Monday, June 14, 2010

Traffic Jam at 2:00 pm

So I'm driving back from city-sides this afternoon at around 2:00 in the afternoon, and to my surprise there's crazy traffic. I thought to myself: 'Where the heck are all these office folks going? Shouldn't they be food-comatose in the corporate rec room trying to digest the day's portion of ugali-samaki?' Apparently not.

I am evidently still getting used to the New World Order of traffic in Bongoland, and I spend much of my time trying to maintain my composure while navigating the general chaos. But who expects traffic at two in the afternoon? It was full blown misbehavior all around- cars overtaking on the left and on the right, people driving down the wrong lane*, pedestrians testing my braking skills, kuchomeka, gridlocking, totally inappropriate lane-changes, those (expletive deleted) bajaj... you know how it goes.

It all put me in mind of something that was said during an excellent discussion recently on the politics of development. In other countries (alert: totally unquantifiable generalization), traffic takes care of itself when there are no cops around. I had the chance to see this in South Africa at some four-way intersections where people went one by one all around- no gridlock, no road rage.

Can't we just do this in Bongoland? I figure (and we all more or less agreed during said excellent discussion) that it is because of those all-important substructures. Call it culture, informal institutions, whatever. See, in other countries (warning: seriously unquantifiable generalization) folks are used to taking care of business for themselves. Active citizenship, like. This means that they don't need to rely on the state, i.e. traffic cops, to come up with a set of rules for them to get on with life. But I am optimistic- something's going to give.

Remember the bad old days when folks would not queue up at a bank and just skip the line, coming up to the teller while you were still counting your loot? Not so much anymore. I suppose that we are on the same slow learning curve with our road manners. And I figure, once we can deal with each other somewhat politely on the road, much of the rest should take care of itself.

Aside: the Mo Ibrahim foundation has decided not to award anybody for the second year running. But they have announced an initiative to incubate talented young African leaders of tomorrow. Tenterhooks.

*Seriously? Only if you are The President, The Prime Minister, or The Army. Otherwise you are asking for it, and it shall come to you.


  1. for an example of no traffic police, no fixed rules, just common sense and get on with things see:


  2. Hey Rakesh-

    That is one seriously hypnotic video- thanks. I remember reading something on a flight sometime back (KLM prolly) about an experiment in Amsterdam where one neighborhood was subjected to this 'no rules' traffic experiment where all forms of locomotion were respect. Result: a significant decrease in traffic incidents! (alert: don't ask me to point out an article about it, buddy, but something about chaos or game theory approaches to traffic).


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