on the road.

They stripped the little tarmac that remained from the original road (prior to this, the road had not been touched or maintained in any way for over 25 was a mess.)

They then levelled the track and brought in stones for the construction of the new road. Then all work stopped.

Now I hear that Rawford construction was unable to complete work in time and after numerous delays was stripped of the contract and it is going to be re-tendered. I also hear that the company belongs to or is associated with somebody who is/was in the City Council.

As someone jokingly said after driving over the road recently: "If you drive on that track regularly, bits will start falling off your car."

This is one small effect of the corruption, cronyism and nepotism that exists in our institutions. The NCC failed to take care of this road for years and years. And when they finally did do something about it, they were incapable of getting it right first time.

Perhaps it is time we Nairobi residents demanded the right to fix our own roads in lieu of paying land rates (currently illegal I believe). I am sure we would do better.

The NCC has proven itself a total failure. Let them concentrate on painting zebra crossings under footbridges and placing traffic lights where they are never used.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Insania (Kenyan Roads)

A return to the subject of our roads and drivers:

Overlapping: I believe this is a distinctly Kenyan term. I stand to be corrected but we have taken a word and conferred upon it our own meaning. I do not think that there is any other place on earth where the act of overtaking standing traffic and cutting traffic queues is referred to as I say, I stand to be corrected. Anyway, this phenomenon is really getting out of control. We desperately need to clamp down on it. The overlapping culture is a big contributing factor to the chaos and slow moving traffic we see on our roads.

The build quality of our roads is something that irks me greatly. I believe (again, correct me if I'm wrong) that Muranga Road was resurfaced sometime last year. If not, then I would say that it was definitely done within the last two years. Driving along the road today (on the stretch between Muthaiga roundabout and Pangani roundabout, I noticed that the road is already developing potholes. I keep saying that road building is the probably biggest scam perpetrated in Kenya. Roads should not wear out after 2 years. We have become accustomed to the 1-2 year road maintenance cycle in this country, so much so that we barely seem to notice let alone raise our voices when roads develop potholes so quickly. I believe we desperately need to start getting road building right. Too much money and too many man hours are wasted on road building for it to be an annual or bi-annual occurence.

We need an effective mechanical inspection system for vehicles. Driving into and out of town today, I encountered no fewer than three separate broken down vehicles that were blocking traffic. This is unacceptable in our situation. We have an overburdened road system, with too many cars vying for space. We cannot afford to have lanes of traffic blocked by poorly maintained vehicles breaking down. If we can't get inspection right, then we need to have a system in place that ensures stalled vehicles are moved almost immediately.

Police traffic control needs much better coordination and planning. Yes, the police help sometimes, but the adhoc nature of their operations means that they are as likely to help traffic flow as they are to hinder it. They also only selectively enforce road rules which encourages drivers to be indisciplined.

Traffic lights, zebra crossings and lanes need to be better thought out, better planned and better enforced. This week I noticed that the Uhuru Highway/Kenyatta Avenue roundabout lane designation (coming from Westlands) had been changed. The new designation (left lane for left turns only) makes no sense since the right lane is for right turns only (as far as I remember..unless it too was changed). That means that the expectation is that the three lanes after the roundabout will be fed by two lanes i.e. traffic going straight on Uhuru Highway is only supposed to occupy the two centre lanes into the roundabout. Ofcourse all Kenyans ignore lane designations anyway so what difference does it make right? Well if the lanes are so obviously stupid, it encourages people to act like they don't exist which creates disorder.

Placing Zebra Crossings below pedestrain foot bridges is just ridiculous. Nothing could be stupider than spending millions to construct a foot bridge (with the aim of preventing pedestrains from crossing the road and thereby allowing traffic to flow more freely) then painting a zebra crossing underneath the footbridge (to give pedestrians right of way to cross at the spot)...What is the footbridge for? Shade?!

Soon, if reports are to be believed, we are going to be moving from a roundabout system to a traffic light controlled crossroads system. Sounds brilliant..there is just one problem: The current down time of our traffic lights. I think that the failure rate of our traffic lights is way too high at present. As anyone who has tried crossing Gitanga Road to go from Kingara Road to James Gichuru Road will know, Kenyans do not have the temperament to cope with busy uncontrolled crossroads. They just grind traffic from all directions to a complete halt.

More to come...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Two-Way Communication

I think that one initiative we need to start in this country is Ministers and PS's in every ministry having some sort of open day forum once a month. The aim of this would be for the minister/PS to report to the public what their ministry has done in that month, update us on what was done in the previous month and listen to the views & feedback of the public. In a sense show us that they are accountable to us and inform us how they are working for us, what challenges they are facing, how we can help etc

Everyday, I see/meet/hear very bright, passionate individuals who have many wonderful thoughts and suggestions on things that could be done to improve our existence. I think that those running our public institutions need to make a more concerted effort to connect with these people and tap into what they have to offer.

We had the Kenya We Want conference and we have the annual Public Service Open Days but I think that these sorts of events need to be much more frequent and need to be less about PR and more about finding solutions to the problems we face. We need frank, open discussions about all the problems that are afflicting us, we need our public servants to be visibly answerable to us and we need creative, innovative solutions made by us, for us.

I would also suggest using technology. Blogging, online ministry forums (think stockskenya but for ministries) etc. Even if that didn't happen, how about having letter writing competitions..encourage the public to write to ministries and publish the 10 or 20 best letters each month. Make the letters form part of the agenda for the next month so that at each monthly forum, we get status reports on steps taken to address the issues raised in the selected letters from the previous months.

We have to be imaginative about finding ways to accelerate our development. We need to find ways to get all the cleverest people working and thinking and contributing towards making this the country that it could (and should) be.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Is this Negativity?

I have often been accused of being negative about all sorts of things. (Someone on twitter actually said I am "a typical Kenyan always hating on your own" and that I should be proud of what's ours; after all things could be worse (or something to that effect). The person who said this was responding to a statement I made about JKIA Airport (I think I said "it's a dark, dirty hole"....or words to that effect).

I am very critical of the Kibaki administration (I think that they have badly, badly underachieved), I criticize our roads (smooth &'s not rocket science), I criticize service in banks & restaurants...etc etc.

Yes I criticize alot. I fear this may make me a seem to some like a doom and gloom person. Let me set the record straight. I am the biggest optimist imaginable, I genuinely believe that Kenya has got all the potential in the world....what irritates me; what I am critical of is when we do not fulfil that potential or worse still..when we do not even try to fulfil our potential.

Take the example of our airport; Yes, it is small and yes it is old. It is also dark, dingy, dirty, poorly planned and neglected. The first two problems require long term and (possibly) expensive solutions. Is it the same with the last five problems? I do not think so. Our small, old airport should be clean, well lit, well maintained, well laid out and well organized. To say that our airport should be a dump just because it is old and small is defeatist and insulting. Infact, precisely because our airport is old and small, we should make the most of what little space we have available, we should make sure that it is maintained well and kept looking spick and span.

My criticism of the Kibaki administration; yes they have done all sorts of things but ultimately, they have achieved a fraction of what they could and should have achieved had they gone in with any sort of ambition. The wave which swept them into power in 2002 meant that they had the goodwill of the people to really undertake real sustainable reforms in this country. For example; they should have reformed (radically!..not the token reforms we've seen) and streamlined the civil service. They should have radically reformed the judiciary. They did neither. They concentrated their energies on political bickering and instead of a streamlined and efficient civil service, we have the most bloated civil service a time when the country is going broke. Instead of an efficient justice system, we remain in a situation where even the simplest cases often take years to resolve. #Fail.

The point is, I judge us by a high standard. I think that we should be achieving much more, I think that we should be aiming higher and making less excuses.

Kenyans often seem to have this attitude that having an excuse for not achieving is somehow an acceptable substitute to actually achieving. How many times do people promise to deliver on something and instead hand you excuses?

There's a word for people who accept excuses in lieu of results. Losers. We need to get rid of this loser attitude if we are ever to get anywhere. I hate it when we settle for mediocrity and I speak out about it. If that makes me negative, then so be it.