Eleanor Roosevelt said: “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
These words came to my mind while driving along Waiyaki Way when a passenger in the bus ahead of me threw banana peels out of the window onto the road. A biker on the left side could not avoid running over the peels and in a split second crashed into the embankment.
This was gross indiscipline but the bus driver did not stop. However, other motorists risked their lives to take the biker to hospital. The bus driver’s behaviour did not surprise me.
At one point in my life, I mortgaged my house so as to invest in a bus company. It was a nightmare for me when I discovered that all of my night shift drivers smoked marijuana.
Any time I talked them out of it, they would reply “Tajiri, hii ndio inatoa baridi” (Boss, this is what kills the cold). I could not take the risk any more.
Public transport, especially night journeys, have become death traps. Investigations are superficial and no post-mortem is ever done on drivers to establish if drugs were responsible or not. We simply continue sending our economically productive lot into early deaths.
I narrated my experience on Waiyaki Way to a group of friends, mostly professionals. From our discussion, I gathered that everything boils down to indiscipline.
Kenyans die daily because of our irresponsible behaviour. Pedestrians fight it out on Thika Highway with motorists yet there are over-pass bridges. At least a person dies there each day.
Pharmacists sell counterfeit medicines. Doctors give wrong prescriptions that kill patients. Lawyers steal insurance payouts from clients. Teachers fail to teach, creating a mass of undisciplined youth. Journalists are paid to malign innocent persons. The clergy is raping their female members of the flock.
There is no profession that has not been infected by the emerging irresponsibility: From land surveyors cutting deals on innocent people’s land to accountants helping clients avoid tax, from politicians stealing from the Constituency Development Fund to nurses sleeping in closets as patients writhe in pain.
We have failed ourselves. In technology language, when a computer keeps on giving you conflicting outcomes, you re-boot or restart. We need to reboot our country.
Mahatma Gandhi’s words encourage me that there is hope: “Manliness consists not in bluff, bravado or loneliness. It consists in daring to do the right thing and facing consequences whether it is in matters social, political or other. It consists in deeds not words.”
We have said enough words. Let, for example, my friend Michael Kamau, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Transport, cancel all driver’s licences and give a one-year moratorium to re-apply after a thorough training.
This can be achieved through a public private partnership. Similarly, all professional bodies should design a new curriculum on professional ethics that must be undertaken within a year.
Parliament must enact new laws against professional negligence and, if necessary, create special courts to handle cases of professional conmanship. Religious bodies must search through their conscience and reform.
Start public education on road safety. Our pedestrians walk everywhere and are oblivious to the risks. Consequently, we need to build sidewalks to minimise the risk of walking on roads.
County governments must discourage construction of buildings by the roadside and arrest planners who approve such structures. Develop a campaign on clean environment.
Most of these problems can be solved using technology. For example, there should be a requirement that all public vehicles be fitted with sensors to detect either alcohol or marijuana use such that when detected the vehicles are remotely immobilised.
Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras should be set up at all zebra crossings to catch speeding vehicles that pose a danger to pedestrians.
If we all love Kenya, then let us make it livable for all. We must all be our brother’s keepers. It is not possible to change how anybody thinks or act but individually we can do our bit.
Dr Ndemo is a senior lecturer, University of Nairobi and a former permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.