By Bephine Ogutu
It is Tuesday, 5 p.m. A screeching sound is heard immediately followed by a loud bang. Screams fill the air in short order. Curious and confused, people rush to the scene. In minutes, a huge crowd has gathered. People shake their heads in disbelief.
The Southern Bypass, along the Kibera stretch, has claimed another life, the third in the space of one month. Jakindu, a male in his late thirties, was attempting to cross the bypass oblivious of the fact that this was his last day. The excitement the bypass brought upon its completion has now turned into a death trap.
Construction of the southern bypass, which started in 2012, follows a trend in which the Government is increasingly relying on bypass roads (there are now plans in place to construct a western bypass), the opening up of once-moribund link roads and the heavy use of interchanges as a key feature of road design to reduce traffic gridlocks within Nairobi and in some of the country’s major towns.
Residents along the Kibera stretch of the southern bypass are now a fearful lot. Perhaps it is their fault – there are no designated footbridges, or pedestrian crossings, and the message is clear: this is not a crossing area. Despite the dangers it poses, it has not received the required attention by media or government; it is a silent black spot.
This particular stretch is also famous for carjackings and gunpoint robberies, both before and after construction, and this must be one of the reasons motorists tend to drive at a high speeds despite the fact that it is a residential area. It is believed that most of the robbers come from or hide in the slum.
According to one Ojiambo Ainea, thugs brandishing guns stopped a saloon car and violently robbed the driver. In an amateur video he posted on Facebook, Ojiambo describes how the thugs have caused fear among the residents of National Housing Cooperation (NHC) estate. The thugs later ran towards Kibera after accomplishing the daring robbery.
Police have repeatedly carried ambushes and raids along the bypass but this doesn’t seem to reassure motorists.
Last year in October, shortly after the killing of the Director of Rasasi Investmen, police arrested one suspect who was found erecting illegal barriers using huge stones. His accomplice escaped.
For now, a lot of entities can be blamed for this trend. But unless police can assure motorists of their security by constantly patrolling the section, it is almost impossible to convince them to drive at reasonable speeds, and to watch out for pedestrians crossing the section.
Despite the demolition that was carried out prior to the construction, structures have continuously been re-built along the road reserve. There are also no proper barriers to protect the residents from, say a speeding 10-tonne truck that might lose control and come hurtling down. The thought of what a loaded transit vehicle could do is unimaginable.
The presence of the double traffic road barrier has not provided residents with the feeling of safety either, which is its intended purpose. This is as a result of considerable damage inflicted on the traffic barriers, with one transit vehicle recently uprooting them totally at one place. Luckily, the incident occurred very late in the night –children normally use the little space left in between the road and houses as a playground during the day. Residents escaped death by a whisker as the vehicle slightly scratched the wall.
Being a residential area, the erection of bumps should be considered despite the fact that this is a highway. This stretch is also devoid of traffic signs to warn pedestrians. One almost thinks this is deliberate; it is supposed to be an expressway after all. But, given the situation as it is, perhaps it is time the authorities considered erecting warning signage.
The presence of a single underpass, used by both motorists and pedestrians, to serve the expansive area, mocks the road safety efforts employed by the government. The construction of at least two footbridges should be considered to prevent further losses of life.
It is all not gloom, however, as a wall is currently being constructed towards this stretch. It is every resident’s hope that the wall will fully serve its intended purpose.
But the question still remains; will it be able to sufficiently shield residents from the dangers posed by motorists? It certainly won’t deter the highway robbers!