Editorial: If Civility Stops in Traffic Already
Monday, 18 January 2010

My name is Andrea and I have anger issues.

Now that may well be because I am short-tempered and mean-spirited. It may also be because occasionally, I have to venture out of my house for purposes other than walking The Doglet around my neighbourhood. And that inevitably involves an engagement with traffic.

The other day, driving along a busy mid-day Gitanga Road , I was overtaken by a big green bus of a company that is owned by an elected representative of the people. Yes, Mr Thuo, I'm looking at you. This big green bus lurched out behind me, into the oncoming traffic, avoiding the vehicle on the other lane narrowly, and then slammed back into our lane in front of another unsuspecting car. What's so remarkable about that, you wonder, with a barely suppressed yawn? In this case, the oncoming vehicle was an ambulance. With its emergency lights on, i.e. indicating that it was carrying a medical emergency. Not even that stopped the bus driver from his borderline-criminal behaviour.

Now you might argue that it is naïve, unreasonably so, to expect a politician of all people to impose some minimum standards of decency affecting the wider society in his or her company. But it got me thinking about business and governance and politics, too. Unless corporates keep slapping back, and nudging along, that obese and multi-tentacled creature that is the grand coalition, we may just as well shut shop. Kenya 's strong private sector has been the core of this country's resilience, and in a recent article on Kenya 's painstakingly slow recovery from its election crisis, the Economist adds, almost as an afterthought, that " Kenya functions best where the government does not intrude. The country has the most vibrant business sector in east Africa ."

I do count on the good people attending the Prime Minister's round table and on associations such as KAM, KEPSA and the EAA to keep knocking some sense into politicians and demand action from them rather than let them perennially gallivant around villages to be crowned by any random subset of elders and declare their presidential ambitions . The CEO's Forum in early 2008, organised by Michael Joseph and others in the middle of the post-election violence, was driven by such sentiment: that politicians cannot be entrusted with the welfare of this economy. But then business does not stand separate from either politics – many comfortably straddle both sectors and, as a consequence, often have an underdeveloped appreciation of the concept of conflict of interest – or society. Even the CEO's Forum, I remember, could do little to overcome tribal divisions, and those who attended were perhaps as important as those who stayed away, silent and powerful players in the background. How many business leaders have contributed to fundraisers for tribal militia?

Traffic, to come back to my starting point, is just one of the most basic environments of dealing with each other, and whilst I am sure (unless anyone shows me evidence to the contrary) that matatu drivers ride home to a dark tower on winged Lord-of-the-Rings-type creatures in the evening, I am always baffled that seemingly normal citizens suddenly decide they are, in some tropical version of Animal Farm, more equal than I am – and shove past me in traffic on the opposite lane, making me and a whole lot of other people wait longer. If we cannot treat each other with basic decency in traffic, then how is that going to work in business?

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