Vandalising road safety infrastructure puts everyone at risk, but do we care?

Section of Outer Ring Road vandalised. [Dennish Ochieng, Standard]

That Kenyans love getting surprised is not surprising. We get surprised at almost everything, even the bad things that we have done to ourselves or to our surroundings.

Of late, we have been getting surprised at what has happened to the safety infrastructure on Outering Road in Nairobi. What is going on there should not surprise us because it has become commonplace almost on all roads countrywide, and our getting surprised just proves that we are indeed peculiar.

It is almost 20 years since Kenyans were described as peculiar, and that line has been used in several circumstances that whoever uses it now sounds like a broken record. It was used in reference to Kenyans' calling habits when lines on a certain mobile telephone network used to get clogged every Friday afternoon to early evening, presumably because people were calling to make plans for the weekend.

Also by then, subscribers who wanted to know their credit or airtime balance had to call the network and listen to a mechanical voice. Some would call every other minute even when they had not made calls in between, the network's chief executive said, and such calls were also contributing to the congestion.

In order not to sound like a broken record, it would be great to stop describing Kenyans as peculiar now that technology had been upgraded to accommodate our peculiar calling habits; but that would only work if we did not have other habits worth describing using that adjective.

We display our peculiar habits daily, at any place. Our peculiarity is in every aspect of our lives, from driving to drinking to driving while drinking and driving while drunk and in every thing we do in between and beyond.

Our peculiar habits get the better of us, and we never realise that we are hurting ourselves, directly or indirectly when our actions lead to higher taxes or diversion of taxes to repair facilities that we destroyed.

Ours is a country where we cry for safer highways with proper lighting, signage and other safety infrastructure, but we are the same vandals who steal the safety road furniture that we demand.

When they are not installed, we complain, but when they are, we vandalise, then complain that the authorities do not care about the citizenry whose taxes pay them.

The perfect example is the 13-kilometre Outering Road in Nairobi that cost taxpayers Sh8.5 billion. As a matter of fact, it is the worst example of our peculiar habits.

It is dark, it has no guard rails, no bollards, barriers, road dividers along the median and even traffic signs are missing.

Street lights have been removed, and in some instances the poles have been sawed off and carted away and concrete slabs that cover storm drain tunnels are broken to remove the metal rods in them.

All these things are sold to scrap metal dealers who definitely know where they have been stolen from but do not worry about the safety of the road users, be they pedestrians or motorists. Of course the vandals are not foreigners and neither are the scrap-metal dealers.

At times, the vandals and the dealers also use the same road that lacks safety infrastructure, exposing themselves to risks just like the other innocent road users, but it does not bother them. As a matter of fact, they can also complain that they are missing and say the government has neglected the citizenry, the taxpayers.

Slightly over a week ago, The Standard and KTN News reported that the storm-drain tunnels are gaping and are just death traps for pedestrians, now that the road has no street lighting, thanks to the same vandals.

People who have businesses along the highway are not innocent. They may not be the thieves, but they definitely know the buyers, and probably the vandals because they have security personnel guarding their premises and can see when the vandals strike.

Some of the road users too know the vandals and the buyers, but cannot give information to authorities, yet they complain that the police are not doing much.

Of course the police cannot do much because they are part of the rot in our society, and probably some of the officers protect the vandals and the buyers.

But if by any chance the vandals are arrested, there will be an outcry that they are just trying to make ends meet. That poverty has forced them to be vandals. That has been our excuse in almost all instances when we are caught vandalising public property.

We have become a people who either glorify poverty or weaponise it to get away with murder, almost literally. The buyers are not poor and should not encourage the vandals, but no, ours is a country where we need systems and rules changed to suit us, just like the mobile telephone company upgraded its systems to match our peculiar calling habits.