Kenyans, roads are not markets; go sell your merchandise elsewhere

Hawkers selling footwear on the footbridge near Bellevue, South C, Nairobi. [David Gichuru, Standard]

One of the major achievements of the Jubilee government is infrastructure development, particularly road networks around the country. Among these are the 27-kilometer Nairobi expressway which will cost the taxpayer Sh62 billion, and the Sh18 billion 170-kilometre Ahero-Kisii-Isebania road. All are nearing completion.

The expressway is expected to be the panacea to the traffic congestion in the city. Similarly, the once very narrow Kisii-Migori road that has claimed many lives in accidents is now wide and easy to drive on, making travelling more comfortable. It will also improve trade between Kenya and Tanzania.

However, these achievements may be short-lived if citizens do not change their behavior. Just after its completion, vandals stripped the Thika superhighway of many a metallic component, turning the splendour into a risk. Since these roads cost the taxpayer a lot of money, their destruction by citizens should be a concern for all.

In addition, we need to use roads only for what they are meant for. It is not uncommon to find all sorts of activities that hitherto were carried out elsewhere, relocated to the newly-built roads. Roads, especially in urban areas, are turned into parking lots, garages, markets, car wash sites and kitchens. Vegetables are cut and sold on the road; people cook, eat and sell clothes on the road besides other 'unroadworthy' business. Shops and food kiosks are erected on top of culverts and roadside waterways. Sometimes people uproot kerbstones meant to protect road users to give room for more business space.

Kenyans have a crazy appetite for ‘free space’ and to them, roads are free land. Oftentimes, misuse of roads begins with one person erecting their businesses on the road reserve while others wait to see what happens. If no one stops the first risk taker, other entrepreneurs begin to flock the road with abandon.

On one side of the road, one starts a car wash business and soon others follow suit. The water and detergent from these washing points erode and corrode the road. On the other side, vendors spread their wares on the road. Motorists are left at the mercy of these illegal road users, who also risk their lives. Worse, roads have become dumping sites. Safety-cautious citizens also erect bumps using all sorts of stones.

In Rongo town, motorists and pedestrians have nightmares on the roads. Major roads passing through the town and access ones that were recently constructed have been turned into kitchens, eateries and markets.

Instead of selling products in the modern market, green grocers literally spread their wares on the road. Cloth and shoe vendors spread their wares on the roads as motorcyclists also park on the road. Some people have even extended the veranda of their roadside kiosks to the road! This misuse of roads not only endangers the lives of other legal road users but also destroys the vital infrastructure.

Whether highway, rural, urban or access roads, the cost of construction and maintenance of roads is high. The government plans to spend Sh5 billion in rehabilitation of damaged access roads and footbridges during the 2021/22 financial year.

It is pointless to spend billions of shillings on projects that only last a weaning period. As we celebrate the improvement of our road networks, let us stop destroying them.