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Kenya’s Perfect Storm

Annual rains have hit Kenya especially hard this year, causing havoc in the capital. But there is a silver lining amid the gloom: weather-related infrastructure challenges have pushed bureaucrats to tackle old issues like corruption and mismanagement with a renewed sense of urgency.

NAIROBI – It’s the end of the rainy season in Kenya, and this year’s storms have been almost biblical, washing away not only people’s sunny disposition, but also their bridges, buses, livestock, and crops. But the damage cannot be blamed on the weather alone.

Roads have been hit especially hard; potholes the size of cars litter highways in the capital. Near the offices of the United Nations on Limuru Road, for example, traffic backs up for a half-mile as vehicles nudge into oncoming traffic to avoid one particularly large water-filled hole. Elsewhere, vehicles creep along slowly, bouncing from crater to crater, while the carless get tossed around in matatu minibuses as they travel to and from work.

You might ask why the government doesn’t do something. After all, potholes are a basic and highly visible indicator of a country’s social and economic wellbeing. Good roads are an indicator of government effectiveness, while bad ones suggest incompetence. Any government seeking to retain the support of voters typically goes out of its way to make roads passable. Why not in Kenya?

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