The protests that followed the October 26 repeat presidential election in certain parts of Kenya exacted a heavy toll on the country’s macro-economic environment.
Human life, limb and property lay wasted and it may be some time before the full damage is quantified. Often lost in this overall narrative is another unfortunate victim of these protests - the road network.
During the protests spearheaded by rogue youths, roads bore the brunt in several ways. One common trigger for road destruction was fire. Fires lit on roads have the effect of melting the asphalt concrete used to build them, compromising the evenness and general aesthetics of the road.
The protests also saw widespread vandalism, occasioning heavy damage to the road furniture. There were the rather unsettling events of bridge barriers being cut and welded to block roads. Signage was not spared.
This is not to discount the disruptive effects of human action that may not be necessarily tied to protests such as right of way obstruction through erection of illegal bumps and encroachment of road reserves.
Equally costly to the overall economic ecosystem are the non-physical risks to roads and the smooth operation of the same
Illegal barricading, which has become a standard feature of most public protests, carries serious and potentially debilitating economic ramifications throughout the region, particularly for our landlocked neighbours in the Great Lakes region.
Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and even eastern parts of the DR Congo) rely on Kenyan infrastructure, as part of the Northern Corridor, for the movement of their exports and imports.
Initial estimates by Kenya’s road management organisations put the financial toll on roads occasioned by the protests at Sh130 million. This money will have to be drawn from the sector allocation for the financial year 2017-2018 in order to ensure that the damaged roads are reversed to a serviceable state.
The unfortunate corollary of this is that other programmes under the current budget will suffer. And while Kenyans may not feel it directly, it is they, including the protesters, who will be left to pay the bill at the end of the day.
According to the Kenya Rural Roads Authority, cases of road damage caused by fires and vandalism were rampant in Kilifi, Kwale, Malindi, Lamu, Mombasa, Mwatate and Voi. Kenya Urban Roads Authority recorded similar destruction in Kibra, Dagoretti and Mathare. The Kenya National Highways Authority puts most of the damage down to fires, barricades, illegal bumps and vandalism.
An audit carried out by these agencies points to a catalogue of roads that were directly affected as a result of the protests, mostly in the Western parts of the country.
They include Kehancha-Suna-Masara, Masara-Muhuru Bay, Mbita-Homa Bay-Katito, Homa Bay-Rongo and Kendu Bay-Kadongo. Others are Awasi-Chemelil-Nandi Hills, Luanda Kotieno-Owimbi-Bondo-Siaya-Rangala, Osieko-Bondo-Kisian and Masara-Sori-Sindo-Mbita. Kisumu-Kisian-Maseno-Luanda, Kisumu Bypass-Kisumu-Nyamasaria-Awasi, Rongo-Awendo-Migori and Rodi Kopany-Ndhiwa-Karungu were not spared.
Even without the unnecessary and uncalled for destruction by rioters, road construction is already an expensive affair, drawing heavily on the Exchequer, development partner loans, grants and resources meant to support economic development
In its deliberate effort to transform Kenya’s road network, in line with the country’s Vision 2030 aspirations, the Department of Infrastructure has been allocated Sh482 billion over the 2014-2017 period. But the demand for resources still far outweighs the budget, a factor that has seen the active pursuit of alternative infrastructure funding mechanisms like annuity, building of low seal roads and deployment of performance-based contracting in road maintenance.
The end-game is lower cost of construction and maintenance, hence optimising public investment through output (kilometres of road built) and private sector participation.
Going forward, there is need for greater public education on the importance of quality infrastructure to our overall socio-economic circumstances. Besides being an enabler for the economy, the infrastructure sub-sector indirectly contributed a material 4.5 per cent to Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product in 2015. It is a great tool in poverty reduction and the creation of jobs.
The other intervention is enactment of stiffer penalties for offenders and stricter enforcement of the same. Such laws would discourage the wanton destruction of infrastructure, installations, encroachment on the right of way and other third-party interference that jeopardises the enjoyment of quality services by other citizens.
Already, there is the Traffic Act Cap 403, which relates to obstruction, destruction of roads and vehicles, and the Kenya Roads Act 2007 that imposes a two-year prison term or Sh100,000 fine, or both, on offenders.
The author is the Principal Secretary, State Department of Infrastructure