Nairobi, Kenya has a terrible traffic problem. One that is so bad that one estimate puts the cost of Kenya’s traffic problem to the nation’s productivity at, as much as, $570,000 a day. A short commute tends to last for long hours during the morning or evening rush hour.
The blame for these traffic problems can be laid partly at the feet of the terrible roads which abound in Kenya. Drivers often have to swerve to avoid potholes and move slowly on bad roads, causing back-ups that stretch for miles on end.
Kenyans, tired of the problem caused by bad roads, have sought for new solutions.
One new solution is an online campaign that they have tagged “What is a Road” and the campaign is basically crowdsourcing the location and condition of potholes around the city, with the hopes of putting pressure on local authorities to fix them.
The crowdsourcing campaign works this way. Kenyans tweet the photo and location of a pothole and then attach the hashtag #WhatIsARoad to the tweet. The tweets are then uploaded to a map which is used to analyze where the city’s potholes are located and track which ones have been fixed.
It is a data-driven approach to solving a persistent problem and Muthuri Kinyamu, one of the organizers of the WhatIsARoad campaign, said;
“We decided to take a more data driven approach to track progress, promises made and projects delivered.”
Some comments made by some other organizers and participants of the WhatIsARoad campaign also show a deeper message being passed along in the course of the campaign. For instance, Ory Okolloh, a Kenyan tech investor and one of the project’s organizers, echoed comments she made last year, saying;
“We want basics to work first. We’re tired of leap frogging over potholes.”
“I’m concerned about what I see is the fetishization around entrepreneurship in Africa… Like, don’t worry that there’s no power because hey, you’re going to do solar and innovate around that. Your schools suck, but hey there’s this new model of schooling. Your roads are terrible, but hey, Uber works in Nairobi and that’s innovation.”
Basically, Africa needs to stop pretending that a focus on entrepreneurship will solve everything. Countries on the continent need to understand that resolving problems like poor roads and terrible infrastructure are necessary for them to move forward.
Chris Orwa, a data analyst helping with the project, says that although they cannot take credit for all the repairs that have been done around the city, they have noticed that roads are being fixed within days of a WhatIsARoad report. The campaign which began in August should continue until January.