Lack of restrooms on major roads reeks of poor planning

A recent court order directing the Ministry of Transport to build toilets on key highways and roads left my head spinning.

Why did it take a court order to implement the obvious?

Who has never stopped at Delamere’s or Mtito Andei to take a much-needed bathroom break? The court order in a case filed by Adrian Kamotho convinced me that it is time to worry about our thinking as a society and respectively so. 

Just read on before getting worked up. Kenyans love boasting of their visit to America. From the famous airlift that spawned the first generation of post-independence leaders such as Nobel laureate, the late Prof Wangari Maathai, Kenyans have been visiting the US or even settled there.

Even President Uhuru Kenyatta schooled there. Visitors to the US are marvelled by the superhighways built in the 1950s through debt - mostly bonds.

Driving from the north to the south is fun. The superhighway with prefix ‘I’ has a unique identification; odd numbers like 1-95 are north-south while even numbers like 1-20 denote east to west. The larger the number, the more north or east the superhighway is. We have our numbering here based more on how good the road is; A104 means a high-class road compared with D388, which might be murram.

Highway signs

The US superhighways have rest areas where you can stop your car or truck, relieve yourself, take a shower or even take a nap. Highway signs even inform you on the distance to their next rest area.

The first Kenyan visited the US in 1909, and our first PhD was from there too. Around summertime, Kenyans visit the US for graduation ceremonies in droves, while others are busy seeking green cards.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) proponents already have an open invitation to the US. 

So why have we never seen common sense or the need for toilets on the highways?  When our leaders, including Members of the County Assembly (MCAs), go benchmarking, what do they benchmark?

It is one of the perplexing questions of our thinking. How do we import America’s political system complete with senators, governors and chiefs of staff, yet we can’t import common sense like toilets on the highways?

Our competency-based curriculum even has grades in a variation similar to that of the American system. We even import American accents and names but not common sense like toilets on the highways.

Failure to see common sense has perplexed me. Another example is why do we have so many “numbers” like ID number, passport number, driving license number, Huduma number, NHIF number, school admission number, among others? Why can’t we get a single number at birth and use it through life like the US social security number?

Most Kenyans may not be aware of the USA social security number. But toilets? Why and how have we closed the Kenyan mind?

Our education system, which is under reform, is partly to blame. We think ideas must come from only certain sources particularly textbooks. We rarely focus on observation as a source of knowledge.

Market needs

Today phones have taken away our observation time. Any free time on a matatu or plane or even when resting in a park is taken by phone and the associated muchene (gossip).  As children, we are curious. Somewhere along the way that curiosity dies. Schooling is one culprit. It’s made worse by the belief that schooling ends after school.

After school, the belief that ideas must come from certain sources or certain people persists. We have no time to do further research even when you are connected to the internet. Paradoxically, the web has not made us more informed or curious.

I am sure if a Western scholar (rarely Eastern despite the rise of China) did a study and concluded that we needed toilets on highways, it would be taken seriously.

Even when studying witchcraft, credible scholars must be from certain parts of the world. Just Google. Our schooling does not teach us to see the bigger picture - the interconnectedness. Too much specialisation is to blame, and the court order alluded to that. Highway engineers think toilets are not their business.

Yet the future lies in interdisciplinary studies where we see the bigger picture and get better solutions. One hopes CBC will not lead to over-specialisation.

The failure to see common sense could be explained by the age at which we visit the West and other developed countries. Visiting as adults makes us too mesmerised by highways, skyscrapers and advanced technology to see common sense.

We seem so overwhelmed that we think we shall never have such facilities in Kenya. We do not even try what might need no resources to implement. We forget the invisible hand of the market.

Delamere’s or other rest areas were not put up by court orders, but by market needs.

What of our policies? How facilitative are they to seeing the bigger picture? The security services have come up with multi-agencies to confront big issues like terrorism. That is the way to go in all the sectors without skipping common sense. Why a court order on toilets when the need for them is an act of nature? 

-The write is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi  

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