On my way to work recently I noticed something odd on an SUV on Thika Road.
The car was sporting the whiteonred diplomatic plates, flying the German flag and its make was Japanese. Rather odd.
It is a diplomatic gaffe for any member of German delegation to be seen in a Japanese car, let alone put a flag on it.
The two nations are the giants of the automotive industry in the world, having relegated the Americans to the third slot. Toyota leads the world in car production, followed closely by the Volkswagen group.
Diplomats, whose job is to advance the interests of their economies abroad, should only revert to nonnational brands when there is absolutely no alternative, especially where heavy industry is concerned since it is so closely tied to national pride.
The South Korean ambassador should use a SsangYong and the French ambassador ride in a Peugeot. Germans should ideally drive around in something Teutonic, particularly because between Porsches, Mercedes’, BMWs and Audis, they would be spoilt for choice.
MURDEROUS FASHION ACCESSORY
However, the unfortunate crosscountry endorsement wasn’t the most shocking thing on the car.
The car had bullbars, and bullbars are the murderous fashion accessory whose job is to concentrate the impact of your car’s force during a collision on whatever it hits.
Having bullbars means that the chance of drivers killing whatever they hit is greatly increased. The front bumper of a car usually absorbs force and tries to crumple in a way that dissipates the energy from both the occupants of the vehicle and whatever is being hit, while bull bars do the opposite.
They are banned by the European Union, so these diplomats would never drive such a car at home. They are legal in Kenya on nonPSV vehicles and they increase the chances of drivers killing whatever they hit. They should be made illegal.
We are a poor country and therefore the car has captured the popular imagination. It represents freedom and financial success and is tied to masculinity. We still gloss over a lot of the ills that are due to the car that could easily be solved.
A while back a friend of mine was giving me a lift home. Before I got into his car he prefaced the journey with several apologies about how he usually smokes in his car and how he hopes it will not cause me discomfort.
“You drive a diesel, and you are concerned about the effect of cigarette smoke?” I asked him incredulously. I advised him (after he had dropped me home, of course) to continue smoking, but to seek some medical help about his chronic driving habit. That was the big worry.
It remains illegal to smoke in nonsmoking areas but diesel engines are welcome everywhere. Children going to school every morning are having their lungs tarred by exhaust fumes. Why is it that we are so hasty to protect our children from secondhand tobacco smoke but do nothing about diesel engines? Diesel kills a lot more people that tobacco ever will.
Burning diesel produces chemicals that light up the Ames test (the Ames test measures whether a chemical can make bacteria mutate, and therefore how carcinogenic the chemical is). Diesel produces some chemicals which have the highest potential to cause cancer known to man.
DEATH AND INJURY
Death and injury on the roads are still two widely ignored public health issues. Millions die and tens of millions are injured annually around the globe.
The hurt isn’t spread evenly, the poor record a lot more deaths from accidents than the rich. The rich world, with its excellent emergency medical services and improving roads, has managed to continue bringing down the number of deaths. Poor countries that have fewer cars have more deaths and the numbers are going up.
At a Coast General Hospital ward I saw the appalling cost of roads and how they smash up people beyond repair. Three thousand dead annually is the cost of business in using cars.
To this day I have never seen a car manufacturer fronting a road safety campaign despite their product being the offender. Oil sellers hardly make a peep about the dead and dying and brewers do a halfhearted job to stop the maiming that happens on roads.
Right now the roads are chockablock with jalopies because fuel costs have come down. This increased traffic congestion and its attendant pollution are making the capital hostile to human life. Kenyans will end up driving more and dying more. The lesson from Thika Road and its attendant morning jams is that the more roads you build, the more you encourage the habit.
Walking poor, driving rich
In Kenya the great majority does not use cars, yet billions are funneled towards building roads for the damn things. Private transport is subsidised by the commons; your children’s health is underwriting the pleasure of private drivers. The walking poor are subsidising the driving rich.
Let’s also blame car owners while we are at it. The last time I wrote in support of a 50kilometre speed limit my inbox levitated with disgust of motorists. High speed does not lead to more deaths on the road, I was told by these modernday flatearthers. The economy, the bloody economy will wither and die if we drive this side of the sound barrier.
I know more pollution is done by industry locally compared to cars, but, remember, industries are usually set away from residential areas. Cars are everywhere in the capital.
A car outside your house isn’t a symbol of prosperity; it is symptom of a failed national transport policy. We need a national car policy that will limit usage of private cars, actively discourage purchase of new cars, encourage use of efficient public transport and make our roads and cars safer. Transport is a service, not a product. We can measure the number of days the government takes to get round to sort out transport in deaths.
THE PRESIDENT’S NEW ADVISOR
Why Blair is a good bet for advisor
BRITAIN IS AN ODD COUNTRY. Its life expectancy is going up, with children born this year expected to hit 100, but their politicians are getting younger. The Premier and his deputy are both 48 years old, with the head of the opposition aged 45.
This means politicians face increasingly long retirement periods. Tony Blair is 61, retired and has a decade of experience at the summit of politics.
There is also an unstated agreement in British politics. The Premier is not well paid, and many civil servants, like the Cabinet Secretary, earn large multiples of what their boss earns. So the pay day for Premiers comes after they leave office.
Sir John Major is currently the chairman of Carlyle Group, which is the largest private equity group on earth. This is the same leader who presided over the tragedy that was Black Wednesday; the single worst day of international trading for the Sterling Pound.
That he gambled on the financial markets and lost badly doesn’t matter to the bankers who gave him the job.
What matters is that he served as the apostolic succession of Margaret Thatcher, is wedded to monetarism, and has a contact book of a lot of movers and shakers in the world. People who matter will pick his call.
BEST EXAMPLE OF PRINCIPLE
Gordon Brown will soon blast off into the closeted world of high finance; he was in charge of the purse strings in UK for too long to be ignored by high finance. An opening at the UN or the IMF might come his way.
Tony Blair is the best example of this principle. He has made a fortune in advisory roles across the world, from Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan to Rwanda. He advises large banks and international organisations. He even advised Obama at one point, and now he advises Kenya’s president.
Those who remember Blair’s dealings seem to be hang up on his failures. Those who remember the butchering of Baghdad forget the bailing out of the Balkans; those who remember his role in the massacres in Afghanistan forget his role in stopping the mutilators in Sierra Leone. They never mention how he brought peace to Northern Ireland.
The tragedy of being a politician, as Blair reminded us when he was in front of one commission or the other, is that “you begin when you are most popular and least capable and leave when you are least popular and most capable”.
Blair is too experienced in world politics to go away. Being leader of such an important country who presided over a decade of economic growth gives one an address book and experiences that are unequalled. He is skilled in the dark arts of international relations, too good a politician and, in his early 60s, too young to be an elder statesman like Jimmy Carter.
He can’t go back to local politics because since Winston Churchill there has never been a leader who left Downing Street only to come back. That is why he is an excellent advisor to Uhuru.
Appeasing the hangman
ONE OF my most favourite comedic characters is Sidney Bliss off the comedy The New Statesman. The show is a satire on the neuroses of the British Conservative party during the Margaret Thatcher era.
Sidney is a former executioner working as a barman who still misses his old job. He keeps asking his local MP Alan B’Stard to bring back hanging (which was done away with in the ’60s) so that he can go back to doing what he really loves.
His MP, in one episode, manages to get parliament to vote in support of hanging and in a comedic twist finds himself sentenced to death.
Sidney finally gets his chance to hang someone. He relishes the opportunity and in the run up to the big day spends time measuring the condemned man with tape measures like a tailor.
He explains to B’Stard that every hanging is unique and should be handled with care. It isn’t just about throwing a lever to open a trap door and waiting for the man to stop kicking. It is about making sure the rope is just the right degree of tightness and that it isn’t too long.
He uses a dummy about approximately the weight of the accused to ensure he gets the proportions right. Even in death care it is important to know the hangman makes the extra effort to make sure you enjoy your last outing.
I recently received a copy of the Salaries and Remunerations Commission’s list of “facilitative allowances payable in the public service.” Number 50 on that list is the “special duty allowance for executioners”.
Why do executioners need a special duty facilitative allowance? I assume that “special duty” involves the actual hanging.
It is hard to get a good hangman. India, with its 1.2 billion people and high unemployment, was unable to get hangmen for some of its states, and had to go on a nationwide appeal to fill positions.
Kenya stopped executing people close to 30 years ago. Though it remains on the statute books, usually a death sentence means that one languishes in a maximum security prison until one dies of natural causes.
Do Kenyan executioners, like The New Statesman’s Sidney Bliss, also need a bit of money to facilitate their going an extra mile and ensuring that murderers get a customtailored death experience?
I would appreciate it if the Salaries commission justifies still having this ridiculous expense on the books.
On my way to work recently I noticed something odd on an SUV on Thika Road.