We live, again, in times where we are expected to achieve for ourselves.

But where is the reciprocity to make things better in an age of communal existence?

The rains have continued; the heaviest in recorded history so put this in perspective:- the rains are heavy, recorded history is short, recorded badly or misleading. The roads have suffered appalling flagging up the issues of design, build parameter and doing earlier build quality.

These are issues for us to take forward in terms of governance accountability and require The Elephant and other activist to assist us to organize around themes creating critical mass – civil society action as per accountability and responsibility frameworks.

Now: the but. But there are things we can do for each other day in day out as we all negotiate potholes and poor road design – together. We all have places to be and people to see.

Nairobi today is enjoying the thrills and many, many, spills of extra traffic; extra traffic a-top of the extra traffic already generated by the income now at the disposal of middle classes (Kenya is a MIC, Middle Income Country, according to parameters set by the World Bank Group – http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/mic – indeed they are a diverse group of countries). The price of fuel has fluctuated and the manner this has been communicated sends signals to those with cars – Has a bus or matatu fare fallen? No, so let’s drive ourselves .Get those cars out, drive them on the new bits of road. Oops, no one says about the gaps in the primary road network. No one seems to pressing developers on maintenance let alone necessary road load bearing improvements to roads as their lorries rip up secondary roads carrying away spoil from digging out of basement parking lots.

Driving all of us crazy, as so many people within society believe they have a right greater than all others to be somewhere early after leaving late.

Selfishness is something becoming confused with self-reliance on the one hand. On the other hand, which in some places nowadays surely does not know, nor cares, what the first hand is doing, selfishness is the survival of the fittest; beggar the rest. Then we have the extremes of not simply confidence and self-belief but over confidence and ego to the point of narcissistic behavior where everything is about self.

These points manifest themselves in the morning and evening standstills afflicting Nairobi, and, almost certainly, plenty of other cities across the continent and beyond. We have issues of traffic and a paucity of infrastructure. On a far greater scale we have issues with the inability to have a sense of community beyond those having adversity forced on them. There is a feeling among some they need to strike back at those forcing the adversity upon them. We have matatu and bus drivers being complained at by passengers when they do NOT overlap, when they do NOT push and shove and seek to break every traffic law in order to get ahead of the creeping queues ubiquitous across Nairobi (and Kampala and – insert name as applicable).

In the peripheral areas, geographically and societally, we see striking back become radical action; itself being manipulated by extremists. Are our traffic woes a symptom of deeper malaise that also underpins extremism? A question to ponder and one where few answers will be positive for short-term political expediency we see in endless campaigning for office across the region. Kenya’s political leadership issues? Personality sort of sorted, but structural issues? The same as the roads? Patched but of a quality? With a proper strategy to address past paucity of build quality? Linking the urban throughways with the necessary secondary road networks?

Matatus, the term usually applied to the almost ubiquitous twelve-seater minibus, have decided they have the right to break not only the law but also the sense of social norms. The chaos on the roads of Nairobi is due to a number of factors not the least un-roadworthy vehicles and poor driving standards. Underpinning this remains a social condition where we have been given signals by leaderships that being important means I can usurp the law, I can overlap traffic and drive the wrong side of the road because I could not get up in the morning. I have paid more for my car than you, or had a bigger car brought for me than you, therefore I must be ahead of you and I do not have to concern myself with the Highway Code. In fact, the insidious creep continues with those carrying diplomatic number plates now also feeling they can put some flashing lights in the front of their vehicles and drive down the wrong side of the road. Yes, everyone is more important than everyone else. If they lived on a desert island with no need to be mutually supportive maybe this would be true; but in a conurbation of six million people?

The paradox is there. I am important; so important I defy the very processes that brought me to power, I am sworn to uphold and where I (should be expected) offer good example. Then the roll continues; the role models are sending the wrong messages for social-ability. And we are lost in rhetoric of social media masking accountability and responsibility; as long as I can manipulate the processes and ensure opaqueness to any transparency reflecting badly on the paucity of leadership and the bad examples I am offering up.

Back to matatus and the awful road system. We have leaders showing us the way to go. People do have to make a living, transport operators included. Buses and matatus are moving more people to work than the endless streams of single occupancy cars jamming roads. So why not go with the flow and have priority lanes for fully occupied vehicles and those carrying 12 or more passengers? We do not even have footpaths in the vast majority of instances and continually see motorbikes using what paths there are. Even met a CD plated car driving a footpath to avoid traffic hold ups. No leadership; how can this country remark on issues when they simply act as those not respecting the law of the land?

Alas, the social malaise is such enforcement of any law is now beyond the day-to-day structures. The market and the capability to exercise power have left us in a situation where respect for each other appears to have been largely lost. Everybody else is pushing and shoving and being more important, then so will I. Getting my child to school is as important as the other people getting their children to school. My job is an imperative; I need to get there and set the work for others to do. I am a customer relation’s person. I am a legislator, public servant, quality control expert……the list goes on. The interesting thing is the vast majority of us pushing and shoving and showing so little understanding of how we move, work and live together entails we are exhibiting all the human traits we must subjugate when we get to work. Or when we are out with friends having a quiet drink, eating a well prepared meal over which we debate and moan about collective behavior, the state of the roads, the lack action by everyone and anyone not at the table contributing to the malaise we are all contributing to with selfish behaviour.

Selfishness has started to become narcissism. We have a social problem where we are becoming so self-centered, we are failing to distinguish our self from external objects, we are everything and everything must serve us. Particularly when in our metal boxes on rubber tubes driving toward our work place where we continue to show the same inability to be cooperative and collaborative? People use cars as status symbols but, seemingly increasingly, those with big posh cars think they have greater rights on the road than others. Are we now in danger of going the next stage where road rage manifests itself and when matters come to be sorted, the car make is taken into account in identifying who is at fault? Excuse me, but your Toyota Corolla has to give way to his Lexus.

Some questions:-

Can we use our roads and commuting along them as analogous with social, economic and political issues we are facing?

Are the issues laid out a result of narcissism or a cause of the wider malaise?

What is cause, and what is effect, of the setting we now have?

Is there, out there in the great time and space continuum possibly blocked in traffic, a counselor who is going to come and say to us – Enough! Let us do some infrastructure improvements and look again at how we drive. How we act toward one another in and outside our centrally locked boxes. Address these issues and you will start functioning again building mutuality in self-reliance lifting us away from what is becoming a social narcissism.

But is it a paradox? One last thought to ponder on. Is social media a major conduit for taking forward influence? Or are they yet more ways to express the individual without contributing to the social element of our self? As we see increasingly the prevalent use of mobile communication devices among drivers, then maybe we are even blogging about our despair to avoid the need for singular and communal action against those who should offer positive leadership, positive examples. Moaning about the traffic and bad drivers on the road could be diffusing the passion to cause those who continue to ignore the law of the land to be brought to account. To be superficial and avoid thinking how my own selfish action defy the need for decency of mutually supportive social living allowing self-reliance within a social structure of mutual respect because we know what is best and will always achieve this. Together.

To end on a quote:

“Unfortunately, we live in a sea of mediocrity in all walks of life. We live amid a fracturing of civility. Everywhere we go as consumers, we’re getting people who don’t want to reach into our hearts or know who we are; they want to reach into our wallets and get some money.”  Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks