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Highways to hell: Kenya's accident blackspots that have killed many

The wreckage of the Modern Coast bus that plunged into River Nithi killing 34 people. [George Kaimenyi, Standard]

A one-kilometre stretch between Nyangera Primary School and Usenge town along the Bondo-Usenge highway is called the ‘highway to hell’, owing to a high number of fatal accidents.

The stretch has broken glasses and vehicle and motorcycle parts by the roadside, a testament to the ugly accidents which have claimed many lives. 

Barely a week passes by before an accident is reported along the stretch, with boda boda operators the most affected.

Road users claim feeling uneasy when travelling along the stretch even as authorities ponder  how best to curb accident rate.

There are many other blackspots across the country that have over the years claimed many lives.

In Western region, Kaburengu market on the border of Kakamega and Bungoma counties is notorious for fatal road crashes. Some of the most gruesome deaths from motor accidents in the region have occurred at Kaburengu, which lies at the junction of Webuye-Kakamega-Eldoret roads.

Along the Webuye-Eldoret road, Mukhonje market and Kipkaren River are also accident blackspots.

North of Webuye town, along the Webuye-Kitale road, Kamukuywa bridge in Bungoma County is yet another blackspot where many have lost their lives.

Shimala Vandu, a market centre along the Kakamega-Webuye Road, derived its name from the numerous deaths occasioned by accidents at the market.

The Kakamega-Kisumu road also has blackspots in places like Mwidambitsa and Lunyerere.

Across in the Mt. Kenya region, the Nithi bridge in Tharaka Nithi County and the stretch between Kenol township and Makutano have also earned their place on the list of blackspots, with Murang’a South Police Commander Alexander Shikondi blaming the accidents on human error.

Between June 2016 to date, several fatal accidents have been recorded on the stretch between Nyangera Primary School and Usenge town.

The accidents have claimed many lives but a few lucky survivors lived to tell their tales.

Dan Nyamundhe was only 36 when he was knocked down by a speeding vehicle along the road, just minutes after he had alighted from a bus in 1988.

Nyamundhe, whose left arm was amputated following the accident, says that even though the driver of the vehicle rushed him to hospital, there was no option but to amputate his arm.

For three decades now, the search for compensation for the father of five has been futile.

According to police records, most of the accidents occur at the spot due to speeding. The police also blame lack of road signs due to vandalism along the stretch that has many sharp bends and steep hill.

West Yimbo Chief Paul Olang’ blamed the locals for vandalising road signs in the area and claimed it is one of the reasons accidents have been happening frequently along the stretch.

“We are to blame for the rising cases of accidents here due to lack of road signs which have been vandalised by people who sell them to scrap metal dealers,” said Olang’.

Locals have appealed to the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) to erect bumps on the stretch to control speeding.

In Migori County, five stretches have been marked as accident blackspots.

The areas include Kona Koigo and Banana, along the Migori-Kisii road, Namba junction which is along the Migori-Isebania road, Nyanchabo area which is along Migori-Kehancha road, area along Migori-Masara and Migori-Uriri-Rapogi road.

According to Migori County Police Commander Mark Wanjala, Migori-Masara road was identified as a blackspot because of the high number of motorcycle accidents. Most of the accidents happen in the evening.

Since January, this year, about 30 accidents have been recorded, with 17 deaths.

In Kisumu, travelling along the Kiboswa-Mamboleo road sends chills down the spines of many who know about the many accidents that have taken place along the stretch.

Kachok overpass is also a notorious blackspot owing to the high number of accidents involving heavy commercial trucks.

In the past six months, about five trucks ferrying sugarcane have rolled off the flyover leaving scores injured and in some cases deaths.

Regional Traffic Commander Mwangi Ng’ang’a said the police are working together with NTSA to curb road carnage.

“Most of these accidents are caused as a result of recklessness and drink-driving. There is mostly no problem with road designs, and where there is such, we are approaching it with the relevant agencies like KeNHA to have it addressed,” said Ng’ang’a 

At Kaburengu, Kipkaren River and Mukhonje markets, most of the accidents involve fuel tankers, articulated trucks, cane trailers and public service vehicles.

“There are times when brakes heat up after long use and that leads to brake failure. If that happens when one is going downhill, an accident is bound to happen,” truck driver Daniel Mwangi said.

He also blames matatu drivers who recklessly overtake and suddenly stop to pick up passengers.

“Accidents happen here on a weekly basis. We have, and continue to plead with the county government to expand the narrow River Nzoia bridge at Kaburengu to reduce accidents,” Lukhova village elder Veronica Wasike says.

In March 2014, four pupils from Chimoi Primary School were crashed to death at Kaburengu by a truck whose driver had lost control. In December 2018, 16 people were killed at the same spot after a tanker rammed into a matatu at the junction. On August 24, 2020, eight people died in an accident involving a truck and matatu.

Chris Evayo, an elderly man who has witnessed many accidents at Kamukuywa bridge, says: “Most of the accidents here happen in the evening, many of them as a result of reckless driving. Sometimes tractors carrying extra loads of sugarcane contribute to accidents. The bridge is wide enough even though it’s not safe for pedestrians”.

On December 12, 2017, 19 people died after a tractor rammed into a matatu on the Kamukuywa bridge.

On January 1, 2018, 12 people from the same family died in an accident involving a tractor and a matatu at the bridge. On May 18, another 14 people died at Kamukuywa, barely a week later on May 25, 2018 another 15 travellers died at the same spot.

The accidents, many believe, can be reduced if a pedestrian walkways were constructed and speed bumps erected near the bridge.

A man who identified himself only as Wakhungu says that “accidents became worse after a 1978 incident in which Tiriki boys headed for a circumcision ceremony perished at this spot”.

“Driver fatigue is also a major cause of accidents at this bridge,” he adds.

It is the same case at Kipkaren River, a centre that lies on the border of Kakamega and Uasin Gishu counties.

Some of the blackspots along the Nyeri-Nyahuruu road are found on the steep slopes, especially around the Nyahururu-Nyeri junction with Chaka by-pass around Kimathi University and near Mweiga River.

But with the erection of bumps, the number of accidents have gone down. However, drivers plying the route have called for more bumps to be erected.

Sebastian Maina, a matatu driver along this route, recounted that he recently witnessed two students being knocked down by a speeding vehicle. Near the same spot two boda boda riders were knocked down by a speeding miraa vehicle heading to Nyahururu.

National Transport and Safety Authority Central Kenya Regional Manager Bora Guyo attributes the reduction of accidents to cooperation between stakeholders in the transport sector.

“We usually conduct training, especially for matatu operators and sensitise them on road safety measures to ensure their safety and that of other road users,” said Guyo.

The blackspots on the main Embu-Meru highway include Thuci and Nithi bridges in Tharaka Nithi County, a dip between Ntharene-Kanyakine and Ng’onyi in Meru as well as Subuiga Hill on the Isiolo-Nanyuki highway.

The death of 35 people in a Modern Coast bus that plunged into Nithi River last week has been blamed on driver error and speeding, according to police in Tharaka Nithi.

A spot check by The Standard team at the blackspot,a day before the accident, showed that many drivers ignored road signs. Some drivers of saloon cars drove at 60 kilometres per hour on the descent to Nithi River.

Guardrails on the bridge are broken, a stark reminder of the many hits.

Another blackspot is Ng’onyi in Meru, where tens of people have died.

[Report by Isaiah Gwengi, Sharon Owino, James Omoro, Anne Atieno, Alexander Chagema, Boniface Gikandi, Phares Mutembei and Edwin Mbugua]