Posted by: mzunguchick | October 3, 2007

Surviving Nairobi’s traffic!

There’s been a lot in the press recently, both local where people are furious, and even the international press, where people are probably just amazed really, about the traffic situation in Nairobi.

If you read anyone’s experiences of travel by road in Nairobi, I doubt you’ll find one of them that doesn’t mention the unbelievable traffic experience, the shocking state of the roads and the ridiculous drivers that we have to endure on them daily!

Sadly, our country has gone through various degrees of corruption and one of the offshoots of this state of affairs is that half the people on the road have probably never taken a driving test and although they hold licences, these have been bought for a small price off some dealer in River Road somewhere. Then there are the hundreds of unroadworthy vehicles that block the lanes all passing through the traffic police with a quick backhander or (a favourite with the hundreds of matatu drivers) just slow down through the road block and throw the money out the window! This means that all those marvellous vehicles just keep on going – no brake lights, bald tyres and that’s probably just for starters.

Finally we have the roads themselves. Well it turns out that we are gaily running along on a road system that was put into effect through a plan approved for Nairobi by the colonials back in 1948. Since then it seems that apart from the widening of a few roads and one new ‘Processional Way’ (to create a short cut from State House to town – very useful i might add…) that has been built in the last one year, we have not built a single road since independence in 1963.

That’s good news all round considering the number of new cars estimated to be put onto Kenyan roads every month is around 5000. You could basically say ‘We are well and truly stuffed!’

What this all means for the traffic is that of course you need to find ever more ingenious ways to get through it.

The matatus have a great plan. They zoom up the inside on the dirt on the side of the road where all innocent pedestrians get wildly hooted at and have to keep jumping into the ditch in order to survive. Then of course when they get to the junctions and back to single lane traffic, they just charge into you at full speed hoping you’ll dive out of the way to save your own car, which of course you generally do at all costs, … and they win!

This daily survival course is played out every morning on our way to school. I have taken to using a driver as i can’t be doing with the stress of it all. What amuses me is that if you dare to take on these matatus (which my driver will as he’s so much braver than me – and of course won’t have to pay the bill if he loses the battle!!) the drivers of these vehicles give you the most filthy looks and then hang out of their windows and start shouting at you for not allowing them in! ….

We had a great discussion the other day on what car you should be driving in order to survive (or not), and what it says about you. It was summed up as follows:

1. Range Rover/Land Rover or some other large sturdy 4×4 with the biggest ‘f… off’ bull bar you can find.
– This says ‘Don’t mess with me. I’m not afraid to use it! I can hit you harder!’

2. Merc
– This comes with a status tag and will generally gain you some respect on the road as generally all ‘WaBenzies’ (as those who drive them are known) will not allow you to even touch the paintwork without calling the cops and making you waste half your day standing on the side of the road waiting for them to show up.

3. Toyota Corolla
– Generally only driven by those with a death wish or keen on a seriously exciting, although sometimes lethal, game of dodgems of a morning. Matatu drivers have absolutely no shame about driving one of those straight off the road and into the nearest ditch, or, if you get caught on the wrong side, straight into the oncoming traffic. And seeing as almost half the cars on the road are Toyota corollas – it is incredibly tricky surviving in one.

So, my advice to anyone about to buy themselves a car in Kenya. First of all, new is not recommended. If it has a few scratches on the side before you buy it, so much the better as then you won’t feel so bad when you have your first ding – because you will have one no matter how safe a driver you think you are. It’s not about you darlin’, it’s about the other mad b………s on the road. For god’s sake, do not, whatever you do, buy yourself a Corolla as you’ll be lucky if you last a week without getting side swipped. The best recommendation is to invest in a whopping great 4×4 – the older the better – and fit the biggest and most solid bull bar you can find on the front, put your aggressive hat on and take to the road. – You’ll feel just like ‘Moses’ when the traffic parts ahead of you!

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