Defensive Driving Tips For Nairobi Traffic

The matatu mafia has turned driving on Kenyan roads into a self defense skill. A driver’s license does not equip you to adequately deal with the mayhem on urban roads. Time to brush up your skills.

A driving license is only the beginning of a history of near misses, blaring horns, matatu drivers, rush hour bottlenecks, traffic cops, and looming carjackers.   The countless road signs that you were forced to memorise by heart will be of little use . I have therefore taken it upon myself to correct this terrible oversight and impart motoring secrets that are requirement for anyone driving on Kenyan roads.

  • One thing you quickly discover is that all the road signs they forced you to memorise are nowhere to be found. However if it is suddenly brought to your attention by a stream of cars honking at you from the opposite direction, that you are driving on the wrong way on a one-way street, reverse until you find a spot to let the oncoming traffic squeeze past before continuing with the original course undeterred. If you keep your headlights on, oncoming motorists will assume you are running from the law and give you way.
  • If you are unable to find a parking slot in the city, park on the road. As long as you are seated in the car, your newfound position is justified. Ignore the hooting and harsh words by a few enraged drivers. You are not the cause of their grief. They just venting out their frustrations and you are a soft target.
  • It is important to remind slow moving pedestrians who cause delays by strolling across roads that cars may have faulty brakes. Since it is a lot quicker for the pedestrian to sprint across the road than for you to suddenly brake, flash your lights and press on the horn to remind them that you have no intention at stopping at the zebra crossing.
  • Remember that the traffic policeman is always right. Take the lecture, pay the spot fine, and find an alternative route around the police roadblock.
  • When SUV’s bully you for crawling up a hill continue on undeterred. They will never catch up with you downhill anyway.
  • Pay attention to the traffic lights. Never ever stop at a red light at night unless you want to buy the next day’s newspaper.
  • Remember that indicators are useless gadgets. Pop your head out of the window and point towards the direction you are headed. People will give you way.
  • Learn to change lanes spontaneously especially when approaching a roundabout. No matter how well you plan your course some matatu will be on the wrong lane. The most important thing to remember about roundabouts and junctions is first in, first out. The sooner you get out of the mess, the better.
  • Never give way if you do not have to. It is a maze out there and they are no medals for courtesy, just clogged traffic.
  • Highways are great for street bargains. When the driver behind you honks because you are stalling traffic, point a finger to your head and twist it in manner to suggest that they must have a loose nut in theirs to pass up on a great bargain.
  • If you sniff a whiff of rain, panic. Bolt for your car and drive into the nearest a traffic jam. There is safety in numbers.
  • Now go out and stay alive.




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Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan newspaper columnist. The blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.


  1. Gregory Mabele

    Hahaha. Good one, Oyunga, with quite a number of anecdotal truths; ‘no matter how well you plan your route, a matatu will always be in the wrong lane’ and I should add, ‘especially No. 8 at Nyayo House roundabout!’

  2. Lol!Si I thought you are in the village my brother?Where did you get all these funny but useful tips?

  3. Aaaahhhhhh…great made the recklessness of our motorists seem excussable…well…somehow…

  4. Miss Dee

    😀 Lovely read.

  5. Heheheheheheheheheh so true, infact some come handy in some situation. I never give way to matatu’s.

  6. An interesting read.

  7. This is so true, you forgot to mention that if you want to drop of a passenger, just stop in the middle of the road, then remember you had not given said passenger some money and a few last words, then spend some time on lengthy goodbyes and also, if the passenger is a lady, train them on how to delicately and slowly get out of the car . . . never mind the traffic building up behind you

  8. First_timer

    You nailed it! I was driving in Nairobi after being away for a year & a half. I experienced every single one of these things during my first week there …… and taught my visiting guest from another country to follow the same rules. We survived unscathed and accident-free for the entire month we were there. Nairobi Traffic Commandant (or whoever is in charge) should display your tips at every single Driving Test office. 🙂

  9. Very apt tips…..Kenyan roads are a real nightmare to drive on. Another tip is, regardless of the lane you are in on a roundabout, the bigger vehicles can go in whichever direction they want….no hooting or indignation allowed here.

    • So true Zeek, especially big cars with government license plates, those drivers have very little regard for the small guy in his econo box.

  10. I want to disagree with the fourth point. Sometimes the traffic policeman is wrong and sometimes you have to stand your ground. Just the other day I was trying to get into a lane to avoid overlapping but I simply could not – no one would give me way, so I kept on moving and of course ran into a policeman who told me to turn around and go back round. That really infuriated me because not only was it unfair, but he chose to direct traffic at a point where NO ONE needed his assistance. A few meters behind him there was a jam created by cars not allowing others cars to get in thus creating a jam because no one wanted to encounter the policeman when in the “wrong lane”.

    So anyway when the cop told me to turn around I refused. I politely pointed out that I had done nothing wrong and that telling me to go back round would only result in the same problem for me.

    He then told me to park my car aside. I did so.
    He then told me to give him my car keys. I declined to do so.
    He then told me to give him my driver’s license. I also declined to do so but I told him that I would show it to him, which I did.
    He then berated me for not listening to him i.e refusing to drive back round.
    I told him that I was very frustrated and that he was stationed at the wrong point, that he needed to be few meters ahead.
    This made him rather angry and so he told me that since I wouldn’t listen that I must just stay where I was. And with that he walked off.

    Needless to say I got back into traffic immediately he left and proceeded on my way.

    Was I scared – hell yes (who knows maybe there is now a warrant out for my arrest), but I didn’t do anything wrong that day and that policeman failed to live up to the “Utumishi kwa wote” slogan.

    • Hey, cops are generally not known for their smarts and the traffic police are fond of bullying. However it is the unnecessary drama that forces most people to play along. It is systemic issue, a case of bad road manners gone viral.

    • Dayvee Vuvu

      This feels so Justified, it sounds like Limuru road, now I know what to do next time, run off and wait for my arrest warrant, how far can the cops on bikes go (PS: always have some extra fuel to try this one), I could do some circles with him in tow.

  11. good observation, keep it up

  12. good job man, educate kenyans

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