Untimely Deaths: Carelessness On Our Kenyan Roads
A Diaspora visiting Kenya: A senseless loss of four young professionals in two weeks. Carelessness is robbing us of young precious lives.
I was selective in wishing people a merry Christmas and a happy new year last month. It was a nightmare for some families. In two weeks we lost a doctor, an arctuary, an architect, and an accountant in senseless circumstances. The grief is stinging and unbearable. We can all learn from it and take a stand to stop it.
I arrived in Kenya last month to the sudden loss on the 9th of Eric Sudi, a young architect, in perplexing circumstances in Harambee Estate. At first it was said he fell on the stairs but it eventually emerged that his friend ran him over in a daredevil stunt and was lying about it. From airport to hotel to the requiem. We buried Eric in Madzuu in Vihiga on the 15th.
On 21st, Dr. Nelima Wamalwa, was on her way home from a driving school in Imara Daima when a truck trailer crushed her at a junction as she waited to cross the road. In a scene reminiscent of paparazzi and Princess Diana in Paris and hyenas feasting on carcasses, insensitive people stole her valuables as she lay down dying. Her unidentified body was traced at the City Mortuary a few days later, and she was buried in Siritanyi in Bungoma on the 31st.
On 19th around 8pm, while stopped at Matisi to buy bananas, a white car sped by at a frightening speed that startled and alarmed us. A bang followed thirty seconds later. The driver, Levi Wekesa, an artuary, collided head-on with a lorry that was overtaking illegally. He could not react in time at that speed and he died on the spot. As I left Webuye on the 28th his funeral service was underway.
Back in the US, Mzimazisi Ncube, a colleague’s son and a sophomore at Towson University, was killed on the night of Dec 8 in a hit-and-run car accident. An only son, he was buried in Gaithersburg in Maryland on the 18th.
Four young, promising lives sniffed out in two weeks. Families and friends suddenly left in extreme grief. Their festive season a nightmare. Why us? Why now? Why at all? They may ask. Those are unanswerable questions and nothing can wipe away their tears. But you can help by doing your part to help save families from such grief.
These cases make us ponder our mortality and how cheaply some treat our lives. Carelessness was at the core in these cases. Eric’s friends, the motorists involved and those who robbed rather than assist save Nelima all contributed to unimaginable grief. The extinguishing of the dreams of young professionals and of their families.
According to NTSA, over 3,000 people lose their lives on Kenya roads every year and in 2017 “…majority of the road crash victims comprised of the youth aged between 20 and 44 years”. Empirically, 91% of the traffic crashes are attributed to human related factors like speeding, reckless driving, dangerous overtaking, drunk road users, unfamiliarity with roads, and lack of protective gear. Most of these accidents are avoidable.
I drove extensively in Kenya and witnessed this cloud of depressing carelessness on our roads. Motorists overspeeding, overtaking illegally or carelessly, failing to yield at junctions and zebra crossing, bullying fellow road users, and unlit tractors and abandoned unmarked vehicles on the roads at night.
In Salgaa of all places and despite prominent warnings some motorists still overtake on climbing lanes! The government is doing its part: erecting barriers, widening and marking roads, and repainting signs. Policing is evident and smarter deploying undercover and public monitoring of traffic. There were two knuckleheads who flashed to speed us up and overtook on climbing lanes, and they were promptly pulled aside…may be charged.
The state of our roads has greatly improved and the government’s resolve is evident. Our carelessness remains our greatest enemy. We overspeed, drive while drunk, poorly maintain our vehicles, and show disregard for traffic laws and human life. We can resolve to do better and help save money and precious lives. At a personal level, you can resolve this year to hold a candid discussion with all your contacts about these issues and thereby play your part to help save lives.
By Morrison A. Muleri, PhD*
*The writer is a governance expert who works for a leading global development organization in Washington, D.C.