Signs of our times


Published on 10/05/2009

By Tony Ngare

Anyone who has been to a driving school hopefully remembers all the traffic signs in that magical driving guide.

Remember how the driving instructor used to howl the meanings of the signs in theory class in a manner reminiscent of your kindergarten teacher bawling out the alphabet for you to repeat after her?

Well, unlike the alphabet, which we can remember, the meaning of most road signs is forgotten.

Therefore, I suggest that road signs be overhauled to suit the way we drive. After all, if degree courses are being streamlined to fit the job market, why can’t we re-evaluate our road signs to be in tandem with the behaviour on our roads?

Sign one:

Ordinarily this sign cautions that you are approaching a pedestrian crossing. However, in our unique Kenyan set up this road sign can as well be used to inform you that you are entering an area designated for protest marches or other activities related to the masses.

Sign two:

This is essentially a cautionary sign warning you of flammable items. But if we were to utilise it to fit our present predicament, it could be used to warn you of danger of encountering arsonists, cattle rustlers, mungiki and other proscribed groups.

Sign three:

When operating under normal circumstances the sign denotes a quayside ahead. These signs are quite rare on Kenyan roads — even in Mombasa and Migingo. But even if they were to litter our roads, I am certain we would use them to declare a roadside car wash.

Sign four:

If your instructor was as good as mine, he surely told you that red signs are mainly warning signs that indicate a hazard ahead on the road that may not be readily apparent to a driver and blue signs give you information on where you are at that particular juncture. While this sign is used world over to denote availability of accommodation in a motel, in Kenya we can suitably adapt it to mean there is no sex boycott in the designated neighbourhood.

Sign five:

In areas where civilised driving is exhibited, the sign denotes two-way traffic but since we are far from civilised, the sign ought to tell you to expect traffic from either side.

Sign six:

This road sign means you are approaching a railway crossing.
However, this sign should have a unique meaning in Kenya. It ought to be used to inform you that the railway line has been uprooted and is now being used to block the highway by youth chanting, “Haki yetu!”

Sign seven:

In areas where we could use this sign to warn of slippery roads, we paint big letters on the tarmac especially on Nairobi-Thika road proclaiming the same. So we can then safely adapt the sign to mean that you need to be ready to dance and negotiate potholes on the road.

Sign eight:

The folks who live near an escarpment, even those that do not possess a driving licence, surely know that the sign is used to warn of falling rocks. In our Kenyan adaptation, we can use the sign to warn a driver that he or she is approaching Kibera, a college or university.

Sign nine:

The sign is most prevalent on many roads warning motorists of some danger ahead but in our scenario we can use the sign to demarcate areas where frequent gestures — often involving the middle finger — are used.

Sign ten:

Kenyan men are notorious for answering the call of nature anywhere. While this sign denotes availability of a parking lot, Kenyan men will not only park but also probably proceed to pee as well, fully obeying the phonetic request of the road sign.

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