Bicycles and Roundabouts

Every beginning of the year, the fates of thousands of Kenyan children and teenagers are casually determined when the national exams results are announced with the much attendant pomp and fanfare that accompanies everything official in this country – from dubious population census results (by the way how many of us are out there? This blog estimates 40 million, hence the title) to the latest HIV Indicator survey results and even to opinion polls….being the simple folk that we are, nothing is ever complete without the good old drumroll. And ribbon cutting. And shiny gift wrapping. Everything is gift-wrapped with a fancy ribbon bow to match even when doom and despair is contained within. Kenya style.

The Kenya National Examination Council, as stuffy as only councils are, routinely ranks children and schools based on their performance in the national exams. And then predictable pandemonium breaks loose. The newspaper headlines during this period for the last 20 or so years have remained the same, as have been the photos and captions of stellar students being carried shoulder high, and gushing on TV at the prodding of our stellar journalists how they want to be doctors and engineers, of students and teachers bursting out in praise and worship songs invoking hard work and discipline as the key to success……meanwhile, a small, almost insignificant percentage will not be celebrating. Reports abound of many students who kill themselves because they felt they were not good enough, that they failed their parents and everybody else who believed in them. The tragedy here is nobody pays attention to this or even notices…i mean, there are all these stellar students to interview, right?. So, do we really need national exams or the stuffy council running it? Especially when the test papers are offered for sale? Is it fair to rank a poor school in Tana River with Aga Khan School in Nairobi? What happens to the rest of the kids who cant find a place in a secondary school or public universities? I know – find them a bicycle or a motorcycle and let them transport fellow simple folk for a living. And vote in dubious politicians who take advantage of their plight. Vision 2030? Let’s face it. Kenya can only hope to be a nation of happy peasants if it does not radically transform its education system. We cannot attain Vision 2030 or any other vision if the youth spend their time on bicycles, grinding away their future. Figuratively and literally. 

Roundabouts. Hmmm. With beautiful landscaping (some even have water fountains cascading!!). And no lighting. Or signage. Or traffic lights. Or traffic lights that work. Uhuru Highway has about 4 of them in a 2-3 kilometer stretch. Incidentally, Uhuru Highway connects a large section of Nairobi with Mombasa Road which delivers one to JKIA (if you are lucky enough to realize at  the last instant instead of continuing along Mombasa Road to Mombasa!!…signage is largely frowned upon in Kenya). Hundreds more roundabouts are found in the major districts of Nairobi and in other towns. Roundabouts are not entirely a bad thing IF the traffic lights on them actually worked and motorists could tell their colors apart. Roundabouts would especially work better if there were NO traffic cops associated with them. The cops stand on the street in direct contravention of the Highway Code and in direct endangerment to themselves and other users (our traffic cops must be the bravest or dumbest in the world. Sadly i suspect the latter to be more representative of the actual situation), and using native intelligence akin to those associated with goat herders tending to their flock, attempt to “control” traffic. With often disastrous results.  One can literally slice through the angst generated by motorists who sometimes spend close to 20 or even more minutes on idle, wishing they could pulverize the dumb cops into dust, and then pulverize the bloody roundabouts, cascading fountains,  traffic lights and all!! Has anyone in any of the following organizations heard of the term INTERSECTIONS?? – Nairobi City Council, Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) and the Kenya National Highway Authority (KENHA)????

On a light parting note – a colleague not familiar with driving on Nairobi roads chanced upon a roundabout and drove around it for almost 10 minutes as he did not know how to exit it or where to go from there. This is an argument for Intersections and Signage. Come on Nairobi, it is 2013 after all!!

Have a roundabout-free week, and do get outraged when you chance upon one, without running over the goat-herder-turned-traffic cop standing in the middle of the road.

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