Friday, 15 January 2010

Driving in Kenya

The first thing anyone asks me is what side of the road Kenyans drive on.

Well ... I am no expert, but I have covered a few thousand kilometres on my various visits to Kenya, so here goes.

Officially, Kenya drives on the left, like the UK, but unlike the UK, this rule has conditions, like which side has the fewest potholes, least traffic, fewest pedestrians, cyclists, other obstructions. That is the side you (or at least, they) drive on. Oncoming traffic is not a consideration. Flash your headlights, sound your horn … and go!

On occasion, where the road is in a very bad state of repair, you may will be overtaken by matatus driving along the verge. Marvel at how they miss the pedestrians.

Traffic lights – these work the same way as in the UK, when they work at all, the difference being that no one takes any notice of them, even the Police, who may wave you on against a red light.

Note: Arm signals from the police are not the same as in the UK. For a start, the officer will rarely stand in the middle of the road, he values his life too much. So he will stand on the edge of the road and wave at you. Don’t wave back, just go. If it is raining, the police officer will be hampered by his umbrella, so take extra care. He may not be waving you on, but just clearing excess water from his umbrella.

Whilst on the subject of the police, when driving, you are likely to come across a lot of roadblocks, comprising a hand-written ‘STOP’ sign and then two metal strips with 6” spikes in the road. At night, they may be illuminated – or not.

These roadblocks are manned by several officers carrying AK47 assault rifles and are there to catch drivers without licences, un-roadworthy vehicles, etc. for which an on-the-spot bribe fine is levied. The offender is then allowed to go on his way.

You may find several roadblocks in the space of a couple of kilometres, especially towards the end of the month, just before pay day.

Direction indicators. Where these are fitted to a vehicle and working (which is not always the case), they are used to indicate that the vehicle is about to turn left or right – perfectly normal.

A slow vehicle may use them to indicate that it is/is not safe to overtake it (right indicator = not safe; left indicator = safe to pass). Don’t blindly take the driver’s word for it. He does not know how powerful your vehicle is, or how hard you are willing to gun it.

Rear lights. These are compulsory, which means that about 50% of vehicles have them with at least one bulb working. Matatu, motorcycle and bicycle drivers think they are exempt from having working rear lights, or brake lights, come to think of it.

So if you are thinking about driving at night, a word of advice - don’t!

Roundabouts. The rule is if you are on the roundabout, you have right of way. No one follows this rule. The unwritten rule is, if you are bigger/braver/suicidal, you have right of way.

Motorbikes. These are indestructible and the riders are immortal. They will be driven anywhere on the road to avoid actually having to stop.

Matatus. See motorbikes. Also, expect a matatu to stop in the middle of the road without warning in order to disgorge or pick up passengers. Have patience, the poor guy is only trying to make a living and he doesn’t care if his passengers are mown down when they get out. After all, they have already paid.


Simon said...

Hi David, are you back in Kenya? If so, I'd like to talk about biodigesters. I'm willing to brave the roads as I don't drive so have to leave my safety in other hands.

KCIS said...

Hi Simon, Sorry, I am suffering the cold of the UK at the moment, but will be returning, probably in March or April - the sooner the better as far as I am concerned!
You can email me at david @ kcisupport dot plus dot com