The business behind being stuck #1

Introducing Nairobi's traffic nightmare

What do you think about the traffic in Nairobi?” Before Max, my Nairobian friend can answer, he almost gets squeezed by two matatus; the local busses and mini-vans that are infamous for their aggressive driving style. “Business unusual or business as usual?”, he questions me back while laughing.

Nairobi is East-Africa’s most important economic hub, and it’s growing at a tremendous pace. Since 1986 the population has doubled. Originally build for 100.000 people, this city now host more than 3 million inhabitants. Kenya’s projected 4.3% annual urbanisation rate is more than double the global average of 2 percent.

It may come as no surprise that the city is falling short in creating a transport system to keep up with its growth. A fate that many urbanizing nations face, resulting in never ending traffic nightmares.

Traffic jams in Nairobi ©Africa Business Magazine

“Europe had 100 years to adjust to the number of vehicles and urbanisation that is happening in Africa over 10 or 20 years. So this is taking people by surprise. The growth is much faster than how it can be responded to.” (Nanjala Nyabola)

But Nairobi has some more characteristics standing in the way of progress. For starters, Nairobi has an extremely centralised layout. Almost all government offices are located in a tiny central business district. These offices al maintain a strict 8 to 5 policy, which means that every morning possibly millions of people are pouring into this small area; and between 4.45pm and 6.30pm they all have to move out again.

Let me tell you, the result is chaos! An almost never-ending traffic jam in which traffic rules seem nonexistent. Can you imagine waking up at 5.30 every day to be in an overcrowded minivan for 2 hours, covering a distance of 10 km, and repeat that same routine after work?

Hell no, not me! I’ll rather walk, like most Kenyans still do by the way.

Nairobi traffic, the matatus culture ©Wired

And I can continue. The growing economy insures exploding car sales, corrupt police officers and driving teachers are easily bribed by unregistered and illegal drivers. Poor road conditions, the lack of basic vehicle safety standards, it all contributes to Kenya’s bad traffic reputation. Imagine that road accidents are now the leading cause of death among 15- to 29- year-olds. Traffic accidents kill more people than malaria in many African countries, including Kenya.

“So is it like this everyday?”, I ask my friend Brian when strolling through the CPD. He tells me it can actually get worse.

“Don’t even try getting to town when it’s raining, or on payday, the streets will be so packed!”

But……, yes there is a big fat BUT. The roads in Kenya also generate a lot of jobs. Mechanics, construction workers, drivers; in all kinds of sectors, people earn a living due to traffic. As much as traffic is an urban challenge, it also creates opportunities. Therefore, in the next stories I’m trying to find out more about the business behind being stuck. Stay tuned!

This publication was published on The Urban Detective. You can access the original version here

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