For the regular visitor to Nairobi, the lack of traffic is almost spooky. The city’s traffic is very much like Kenya itself. It ebbs and flows, forming up behind obstacles and eventually overcoming them. It is brash and confident; and endlessly diverse. The mundane experience of sitting on a European motorway with its range of greys and people cocooned in their vehicles is far from the exuberant – but highly frustrating – business of navigating Nairobi’s traffic. All manner of things are offered for sale – maps; ground nuts; curious devices for drying small items of laundry; fruit; DVDs; etc. All of Nairobi life is here and on display. Commuters in the Matatus; families combining going to work with the school run; people doing their make up in the passenger (and sometimes driver’s) seat of the car to the sound track of revving engines, over amplified sound systems and beeps and hoots.
But not today.
The taxi driver drew up at the security post on the hotel perimeter. The usual smiling request to search the vehicle was replaced by a huge grin and a raised little finger on the guard’s left hand. In the gleeful exchange which followed, the taxi driver – exhibiting his own left little finger to demonstrate that he too had voted today – declared us all “men of God”. Although it was far from clear how, both men had recognised in each other a shared political ambition.
A group of Americans at the hotel seemed oblivious to the momentous events taking place in Kenya. They had, they said, had an amazing holiday into which they had packed more experiences of a life time than an ordinary mortal was entitled to expect. But the election had cast a shadow over their final day. Their drivers had wanted to vote.
The luxury of near deserted streets is unsettling. Hopefully tomorrow, Nairobi will be back to normal – and people will be wistfully reflecting on how easy it was to get around on 4 March. But if traffic, potholes and resentful tourists are the worst that Kenya has to contend with in the days following the election, the country will count itself lucky. Kenyans do not want – or need – more violence. Let’s just hope that the political elite can remember that in the days and weeks to come.