Knee-jerk reactions will not solve Nairobi’s mess

The police have lost it, and so has Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko. Police officers have become objectionable, having failed to grasp the principles of elasticity and boiling points. They can bully people only so far.

Over time, police officers have stretched the patience of law abiding citizens by engaging in atrocities while clad in their official attire; secure in the knowledge they are insulated against reprisals.

To Kenyans who have endured police brutality at some point, the latter come across as law breakers in uniform licensed to carry guns. Indeed, the average Kenyan dreads meeting police officers at night more than encountering criminals armed to the teeth. In particular, traffic police officer have become a law unto themselves. They break the law, while ostensibly enforcing the same law.

From my experience with traffic cops, they portray the picture of extortionists in a ring that stretches to the wild blue yonder. In a nutshell, the traffic police department is beyond redemption, it is incorrigible. The corruption perception index has consistently placed traffic police officers at the top of the list of ignominy for years uninterrupted.

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About two years ago, it was reported that traffic police officers tied the hands of a lorry driver to the steering wheel while the vehicle was in motion and ended up having it overturn during the ensuing struggle.

A week ago, overzealous police officers handcuffed a motorcyclist to his motorcycle at Safari Hotel along the Kapenguria-Lodwar Road. By chance, West Pokot Governor John Nyangapuo happened to be passing by and witnessed the drama. Incensed, he demanded and secured the release of the motorcyclist. In retaliation, the top brass of the police service withdrew Lonyangapuo’s security detail.

The mindset

When opposition leaders upstaged the government early this year, their security detail was withdrawn. Such knee jerk reactions define the police service. Not long ago, Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet vehemently denied a report that indicted police officers as major perpetrators of rape during skirmishes that followed last year’s disputed general elections.

But despite such spirited denials and reactions, the police service has very little to write home about. Igembe South MP ran afoul of the system recently when he mobilised boda-boda operators to resist police excesses. An incensed Tuk-Tuk driver vented his anger on two traffic police officers who, it was reported, had broken the side mirror of his vehicle. Later, a video showing a lorry driver roughing up a traffic police officer was posted on social media.

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These growing incidents are harbingers of bad tidings between the public and the police service. It would seem the latter are getting what they have been asking for. Unless something drastic is done to change the mindset of police officers and how they relate to the public, we could experience more daring attacks on disreputable law enforcers.

Private cars

Whereas traffic police officers could be instrumental in breaking traffic gridlocks within Nairobi city, they are a contributory factor. I have witnessed police officers create a traffic jam by letting some matatus pick fares at Railways roundabout on Haile Selassie Avenue at a fee from matatu crew willing to pay by prior arrangement. Indeed, Matatus are not the problem; it is the law enforcers and a government bereft of strategists.

To fill that void, Governor Sonko executed his own knee-jerk reaction to decongest the city and ended up creating a spectacle he hastily backtracked from. There is a lack of political goodwill from influencers who reap big from the traffic melee within town because they are stakeholders in the transport industry.

What explains the dismal failure of not just the National Youth Service buses to ply city routes, but the government’s inability to roll out the Bus Rapid Transport system that seems to work well in Tanzania and Rwanda? Is Kenya the bigger regional economy only in name, but a midget where action calls?

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Despite an exponential growth in the number of cars, our road designs remain what they were in the early 1970s. The standard roundabouts, lack of flyovers to minimise jostling are, in part, culprits. Private cars clog the streets and should be charged hefty parking fee to dissuade their owners from constricting streets. With a neat and effective intra-city transport system, private motorists would have no reason to use their cars for convenience and comfort.

Bench-marking on such, in well run cities like London, would give our city managers a clue on what to do or look for to ease congestion in Nairobi. Conversely, Nairobians have a peculiar habit they must discard. When 10 people struggle, fighting to get onto a bus with a capacity of 60 people, you have to admit our morals have gone to the dogs.

Running Nairobi demands practicality, not impetuosity. Sadly, Sonko is predisposed to the latter. Cartels that run roughshod over most aspects of life in Nairobi ran him out of town a few months ago, forcing him to declare from hiding that his life was danger. Sonko should have known the impracticality of his simplistic remedy.

 Mr Chagema is a correspondent at the [email protected]

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Nairobi GovernorMike Mbuvi SonkoMatatu banCBD