Breaking Codes in Nairobi

Gangi Longa

Senior Member
Feb 5, 2010

Gangi Longa

Senior Member
Joined Feb 5, 2010
195 30 45
Letter from Kenya

Breaking Codes in Nairobi
By Capulet B. Chakupeta
An over ambitious editor of one Kenyan publication invited me over to monitor whether I am employable or not in this East African hub of activity. It’s kind of a provisional internship, a “come and see” project to be followed by signing of a job contract if both parties are happy with each other. In the proposed contract, there is a clause stating that either party is not bound, at least in the first three months. I can be sent away packing with no liabilities on the part of the employer. Similarly, I can proudly walk away with no hesitation of breaking any codes.
My first week in Nairobi is impregnated with the flouting of codes. I used to think it’s only Georgetown where traffic rules are flouted, but Nairobi has proved Guyana, Lusaka and Harare drivers to be saints on the road. Georgetown has its own share of disorder - faint road markings, nonexistent road signs and non working lights. Even though Georgetown roads are noisy and in bad state, drivers still have the decency to respect road rules. The non working traffic lights in Lusaka are a menace, but still drivers drive cautiously. Let’s begin with Nairobi codes on the road then later to poor construction standards.
The Nairobi public transport industry lives on two codes: “we are carrying esteemed passengers who need to get home or work fast – pave way” and “don’t dare, I have right of way”. The first code is famous with the bad boys in town, the matatu (mini-bus) drivers. Most matatu drivers believe that the best way to get to any destination is – very fast. For those interested in riding in these matatus, be sure that your last meal has been well digested and that your estate [will] back home is in order. The second code is anyone else driving, cycling or pushing a cart on the road.
For matatus, they rejoice in having irritatingly loud hooters. They honk willy-nilly. The code on the road for the matatus is to honk indiscriminately to alert potential passengers by the road side or to signal the danger they pose to other road users. They hoot upon taking off, hoot to overtake, hoot to turn right and hoot to cross an intersection. Hooting is such a reflex action here that some drivers do it for no reason at all.
Apparently, if one intends to observe road rules, driving in Nairobi would be impossible. Traffic jams coupled with negligent driving on bad roads become extremely infuriating. Vehicles crawl at very slow pace, save for the matatus that use the left shoulder despising the right of pedestrians who often scamper on the grass for dear life. The Highway Code states that overtaking is on the right, but matatus overtake on the left shoulder of the road.
Traffic-light controlled intersections are a circus of pandemonium for most drivers. One never knows when its right to obey the green traffic light or disobey the red light. One just has to follow what the other drivers are doing. This comes at a price; you either risk being pulled off road by an equally corrupt traffic officer demanding a bribe or get banged by another vehicle.

On a ride from Go-Down Theatre one evening, the taxi driver was honking and braking annoyingly that I asked him to desist from this habit. He looked at me as if I had just cursed his mother. I was coming from a meal of chapatti, ugali, githeri, nyama-choma and sukuma wiki. His repeated honking and braking was disturbing the already not so cozy digestion process in my stomach.
I ended up visiting the hospital that same night, reason being the stomach was giving unfamiliar ringing tones. When I entered the public hospital Out Patient department, a man in a wheelchair glanced at me with
horror in his eyes as if I had come to take a lung out of
his chest. He was the same cab driver who gave me a ride that very evening. He had a bandage covering half his face and a sling on his left arm. I guessed he had a fender-bender with another car.

The hospital was crammed with victims of a building that had collapsed the previous night. It is like they have earthquake here all time around. Late last year and early this year, two six-storey buildings under construction collapsed, killing over 20 people and injuring many others. Property and vehicles were damaged heavily when walls tumbled after heavy rains this January. This translates into millions of Kenya shillings in damages and loss.
A recent report stated that over 65% of the buildings in Nairobi are death traps. With the earthquake that devastated Haiti on the 12th of January, I fear for my life in most of the buildings around. If the earth were to quake in Kenya, [not that I wish for that] the similarly shoddily built apartments would cause much loss to life and damage to property. One might need a helmet in one’s hotel room in case the building collapses! When in Nairobi, Peep Less and Speak Less.
Capulet B. Chakupeta
Nairobi, Kenya

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