I was struck by an article that appeared in the Economist on 09 September 2010, entitled “Modelling Traffic Flows.” The article talks about how mathematicians are making progess in modeling traffic jams. Normally, this is not the type of article that would have caught my attention in the Economist, had it not been for the fact that I have just arrived in Nairobi, where the word “traffic” takes on a whole new meaning.
My drive to work on a day without traffic takes 3 minutes. However, with the traffic it can take up to 1.5 hours. Part of the issue is that everyone has exactly the same working hours (and apparently stick to these meticioulsy). Therefore, if you are trying to travel anywhere around 8am or 5pm, be prepared to wait.
The second issue is the matatu and bus drivers. Matatus, mini vans, are one of the main modes of transport here in Nairobi. During rush hour, they will manage to create extra lanes, on roads that are already congested , they will stand in the middle of crossings, completely blocking the little flow of traffic that is left, and don’t ever try and cross in front of one, as they will certainly not stop (I am told, this is because they are literally not liable if they run you over and they definitely take this to heart).
However, whilst world class mathematicians busy themselves modelling traffic jams, I strongly believe consulting Kenyan matatu drivers is the way forward. Because whatever situation you are in and if it seems like an impossible mess, the matatu drivers will find a way out – business is business in Kenya after all.