Major, yet narrow roads pose serious security and safety risks to us

While the Interior Ministry has been preoccupied rattling betting firms, criminal gangs like the Mombasa-based Wakali Kwanza have been strategising. Monday this week, the gang ran riot in Bamburi and by the end of the day, had seriously injured at least 13 people. Of course, the police will employ the tired lingo we are all too familiar with; no stone will be left unturned while looking for the criminals.

But despite officialdom’s macho talk, insecurity remains the Achilles heel of this administration. And this, despite the fact that ongoing police reforms have equipped the Police Service with requisite gear to combat crime.

We have a bigger Police Service today, better remunerated and housed; better equipped with modern weaponry, Armored  Personnel Carriers and aided by closed-circuit television cameras strategically placed in cities and towns.

Sadly, there is little to show for it. Muggers and pickpockets ply their trade right in front of CCTV cameras, yet Nairobi is infested with this human vermin. No doubt, our undoing is lack of political goodwill.

Last week’s incident in which the Nairobi–Nakuru Highway was blockaded for a whole day is a recipe for large-scale insecurity. Not surprisingly, uncouth, impatient drivers in haste to nowhere overlapped on the narrow road on the approach to the Gilgil weighbridge and caused a snarl-up to behold, except that it was not amusing to those caught up in the madness; particularly children and the sick who spent a night out in the cold without food.

Distant occurrences

Too often, we read of lone gunmen opening fire in crowded supermarkets or other public places in the US, Britain and other countries. As a matter of fact, two gunmen, one in Ohio and the other in Texas fired into crowds, killing 29 people and injuring 46 recently.

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The shootings came one week after another incident in Northern California in which a 19-year boy killed three people. These are distant occurrences, but to imagine they cannot happen here is to be delusional.

What, for instance, would have happened if gunmen chose to terrorise the motorists and travellers caught up in a 10-kilometre traffic snarl-up on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway?

Terrorists orchestrating such a traffic snag can hold us to ransom. With the road blocked, police mobility would be severely limited. A police air wing seemingly in a coma, with nearly all its helicopters grounded wouldn’t be a consolation to anyone.

Further, from past experience, I doubt the police have the training and basics to scramble during a crisis that calls for immediate response.  The Garissa University attack in 2015 and the lethargic security response to the crisis should have wisened authorities, but no, we are a reactionary society.

The inferno

Where the police get swamped in a terrorist attack, we can rely on the army to do the needful, but there is a catch. Getting the army to swing into action requires the approval of the country’s Security Council and that may not be easy to assemble. Of course, that would work to the advantage of the miscreants. Terrorists employ tactics that novelist Wilbur Smith refers to as ‘the sting of the flea’. That is because you become aware of a flea after it has bitten you and has vamoosed.  Rarely does one swat a flea.

Yet it is not only the threat of criminals that causes concern. Supposing, within that jam, there was a repeat of the 2016 Karai, Naivasha, accident in which a tanker carrying inflammable gas rammed other vehicles following a brake failure and burst into flames? Forty people died in the inferno. The long and short of it is that this road, classified as a transcontinental super highway that feeds our hinterland and neighbours Uganda and Rwanda does not fit the bill. The need to expand the Nairobi-Nakuru-Eldoret-Kisumu Highway to, say, four lanes, cannot be gainsaid.

Factually, it is the nature of the narrow design of the road that has contributed greatly to fatal accidents. Our government’s attitude to safety and security sucks.

It took thousands of lives lost along the Salgaa stretch of the Nakuru-Eldoret highway for lethargic government road engineers to finally come around and erect a wall, thus creating one-way traffic flows and suddenly, accidents, which used to occur daily, disappeared. This action should be replicated on all known black spots on Kenyan roads even as they are expanded to meet rising numbers of vehicular transport.

Landlocked Uganda and Rwanda have for years used the Mombasa-Nairobi-Busia/Malaba road to ferry goods to and from the port of Mombasa. If there was no guarantee their merchandise would be received or dispatched in good time, it would be to our disadvantage if Uganda and Rwanda chose the Dar port in Tanzania over our port.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The Standard. [email protected]

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Nairobi–Nakuru HighwayNairobi-Nakuru-Eldoret-Kisumu Highway