What paralysis on roads says about state of the nation

There is a high possibility that the New Year, which starts on Sunday, will find me on the road. Yes, in spite of my protestations about holiday travel—and the bedlam that was reported all round—I have to get going, perhaps because I believe journey is the destination.

Alright, let me clarify, before I’m accused of dabbling in pseudo philosophy, that I’m travelling for business, not pleasure, so if I am stranded on the road overnight, I have a sleeping bag at the ready. I am assuming, of course, that no hoodlums will empty my pockets as I take a roadside wink.

We saw all that and more, earlier in the week, when virtually all major roads in our land were clogged to the point of saturation. This simply means nobody could move for countless hours. The lucky ones found motels to check into, and check out early the following morning, before the roads got clogged once again.

The unlucky ones simply endured the night (and morning) on the road and only made it home days later. This sounds surreal, but there was always the possibility that traffic jams would one day stretch from work to home.

But this nationwide paralysis reveals a lot about our peculiarities as Kenyans—and it’s got nothing to do with our roads or even the vehicles that we drive. We as Kenyans have been weaned to this idea that life is kinyang’anyiro.

Even the vowels in this formulation conveys the fierce contestation in the word. So, when the motorist ahead stalls, even for a fleeting second, those behind her have horns blasting at full volume; those who can overlap do it and generally make fools of themselves when they find there is a bump to be surmounted, a pedestrian crossing, or even a stationery vehicle. Within the half-minute mark, five lanes will have emerged from the usual two lanes.

There is a reason for this; most folks purport to be street smart and so averse to the idea of kujifunga na jam. This means it’s foolish to stay in the queue and one has to keep peeping to see what lies ahead. That’s why motorists going in the opposite direction, or pedestrians just crossing over, will risk life and limb just to get out of the way.

The other revelation is that our copy-cat mentality will see us commute on the same day and time, it’s as though we set forth from the same point. That’s why shops fill up a day before schools reopen and roads become impassable.

We saw this mentality at the coast as public beaches choked with too many feet trammeling the sands—apparently because all wanted to stay on dry land instead of swimming, which defeats reason for their travel in the first place. Well, perhaps a picture on social media, with the ocean in the background, is worth the trouble.

Where do we go from here? I bet there will be less travel in the new year. Some will be too traumatized to travel again in the near future. Many of us will be suffer from the effects of fuel price increases—I hear that’s scheduled in a week or two. And the Broken Wood institutions are back with their loans, so many jobs will be lost under various guises.

But some will be very happy because business is booming, with tax-free rice and maize imports. I guess that’s what the French mean when they say: c’est la vie.

Happy New Year, folks!

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