My lower elementary school teacher was fond of making executive decisions, not that it was our business. And we usually didn’t get affected much, until she made a decision to paint our classroom window panes blue. We couldn’t look out. We had to endure an entire lesson with nothing but the teacher upfront to stare at.
That was excruciating. We would hold hands in prayer and pray to the gods of lightning to strike her dead. That, of course, didn’t happen.
In Eastern province, then, many a folk tales have been told about legendary Miraa Pick-up drivers. Yes, those were legends. They were in a class up there in between Nobel-Prize-winning famous people like Wangari Mathaai and the ancient fountain of wisdom, Mahatma Gandhi.
Not that they did amount to much, any ways. Most often, these Miraa drivers were an ethically lost bunch swinging to and fro between drug laden fiestas and a bevy of lovers scattered in townships along the route. Hardly would they outlive their 30s’.
Any who, every break time in primary school, we would line up along the school fence and watch Toyota Hilux Pick Ups’ laden high with Khat zoom by at high speeds. It was fascinating.
My class teacher didn’t get much from us in terms of ambition, most of us aspired to be Miraa drivers. It was glamorous. And the girls in the class would be content to be potential wives to aspiring drivers. In class four, I was already assured of landing a wife.
Years later, I finally came around to forgiving her for painting those window panes blue.
One crisp blue Monday, while we are throwing stones at one of the mango trees behind the school latrines, one of the drivers in a convoy lost control of his Hilux, shot up the slope and flew over the school’s cedar fence, landing on the side just outside our class. He was badly cut up by broken glass, but conscious. When it came to a standstill after a lengthy skid on its side, out he came, bleeding profusely from the face and neck, brandishing a machete.
It wasn’t a pretty sight.
That was the first serious meeting I ever held with myself, aged just 9. No, I didn’t want to be a Miraa Pick Up driver. The man kept brandishing a machete at wide-eyed school children until an identical Hilux truck arrived half an hour later to recover the precious cargo. They didn’t even bother taking the poor man to hospital.
Sadly, a decade or more later, nothing much has changed.
Miraa vehicles continue to cause havoc and misery on the Meru-Nairobi Route with reckless abandon. Impunity of the highest order. Mostly riding on myths and folklore, the drivers continue to harass and endanger the lives of other motorists and pedestrians. The numerous police road blocks along the route are impervious to the excesses of this lot, despite numerous accidents claiming countless innocent lives in freak accidents along the route.
What is it with this drug?
How valuable is this drug that it equates to the death of two citizens in the early evening of April 31 at Nithi Bridge?
Or, barely two weeks later, the sad demise of two passengers in a PSV van in Mwea?
Well, a lot has changed. The Hilux Pick-Up traditionally used to transport the drug didn’t have as high a death tally as other transport options that have been introduced. The insufferable Toyota Probox is a serious contender for the top spot, a popular choice to ferry the Muguka brand: a cheaper drug knock off leaf of the traditional Miraa twig.
Then, we have seen an introduction of the Isuzu FSR truck. This arrived on the scene around the time the government had banned night travel. These transport the drug from Meru County to the coastal regions, Mombasa to Lamu. They are high, and fast. Add intoxicated, careless drivers to the equation. Results are dangerous, and almost always fatal.
On April 31st, Roy Mati* and a close friend, Susan Kaari* had had dinner at a scenic restaurant on the banks of Nithi River, with an intersection just after Nithi Bridge. Just as they left the restaurant to join the main road to their residence in Chogoria Township, a speeding Isuzu FSR lorry had rammed head on into their Toyota Axis, crushing them. They had died shortly after the impact.
The lorry had then lost control and flipped onto its side. Luckily, the crew wasn’t hurt. They had then come out with machetes to defend the cargo, note, not make an attempt to rescue the trapped passengers in the saloon car they had just crushed.
In the months of 2019 alone – January to May, a record 16 accidents have happened along Meru -Nairobi Highway involving the erstwhile Toyota Hilux Pick Up’s, Isuzu FSR Lorries and the insufferable Toyota Probox, laden with Muguka from the Embu-Mbeere regions.
Reported deaths have reached a tentative 21 innocent people, and 6 crew members. Many more continue to nurse life term injuries, livelihoods forever shattered and affected.
The Isuzu FSR Lorry, for instance, is particularly dangerous. It’s operated at night, mostly, to transport the precious cargo to the coast. It’s raised high, above most normal saloons on the road. What makes it more dangerous, is that the drivers rarely dim their lights at night, in a misplaced notion to intimidate other road users.
Lucky, close survivors after an encounter with a speeding FSR Lorry, compare it to a plane on a runway, lights flashing, on the verge of takeoff. And they have larger turning angles, meaning, on bends and curves, they take up most of the oncoming traffic’s lane.
Lots of theories have been put forth by Khat advocates as to the drug’s perish-ability being justification for fast, reckless driving. That’s sheer hogwash. I have seen expansive flower farms in Naivasha and its environs. I have seen flower vans taking the commodity to airports in Nairobi, but I haven’t heard of a flower van crushing pedestrians or ramming into oncoming traffic. Have you?
Which is more perishable? Khat or flowers?
How many fish vans from Kisumu have overturned on the highway to Nairobi? None. Or, if there is, a rare occurrence.
Not a weekly carnage resulting to needless deaths as seen on the Meru-Nairobi Highway.
I don’t want to ask what became of the formerly firebrand minister, Dr. Fred Matiang’i. Or, the robust new Inspector General of Police, Hillary Mutyambai. There is apparent rot in the Traffic Police Service. I won’t jump into conclusions as to what has or hasn’t been done to curb the Khat-Road-Carnage, but I’ll urge them to zero in on this issue.
Oh, perhaps, the rogue operators revel in the fact that DCI Kinoti hails from the region.
Lots of people are needlessly losing their lives.
*****names have been changed to protect privacy (of the deceased).