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World - Africa

Navigating Kenya's roads becomes a perilous journey

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Though driving schools are a lucrative business in Kenya, the country has one of the highest rates of road accidents in the world  

In this story:

No mass transit system

Stretches of road flooded for two years

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October 6, 1999
Web posted at: 11:46 p.m. EDT (0346 GMT)

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- Thousands of Kenyans flock to enroll in more than 200 licensed driving schools in Kenya, fueling a growing and lucrative business in training motorists to navigate the nation's dangerous roadways.

Yet less than 500,000 Kenyans actually possess driver's licenses. And those who do often fail to follow the rules.

"There are so many accidents because after they go through the driving school, they don't follow what they are told," said Hesmael Keya, of Rocky Driving School.

Kenya has one of the highest incidents of road accidents in the world -- reflecting an alarming increase in traffic- related deaths all across Africa. Many officials blame a growing number of rundown used cars imported from Europe and Japan, as well as poorly trained drivers, corrupt police and deteriorating roads and bridges for the problem.

No mass transit system

In Kenya, the lack of a functioning public bus system compounds the situation. With no license and no mass transit system, the majority of Kenyans must ride to work in cramped, privately owned minivans called "matatus."

However, these matatus boast a poor safety record. According to highway medics, at least 1,500 people die in matatu accidents each year -- more than five times the number who died in last year's bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

"So that tells you something about it," said Liz Staveley, of St. John's Ambulance service. "There was a world outcry when we had the bomb blast, but nothing happens because of the carnage on the roads."

Stretches of road flooded for two years

The government has been slow to make the roads safer. Parts of highways flooded by El Nino rains two years ago remain washed out. And getting out of a traffic violation is often as simple as passing out a few Kenyan shillings.

Kenya's Automobile Association says that the nation can expect the road fatality numbers to rise until the government enforces traffic laws and better regulates driving schools for the growing number of drivers.

"I think we're in an upward trend ... in the absence of a well-formulated road safety program," said the Kenya Automobile Association's David Njoroge.

Reporter Alphonso Van Marsh contributed to this report



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