Thursday, August 14, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
August 13, 2008

President Kibaki said it. Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the same thing. Both leaders spoke of the same thing at different venues in different functions. With immediate effect, the Mombasa Port will operate around the clock.
Along with the Port, the Kenya Government has decided to reduce the number of roadblocks to a bare minimum to facilitate the free movement of people, goods and services from Kenya to neighboring countries.

With renewed drive to repair the main highway from Mombasa to Malaba, coupled with pressure piling on Rift Valley Railways to perform, it is possible travelers passing through Kenya to neighboring countries will soon have something to smile about.

For a long time I have wondered at the wisdom of having forty-five roadblocks on an eight hundred kilometer road. That has meant that for every 15km, there has always been a permanent police checkpoint. Looked at another way, this means that a motorist driving from Mombasa to Busia or Malaba on the border of Kenya and Uganda is likely to be stopped forty-five times along the way.

With an average of 10 minutes stop time for police chit chat, faked inspection of worn out tyres, driving licenses and insurance policies, a motorist is likely to spend an extra seven hours on the Mombasa to Uganda border. This gets worse with large transport tracks that must again stop at the endless weigh bridges along the same highway.

The truth of the matter is that these police check-points have never served any useful purpose since independence. They have never reduced carnage or crime on our roads. If anything, they have been the cause of increased motor accidents on our highways. If truth be told, these police check-points have been erected to serve traffic police officers as sources of extra revenue. No wonder they have been nicknamed illegal toll stations by irate motorists.

A casual glance at how the traffic police operate tells a sad story of the moral decay in our law enforcement department. Passenger vehicles that we call matatus in Kenya that are really unroadworthy pass unnoticed as long as they grease the palms of these roadside taxmen. Due to entrenched corruption among our forces, these vehicles are packed to capacity, overloaded and crowded. They discard all manner of traffic rules and speed along our dilapidated highways at breakneck speed. And when accidents occur with several deaths reported, we hardly hear of any driver and owner of such vehicles arraigned in court for manslaughter.

Kenya’s traffic police should be transformed into a genuine Highway Patrol Police. In doing so, there will be no checkpoints and instead patrol traffic cars will be plying their areas of jurisdiction intervening in accident cases and arresting numerous traffic offenders such as speeding drivers, reckless drivers and smoking tracks polluting our environment.

On the issue of longer working hours, right now, neighboring countries like Ethiopia, Sudan and Somaliland have longer shopping hours than urban cities in Kenya. In Ethiopia for example, shops on the main streets open as late as 12 midnight. This also goes for Hargeisa in Somaliland. I know for a fact that in Dar es Salaam, most convenient stores remain open past 9pm in the night. It is therefore depressing that the most vibrant city in Eastern and Central Africa that is Nairobi cannot march Cairo in business hours.

As much as we welcome the political statements from Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki on the Port of Mombasa, Kenyans believe that these two leaders should go a step further and extend business hours in Kenya’s urban centres beyond 5pm which right now looks ridiculous.

Given its economic might and strategic position, Kenya can take the lead in igniting a chain reaction by making business a twenty-four-seven affair all over Kenya.
Imagine if Kenyatta Avenue became the Kana of Galilee Street in Cairo where business never stops and the street never sleeps, many more Kenyans would find jobs to keep up with service demands.

It is obvious that a vibrant 24-hour Mombasa Port, coupled with efficient police patrol will make it possible for more travelers in East Africa to spend nights reaching their destinations without the worry over night fall.
Yes, it is time we removed all roadblocks from our roads except at border points. It is time we deployed the bulk of traffic police personnel to other more deserving areas such as fighting crime in our cities.