Published on March 29, 2008, 12:00 am
Eight hours after roads were blocked to let President Kibaki drive back to State House, Embakasi residents were still stuck on the road. Deep into the night, the young and the old gnashed their teeth in the chill, long after the President had left Administration Police Training College.
Those with scheduled flights, in utter shock and frustration, chose to alight from their cars and walk to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Those who chose the comfort of the car, hoping against hope the roads would somehow open up on that agonising Friday night, missed their flights. Others simply chose to detour, and again the traffic snarl-up on Mombasa Road cut both ways. And so, like the hapless Kenyans fighting in the pitch dark to reach their homes in Embakasi, they too ran onto a brick wall.
As the rest of the city snored away the night, both groups battled sleep, hunger and desperation on the road. The majority reached home way after midnight, some as late as 4.30am on Saturday morning.
It was also a nightmarish experience for those driving upcountry after celebrating the passing-out parade with their loved ones.
It would be unfair to blame it all on the President. Our road network, with its disruptive, ineffective and archaic roundabout systems, had its share. The irritating Kenyan motorist who hates the slightest traffic delay and chooses to overlap just to be feeling on the move or simply to stay ahead, never fails to rise to the occasion.
But the chaos was not about Friday night and Mombasa Road. As usual, the ripple effect of the VIP blockage of the road spilt all the way to the Central Business District, as the roads choked with motorists rushing home after work. One could argue the expansion of the city’s roads would ease the pressure on the four main exits out of CBD.
Even with the beatification of the city, it takes more than the snowballing blockade against matatus entering the city. It requires a Marshall Plan; the country cannot just operate the way it is. The plan must address issues of road planning, discipline and overhaul. It could even include a blanket decision to transform the main streets into one-way roads. The economic loss and general disruption of business and social lives is unfathomable.
Then enters the President, the Prime Minister-designate, as well as the Vice-President and their gleaming motorcades. As it happened in Embakasi, the President’s diary once again went into late evening, and so he forced his way back. Hapless Nairobians, and foreigners arriving and leaving, were forced to switch off the engines for his convenience. And for our leaders to have their way unbothered and unhindered, the roads have to be blocked hours ahead of their appearance. After the blaring sirens have come and gone, our madness takes over as we try to stay ahead. Then the gridlock! The police too are affected, and with sagging umbrellas and drenched coats, they try to untangle the fine mess.
The time has come for us to demand that the presidential diary be adjusted to minimise the kind of disruption witnessed on Friday.
Second, he must use a chopper when it is clear his movement will inconvenience the people he governs. Third, the motorcade has to be trimmed; the President certainly is not in mortal danger as to travel with a battalion.
Finally, police must stop the exaggerated drama and street corner antics that accompany his road travel. Kenya must not suffer for the comfort of those who lead them. They expect sensitivity from those who govern them, not the blatant exhibitionism and indifference we have recently witnessed.