One of the most unsettling images from the latest public protests was that of demonstrators, in a moment of senseless frenzy, systematically topping over and uprooting the beautiful road furniture making Nairobi Expressway around Mlolongo.
By the time the daylong mayhem – called by a motley crew that included the opposition coalition - was over, pots of flowers lay broken on the road, the red earth that had once held life together turned to unwanted, dead dirt.
The perimeter fencing was severed and left mangled and useless on the thoroughfare. Looking at the handiwork of the mobs, it appears the motivation was not to procure scrap metal for sale, but to destroy the Nairobi Expressway. But to what end?
Moja Expressway, the company that runs the Nairobi Expressway on behalf of the government, suspended operations on the section most affected, between the turnoff to JKIA and the Expressway’s last exit at the AIC Kasina Church, in Mlolongo.
Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen said the bill for the repair, which he estimated at Sh706.7 million, would be borne by the taxpayer, as it should be under the terms of the agreement between the government, the Expressway builder and operator.
The 50,000 daily users suffered delayed entry and exit at the JKIA terminus. Already, the traditional heavy traffic buildup at Mlolongo, which seems to have been resolved by the Expressway option, was back.
It came at great inconvenience to road users and the economy in terms of inefficiencies in the transit of critical factors of production – entrepreneurship, labour, raw materials and finished products.
Granted, the repairs on the Expressway - used by over 10,000,000 vehicles as of February 7, since its official commissioning by former President Uhuru Kenyatta on July 31, 2022 - will be completed. But perhaps the most important intervention by the government and stakeholders lies in nurturing and sustaining a context where destruction of public infrastructure does not recur.
For starters, we can make it extremely inconvenient for criminals who vandalise public infrastructure to do so. Secondly, there is need for sustained public education on the importance of public infrastructure on economic development and even survival.
We must protect our infrastructure with same vigour and zeal with which we are willing to protect our political independence and freedoms as a country.
Already, some significant steps have been made by government in consistently calling out public infrastructure vandalism by its rightful name of economic sabotage. This framing is important in a country where mali ya uma (public property) is somehow inexplicably seen as belonging to some abstract construct and not the citizens.
Interior CS Kithure Kindiki’s formation of a special police unit to protect water infrastructure, should be extended to other facilities like roads, railway tracks, stadia, power lines, fibre optic cables, the Expressway etc.
Marystella Momanyi is a project management professional and frequent user of the Nairobi Expressway.
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