Alas, the Nairobi Expressway is at hand, but not for all

Section of the Nairobi Expressway of Expressway nearing completion in Westlands, Nairobi. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Soooooo, the hallowed road in the skies, bypassing the clogged city centre to link Mlolongo and adjoining counties of Kajiado and Machakos to Nairobi’s affluent neighbourhood of Westlands, is finally here. It opens tomorrow, finally, hopefully, to the public.

As it was in the beginning, when the hoi polloi were reminded the road wasn’t meant for their ilk, it has come to pass that they don’t even have the means to pay for it.

The country that gave the world M-Pesa won’t allow use of mobile money for toll fees on the new road.

Reason? M-Pesa payments will clog up the road and stall everyone. Well, phone handsets aren’t licensed drivers, even in China, so what’s the fuss about? Apparently, every payment is like a slot in the road, as it will require verification.

And since Kenyans are known for their spontaneity and aversion to forward planning, tens of thousands of motorists couldn’t potentially end up on the road, especially if interesting features like the paper lions of Embu are spotted on the highway.

But that’s not the problem. More payments mean more money for the Chinese, who have determined they will need a quarter century to recoup the money spent to build the elevated road. The problem is that they need their payment, not in kind, so we can produce food and feed their one billion mouths, not in local or Chinese currencies, but in American dollars. 

So, the quickest way of getting their cash is not through pennies that Mpesa users are likely to pay to dash from Mlolongo to King’eero—the sort of errands that butchers would potentially make several times a day. After all, ours is kadogo economy. And kadogo economy means matatu culture on the road in the skies.

The Chinese want the big bucks, converted into dollars at a time the shilling is in the doldrums. Penny pinchers, therefore, won’t work. They need solid, reliable road users who can afford to store away several thousand shillings at a time, between the range of Sh2,000 to Sh5,000. That’s the sort of money needed to seed a small business to feed a family of six.

Consequently, Kenyans have a realistic apprehension that the promised road will not be accessible to all, although it is our collective taxes, with or without a car, with or without access to the road, that will finance it for a generation.

Potted plants

Potted plants along the Nairobi Expressway [David Njaaga,Standard]

These Kenyans are demanding the Chinese fix the old roads they damaged to make the new one, fearing they will be stuck with the old infrastructure, even as they pay for the new one.

And since Prezzo UK is interested in securing his legacy, this road in the skies is the quintessence of his government: to accommodate an aerial thoroughfare for the rich, it heralded death of Nairobi as the green city in the sun.

This cultural and environmental phenomenon has seen the decimation of indigenous trees and plants to accommodate potted plants in plastics that dried up before they could bloom, a fitting metaphor of our arrested development.

And the financial strictures that M-Pesa dissolved two decades ago, ensuring everyone could finally bank their little savings have been fortified with this odious demand of credit cards to pay for a road infrastructure that mortgages the future of our children to the Chinese.

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