This is a post I should have written a long time ago yet this is a post I wish I never had to write.
This is a post in three parts, the good, the bad, the ugly. It is long, almost 1600 words. Please read it in its entirety.
One of the most positive things about Kenya today is the heavy investment in core infrastructure across the country. Kenya fell into a great state of disrepair in the decades of the Moi dictatorship. The Kibaki’s administration greatest positive legacy is addressing this neglect of national infrastructure through Kenya’s Vision 2030 (driving mission: A Globally Competitive and Prosperous Kenya). Most of this development takes place away from the public eye. For example the developments to upgrade Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from the embarrassment it is now into a world class airport, the development of a free port, commuter rail, rapid bus transit system and development of the new transport corridor from Lamu to Southern Sudan and Ethiopia.
For those of us living in Nairobi the most visible Vision 2030 project is the upgrading of Nairobi-Thika Highway which is expected to be completed by June 2012 at the cost of approximately USD 380 million. To be honest, upgrading is too small a word. Thika Road, for decades the home to some of the most notorious traffic jams in the world, is being ripped up, stretched, elevated, and beautified. Those notorious traffic jams, which are now even worse due to the road works, are tolerated because you can see what is coming. Short term pain for long term gain, if you will. It will be a source of great pride when this project is completed!
The Nairobi-Thika Highway is one of the least safe places to be in Nairobi today to say the least. The absence of safety measure is shocking in its complete absence along the whole road. It is impossible to drive on Thika Road safely, which would be unacceptable for the smallest road in Kenya yet this is a flagship project of the National Transport Infrastructure plan.
Here are two examples.
Harry Thuku Road in the centre of Nairobi CBD is at one end of the Nairobi-Thika Highway project. Harry Thuku Road hosts many prominent and important institutions. For example it hosts the national state owned media house, KBC; the main buildings of the University of Nairobi; the world famous The Fairmont Norfolk Hotel; the equally famous Kenya National Theatre; the Central Police Station (the largest police station in Kenya). In short it is a busy road.
Since the construction started on the Nairobi-Thika Highway and the upgrading of University Way into a fully functional dual carriage way, to leave Harry Thuku Road you would have to turn right onto University way. An evening a couple weeks ago as we drove off Harry Thuku Road onto University Way, I indicated to turn right and entered the road. A few metres in we were confronted with large stones placed haphazardly in the middle of the road and beyond them a steep drop. Things had changed. The dual carriage part of University Way was complete and instead of turning right here you would have to turn left and then turn right further ahead. There was NO sign indicating the change, there was NO sign warning of the steep drop; there was No sign indicating the correct way to go; there was NO warning sign at all period. Add to this there is no lighting, it was at night and it was very dark. All this in the middle of Nairobi CBD metres away from the biggest police station in the country!
The only way to get out of the mess we found ourselves in was to do a u-turn in the middle of a busy road into oncoming traffic. This would all have been avoided with the strategic placement of even just ONE sign warning that the road layout had changed.
The Nairobi-Thika Highway is the main access routes to several densely populated parts of Nairobi. One such area is Pangani. A few weeks ago I was dropping a friend home in Pangani and it was one of the most dangerous pieces of driving I have ever had to do. Roads end without warning, some roundabouts are passable others are not, some dual lanes are now single lanes, one way roads are now two way and two way roads are now one way. Again NO signs, NO lighting, NO information. If I had not been with my friend it would have been impossible to find my way. The most scary part is what happened a week later. We set of again on more or less on the exact same route as before. Big changes had been made. Sections that were closed a week previously were now open. Sections that were previously open were now closed. Again NO signs, NO lighting, NO information. My friend tells me that major changes on that road can occur in a few hours. You go to work using one route and on the way home in the evening you find it has all changed and the morning route is inaccessible. My piece of advice to you is DO NOT drive into Pangani at night (or anywhere off the Nairobi – Thika Highway) without a local to guide you. You won’t just get lost. You may drive off a very steep 30 foot drop that has no barriers. The total disregard of safety is very bad.
If my post ended there it would be bad enough. Unfortunately it doesn’t. The Nairobi – Thika Highway is a death trap. Because it doesn’t have clear signage, because it doesn’t have barriers, because it doesn’t have safety measures.
Nancy Adwar is the type of person who can lighten your mood from miles away (more on Nancy below). A few weeks ago when heading back to Nairobi along the Nairobi-Thika Highway the vehicle Nancy was in swerved to avoid an accident with on coming lorry. Nancy was injured in the accident and evacuated to Kenyatta National Hospital where she bravely fought for her life for 6 hours before passing away.
From reports on the accident it seems like the lack of safety measures on the Nairobi – Thika Road highway contributed greatly to the accident. The confusion over which portions of the road are open and which ones are not for example, the lack of signs, the lack of barriers, the lack of lighting all played the their part.
One death on our roads is one too many.
The Nairobi – Thika Highway costs USD 380 million – until told otherwise we must believe that that figure includes the budget for all safety measures. For road signs to indicate changes in the roads; for barriers to protect us from the steep drops; for adequate lighting; for policing.
WHERE HAS THAT MONEY GONE?
Why hasn’t it been used for what it was intended?
What will it take for Kenya as a nation to start taking this seriously?
This morning I sent the email below to the Ministry of Roads at email@example.com – I urge you to send the same email or to draft your own. When I get a response I will post it.
my wife and I got to know Nancy well when we were looking for someone to do the cards and programmes for our wedding. After the initial excitement planning a wedding can become a tedious list of tasks. You concentrate so much on the little things that you sometimes forget the big picture. When we met Nancy to talk about our cards her enthusiasm was legendary! She was so excited for us and so excited about the wedding you would think that she was the one walking down the aisle. In case you suspect this was just a sales pitch, this enthusiasm continued long after she had delivered the final set of cards. Josephine and I felt very special. Nancy became a special friend. At a wonderful tribute concert organised by Nancy’s brother Chris (the music director of Kenya’s leading band The Villagers) we heard story after story of people with similar experiences of Nancy as ours. Interacting with Nancy left them feeling on top of the world. Chris has written a song called “Gone To Soon” to honour and celebrate his younger sister Nancy. It is available on PewaHewa.com for only KSH 100 (just over USD 1). The sales from this song will go towards covering the expenses associated with giving Nancy the send off she deserves. Please consider purchasing a copy of the single from PewaHewa.com.
Dear Ministry of Roads,
Thank you for all the hard work you are doing building up the road infrastructure of our country, Kenya.
However, I am concerned about the lack of safety measures employed by the contractors on the Nairobi-Thika Highway. Specifically I am concerned about:
- The lack of proper road signage indicating where diversions are
- The lack of safe barriers especially where are steep drops on the side of the roads and even in the middle of roads
- Inadequate lighting along the whole road
I believe that these concerns must have been addressed at the time of tendering.
I believe the Ministry wants roads to be built safely as well as quickly.
I believe the Ministry has the powers of oversight over the contractors and can enforce safely rules.
To this end
Would you please let me know, on the record, what the budget for safety measures on the Nairobi – Thika Highway development is and where the money has been spent?
Rest In Peace Nancy.