The Wednesday dawn accident at Fort Ternan, Kericho county, was yet another chilling confirmation that Kenyan roads are a veritable deathtrap; that choosing (and most Kenyans don’t have a choice) to travel using public service vehicles is to gamble with life; that something is seriously broken in our public transport management system.
As expected, the accident, which killed 56 people, has elicited the usual trite messages of condolences from the leadership followed by impotent threats to punish the people who, in one way or another, may have contributed to the bloodletting.
In keeping with the motions, a few people have already been arrested and will likely have their day in court. The customary noises will be made and before the grass grows on the graves of the Fort Ternan dead, the country will move on. Until the next road massacre…
And it won’t probably be long before the next one happens considering that we are entering the festive season that has come to be associated with bloodbath on the highways. Instead of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ which Christmas is all about, we make blood sacrifices to the gods of impunity by killing as many people as possible on the roads.
Last Christmas was typical, so much so that by January this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta took the drastic step of ordering the National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA) out of direct management of traffic.
Unless something radically changes in the way we do things, this festive season will be no different: Road accidents will rise sharply as public service vehicles rush to cash in on the high season. In the process, every rule in the book will be broken and the traffic police will be only too willing to abet crime by pocketing bribes and looking the other way.
But do Kenyans have to continue losing lives on the highways?
The bloodbath can stop but only if impunity is stopped and those charged with managing the roads take their mandate seriously. And we have a precedent which shows that when public officials do what is expected of them, positive transformation happens.
Michuki did it
When John Michuki was appointed Transport minister in the first Cabinet of the Narc administration in 2003, he, by conviction and sheer willpower, the people and the law behind him, went about transforming what was essentially an anarchic transport sector into a relatively orderly industry.
Michuki (may his soul rest in peace) had to stare down cartels, powerful interests and even a reluctant public that had got used to being ill-treated, to bring about important reforms in the matatu industry, some which endure to date.
Macharia can do it
It can be done again. The responsibility of building on Michuki’s foundation to stop preventable deaths on Kenyan roads falls squarely on the shoulders of several officials.
They include Transport Cabinet secretary James Macharia, his Interior counterpart Fred Matiang’i, Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet, Traffic Commandant Samuel Kimaru, NTSA director general Francis Meja and Kenya National Highways Authority director general Peter Mundinia.
To these men we ask, why are you letting Kenyans die?
But the responsibility of ending the slaughter on our roads goes beyond the mentioned officials. A significant blame for accidents should be shouldered by ordinary Kenyans, who are often the victims of crashes.
Three familiar stories keep emerging from hospital beds after every horror accident: the driver was speeding, the bus was overloaded and the driver was driving recklessly.
Passengers have a choice in such situations. They have the option not to board (or alight from) overloaded, speeding or recklessly driven PSVs. They have a choice to raise their voices against law-breaking PSV drivers and crews. And they have the choice to report reckless drivers to the authorities. They even have the choice of exposing bribe-taking traffic officers.
Either that or the choice of pitifully recounting these stories on hospital beds, or worse, in the hereafter.