When you talk about a developing country I believe infrastructure is one of the first issues that spring to mind for many. Or rather, the lack of it. Well, it’s for a good reason, isn’t it? It is however an almost universal issue. In New York, when not using the subway, I’d walk, as I often found it quicker, but more importantly less frustrating than being stuck in a cab (despite my craving for and deep love with Indian music). I’ve also had the pleasure to sniff in the
lovely fresh polluted Athens air, and laugh almost uncontrollably as me and a friend learned to cross the roads in Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon), whilst surrounded by a river of motorbikes not seldom carrying whole families. None of this prepared me for Nairobi traffic however. Not even remotely. It’s been… interesting… traveling around Nairobi making its acquaintance.
It’s not the reckless anarchy of the mini-buses which surely all must be driven by direct ascendants to Evil Knievel. It’s not the black clouds that spurt out of vehicles that probably can’t even be shopped for parts. It’s not the leisurely, obviously suicidal, highway crossing pedestrians that surely must assume that all cars in Nairobi are fitted with Formula 1 brake systems. It’s not about the unfortunate genetic defect of colour-blindness which seem to plague most drivers and thus makes them happily expect every light to be green. It’s not the washed away pavements or the potholes. It’s not the staggering amount of accidents. It is the congestion. The jams. The queues.
I might have spent more time stuck in traffic in my first ten days in Nairobi than in my entire lifetime previous. (Fine, that’s probably untrue, but I’m frustrated, OK!?) For every meeting I’ve spent an average of about 2½ hours stuck in traffic. (See, why I’m frustrated now?)
Now let’s extrapolate. Nairobi has a documented population from 2009 of just over 3.1 million (how one measures the slums here I have no idea). Let’s assume 1.5 million of them are adventurous enough to challenge the traffic gods on any given day (estimation made by a reliable and good taxi driver). Let’s also assume that everybody is stuck in traffic for 1½ hour on that given day. Yes, I’m intentionally keeping that number low.
1.5 hours * 1.5 million people = 2.25 million hours = 93.750 days = 256.9 years
For a country with a life expectancy of 54.1 years, this equates to 4.8 lives lost each day. Or 1733 lives per year. To put this in perspective, the amount of people who died in traffic accidents in Sweden, with a 9+ million population, in 2010 were 266. Trivialities such as the value of human lives aside, what do you think this has for an effect on productivity? Efficiency? How many business deals do you think fall through because people simply don’t show up in time? Or for the reader with a bleeding heart, how many do you think gets stood up every night?
There can be many arguments made about China, but they’ve understood this. So as we are stuck in traffic granted 256.9 years to study the Chinese signs covering many road works, I’m instilled with hope. One might even say it has a multiplier effect on my hope for the future.