Last week when travelling from Nakuru to Nairobi I saw the driver tack in a shillings 50 note into his driving licence. I asked him what traffic law he had broken given that he hadn’t carried any excess passengers, he had asked all passengers to put on their safety belts, he wasn’t speeding, and most importantly he had not overlapped despite the slow moving traffic. He told me that if his driving license doesn’t have the 50 shillings note, then we’ll all have to spend hours at the police stop until the cops find a law the driver had broken. “No police officer”, he said, “expects Kenyan drivers to obey traffic laws”.
In major highways you’d find most of the Kenyan drivers trying to observe the traffic laws as much as they can, despite the reality that they must part with the Kshs 50 at every police road block. On rural roads and a few highways, including the highway that connects Thika Town and Nairobi, the Kenyan drivers have decided to pay no attention to the traffic laws. The drivers on those roads carry excess passengers by force, speed, and overlap. This they do to recoup the bribes they must pay to the traffic police. It is obvious therefore that in Kenya, there is no incentive to keep the damn traffic laws.
This contrasts sharply with Tanzania which has corrupt traffic police officers too. In Tanzania however, the traffic bribery work in a manner that disciplines the drivers, forcing them to keep the traffic laws at all times, especially during the day. We had first hand experience on this when in 2014 we took a road trip from Kenya to Dar-es-salaam via Arusha and back to Kenya via Dodoma-Mwanza-Sirare route. The three days trip forced us to obey the Tanzanian traffic laws even when there wasn’t a traffic police officer on site. We were forced to obey all traffic laws, including obeying speed limits placed by the road sides in remote village centres, simply because we discovered the Tanzanian traffic police only stops those who have actually broken one of the few traffic laws the traffic police play closer attention to; including observance of speed limits, overlapping, and having important safety gadgets in the car.
The other important divergent between Tanzania and Kenya is the instant fine system. The Tanzanian traffic police carry with them forms listing the different traffic offences, and the fine on each offence. Interestingly, the most expensive fine was a Tshs 60,000 which came to about Kshs 3,000. Most of the fines were those that required the drivers to part with Kshs 200 to Kshs 1000. The low cost fines means many Tanzania drivers prefer to pay the fines, instead of bribing the police officers. When a driver pays a fine like Kshs 1000, the same driver will be forced to be alert to not break any other traffic law so as not to part with another Kshs 1000 or more.
Kenyan drivers are however forced to opt for bribing traffic police because the fine option is way too expensive. A typical speeding problem for example would require a Kenyan driver to part with an upward of Kshs 20,000 if the driver is taken to court. The driver therefore would rather bribe the officer with Kshs 1,000 to get away with the speeding problem. If the driver is a PSV driver, and is known to be paying a Kshs 50 bribe for every trip, then his speeding is overlooked. This explains why the Kenyan drivers including probox drivers at rural areas always carry excess passengers, because whether or not they abide by the traffic laws, the traffic police will have to demand from them a Kshs 50 bribe. How else should they raise this bribe except by breaking a few laws?
The Kenyan traffic police do not expect Kenyan drivers to obey traffic laws, and this has become the traffic culture. The Kenyan drivers on the other hand have evolved into this ruthless lawless rude lot that pay no heed to whatever traffic laws say. They have become impatient, unkind, and most importantly they lack courtesy. These vices have been inculcated in them over time to a point where there is probably nothing that can be done to reverse the trend.
In a culture where traffic police see drivers as guilty by default, the average citizen shouldn’t expect the drivers to be anything other than guilty. That is, since there is no benefit for being innocent, where instead being innocent means paying a heavy price either in wasted time or wrongly being accused of having broken some traffic law, the better thing to do is to be guilty. More so, the traffic police have made the guilty Kenyan drivers have an easy way out of their imagined or real guilt, making it more reasonable to have a real guilt than a non-existent one.
In summary, Kenyan drivers have all the right to break traffic laws as long as traffic police demand to be bribed whether or not traffic laws are broken.