Thursday’s strike by matatu operators who were protesting over the impending implementation of the tough new rules on road safety raises important questions about our national culture.
There appears to be a general belief that impunity is the preserve of politicians and senior civil servants who cannot keep their fingers off the public’s cookie jar.
However, an analysis of our society easily reveals that the culture of disobeying laws and disregarding the welfare of others is pervasive and knows no class or ethnic boundaries.
Nowhere is this more manifest than on our roads, where drivers — mostly of public vehicles — flout rules without the slightest regard for the safety of their passengers or themselves.
On any given day, traffic rules especially in towns are suspended between 6pm and 8am. Roads become, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, a state of “all against all”. This no doubts about the inability of motorists to police themselves.
Even in otherwise busy areas, buses regularly drive on the wrong side of the road, keeping right even in roundabouts while the drivers routinely accelerate whenever they see hapless pedestrians trying to run across the road because they have no room to cross in a civilised and dignified manner.
And that, in my view, partly explains why the Chinese contractors who designed and built the Thika Superhighway have ended up bequeathing us what is for all intents and purposes a controlled prison for motorists.
In truth, the constricting piece of infrastructure was built that way because of the wanton indiscipline that characterises motoring in this country.
Kenyan drivers can hardly be trusted to obey traffic rules unless they see a policeman or are confronted with the undeniable possibility of facing the full force of the law.
Because of the bad attitude, the unserviced vehicles, the drunk drivers, the headlights that don’t work at night and other human errors of omission and commission, road crashes continue to take a high toll on families.
Many — myself included — have lost loved ones or have had to shoulder the heavy responsibility of caring for those who have been injured or have lost their abilities to earn livelihoods due to accidents, some of which could have been avoided if incidences of careless driving could be reduced and basic courtesy on our roads improved even by one percentage point.
Though many Kenyans braved the inconvenience of having to walk for lack of transport Thursday, it behoves all to take the time to debate the new laws which take effect tomorrow and the implications they have on improving safety on our roads.
For instance, although many commuters do not mind when matatus overlap, they will be the first to complain when the same matatu lands in a ditch as a result of such dramatics. Is this not a contradiction?
True, some of the rules that Parliament has passed — such as life imprisonment for causing the death of a pedestrian or other road user — border on being draconian when, for instance, one takes into consideration that there are road users with suicidal tendencies.
But, and this is the indictment that MPs were passing on the Kenyan society, many Kenyans function peculiarly unless all their actions are regulated by law.
And because traffic police are outnumbered by offenders, now MPs have decreed that all police officers enforce traffic regulations, including the AP at your local chief’s camp.
In short, this is a self-inflicted thorn and road users are solely to blame for the hard place that they now find themselves in under the harsh new law.