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Our ignorance is costing the economy dearly

Being mindful of other people’s welfare no matter the circumstances is perhaps the simplest thing one can do to enhance progress and improve efficiency.

Unfortunately, this simple virtue often eludes us. A week ago, I was in Nairobi waiting for my foreign friends to arrive from the Masai Mara Game Reserve.

Ten hours later, I was informed that protesters had blocked the Mai Mahiu-Narok Road, bringing traffic to a halt, after a lorry ran over their cows, killing 26.

Although the truck had stopped at the scene, and the driver was co-operating, none of the protesters was mindful of the scores of travellers stuck on the road for hours. This was a police case. They should have allowed other road users to drive through while the matter was being sorted out.

As a consequence of this enforced delay, many of the travellers, including my friends, missed their flights.

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Two days later, I travelled to Naivasha. What was meant to be a joyful ride, turned out to be a nightmare.

Faithful had decided to erect a dais on the Naivasha-Nairobi Highway complete with a red carpet running onto the road for their prophet to greet them while on his way to Nairobi.

The trouble is that they did not know the time he would arrive. This meant that they interfered with traffic from noon till 7pm when he arrived. Why they couldn’t communicate with cell phones in this day and age is a mystery.

The police were busy all day directing traffic. Obviously, they should not have engaged in that exercise if the stopover was well planned.

My friends who had travelled to Mombasa by road were stuck on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway for hours simply because a truck had stalled.

Instead of motorists agreeing to use the narrow part of the road in turns like civilised people, they decided to create multiple lanes on each side, effectively blocking every possible passage and ensuring that nobody moved.

The gridlock extended for 30 km and lasted for days. It was even reported by the international media.

I have tried to find a word to sum up these experiences that are costly, not just to the victims but also to the economy. Unfortunately, I have not been able to come up with a better word than ignorance.

Ignorance perhaps fits all the three examples I have cited. In all these instances, no one seems to have engaged the brain bearing in mind the costs to innocent others.

Our ignorance is costing us dearly. Ignorance that planners of the Mai Mahiu-Narok Road did not think hard and see that they needed to provide designated crossings for livestock.

Ignorance that we can allow hundreds of people to stand dangerously close by the roadside, risking their lives in the name of waiting for their prophet.

Or perhaps it is the ignorance of road designers who failed to provide designated stopovers for our prophets and their followers.

Ignorance that we cannot wait for our turn to share the road. In developed countries, the design of the road network is made with several options in mind, taking care of the needs of other users.

In Africa, we need to be more inclusive in our highway designs, including building underpasses for livestock and wildlife.

It is not uncommon to find travellers sleeping on Mombasa Road due to similar inconveniences.

Designing our highways with our peculiarities in mind would minimise costs that are associated with the nature of our road use. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that users of the roads are not just motorists.

They include many other people who are ordinarily excluded from proper education on road use. It is therefore imperative that road use education is extended to all other users.

Regarding impatient drivers who fail to use common sense and share the roads, the best possible solution is to strictly enforce the law equally.

Failing that, all driver licences must be cancelled and everyone made to go through a thorough cultural orientation and training.

To the face of a foreigner who misses their flight because we cannot sort out our problems legally, it is an unforgivable act that destroys our image abroad. It is imprudent to continue promoting the country when we cannot deal with small, destructive matters.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s Business School.

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