Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Presidential transport hurts the economy


Sunday Nation 22 July 2012

Last week I needed to travel out of the country to attend a meeting of mental health researchers who, under the World Health Organisation, are driving the global research agenda in the field. To get to my destination, I had to get a flight from Eldoret Airport and connect with another flight at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport scheduled to leave three hours later.

Unfortunately, those of us using airports that day chose the wrong day to travel, for the Head of State was also arriving back home from a meeting in Ethiopia. To further compound matters, there was heavy rain in Nairobi with significantly reduced visibility.

As a result, our departure from Eldoret Airport was delayed due to what the airline described as “operational reasons”, but which an insider confirmed was due to the President’s arrival. Many flights out of JKIA were also subsequently delayed, and it is possible that some people may have missed onward connections in other international airports. Those using Mombasa Road and other roads in any way connected to the airport reported serious traffic congestion, partly for the same reason.

Economists have estimated the cost of traffic congestion to the national economy to run into billions of shillings. Were they to factor in the cost of unnecessary flight delays and the opportunities lost due to presidential interruptions and related issues, the cost would conceivably be much higher than it is at the moment

Creative ways

It therefore follows that this is an important enough issue that the government must have some strategy aimed at addressing it.

In my opinion, the first step must include calculating and finding creative ways of reducing the amounts of money lost due to delays and traffic jams caused by the presidential motorcade and those of other politicians.
It might turn out that the costs to the economy associated with presidential travel could be offset by ensuring that he lands at some separate airport and uses a helicopter to get around the city. A military airport would be ideal for this, and one could think of using the Eastleigh Airbase as the custodian of presidential transport.

Second, the old suggestion that a separate lane be constructed on major roads for the President and other ‘VIP’ travellers may need to be revisited. This may ensure smoother flow of traffic and a more predictable travelling time than is the case presently.

Finally, as has been pointed out numerous times before, Kenyans must learn to obey rules that they have made themselves, including traffic rules. The peculiar “me-first” mentality that permeates all our social interactions is unsustainable, and will eventually bring down our country. In my opinion, this mentality is a bigger threat to our national security than any terrorist threat we have ever faced.

With this in mind, perhaps it is time we apologised to former Safaricom CEO who raised a storm of indignation by suggesting that Kenyans have peculiar calling habits. The peculiarity of Kenyans is obviously not only confined to calling habits, but runs the entire gamut of human behaviour.

And it runs through the entire fabric of our nation, starting at the very top where leaders consider it a privilege to interrupt the national economy in order for them to get from one point to another.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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