Every July, Peter Wambugu, a road crash survivor, takes a day off to fast and pray for drivers, road accident victims and passengers, a norm he has religiously observed since 2004.
Wambugu, 37, is a former truck driver famously known as ‘Clatchez’, in reference to crutches he has been using since he lost his leg in a road accident on Mombasa Road on July, 26, 2003. The accident that resulted from a tyre bust claimed the lives of his two colleagues on the spot.
As the World’s Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims is marked today, Wambugu still recalls the fateful day.
“July reminds me of road accidents, of pain and of drivers whose lives are hanging on a thread. You see, I was admitted to hospital on July 26, 2003, and discharged exactly a year later on July 28, 2004, alive but minus a leg and on crutches. That is why I fast and pray every July,” Wambugu says.
On the fateful day, Wambugu and his co-driver and turnboy were returning from Uganda, heading to Mombasa. Wambugu was on the wheel when the tyre burst and he lost control of the vehicle, shoving him out of the window. The load from the truck fell on his legs. His two colleagues trapped in the vehicle, lost their lives.
Wambugu was 24 years then and had worked as a driver for five years. The accident changed his life and dreams.
“It has been a tough journey. I had a lot of ambitions but suddenly everything changed because I could no longer walk normally. I had to walk on crutches and learn to balance after a year at Kenyatta National Hospital,” he said.
Although he has since been following for compensation in court as the company was insured, 16 years later and after over six hearings, the case is yet to be concluded.
“Cases taking way longer than expected is a blow to many accident survivors fighting for compensation. Most victims I have met in court have opted for out-of-court settlement because of the challenge,” he added.
Wambugu ventured into singing four years after the accident, recording his first album in 2008, he has composed 45 other songs in six albums but is yet to record.
He fundraised for an artificial leg that cost Sh150,000 in 2018, bu he cannot use it since he needs a minor surgery to fix it.
And while many victims of road accidents are struggling to rebuild their lives, with many others like Wambugu following up compensation cases in court, the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a blow to the livelihoods of most of them.
“It is like life is tossing you the hardest. Compensation cases are stalling yet you have to re-live life and educate your children. For me, I do not perform anymore because there are no gigs,” he adds.
Statistics from the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) show 3,114 people have lost their lives through road accidents since January, this year.
Brian Muchiri, 27, became paralysed in 2016 after an accident. His body, from the armpits downwards, became numb.
The private car he was travelling in on February 8, 2016, collided head-on with a trailer along Nakuru-Eldoret Road. Three of his friends died on the spot. Him and a female friend survived.
However, Muchiri’s survival meant he would never walk again and had to depend on his parents.
“I was a third-year student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. My dreams of graduating with a degree were shattered,” Muchiri told the Sunday Standard.
Speaking at his home in Mang’u, Rongai, in Nakuru, Muchiri said he sustained serious injuries on the spine.
He said he fell into depression after losing friends, felt detached from life and didn’t see any reason for living.
Hospital bills were weighing on Muchiri’s parents. Surgeries and therapy were expensive making his rehabilitation almost impossible.
He, however, got a power wheelchair in 2016 which made him have a reason to live again.
He started writing his life story on social media. It was illuminating and attracted blogs in Kenya that approached and employed him.
He said he felt hopeful once he started earning and a new and positive chapter started unfolding for him and his family.
Late 2018, Muchiri started Strong Spine Foundation to create awareness for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).
He said he felt the need to advocate assistive devices, including wheelchairs, artificial body parts and accessibility to buildings to be made available to PWDs as a way of boosting their morale.
“The power wheelchair and my work boosted my confidence. I got exposure, opportunities with writing for blogs, a skill I had mastered and I started featuring on television and radio interviews,” he said.
Susan Mukami from Sachangwan lost her husband, a truck driver, in a road accident in 2018. She received the shocking news from her neighbours.
Mukami was left to fend for their three children.
“I had to mourn but at the same time be strong for my children. We got compensated and I bought land. I do farming to provide for my family,” she says.
Emily Chepkwony, 47, said she lost her husband in a road accident in 2010. She was left with five children.
She, however, feels lucky because they have a place to live and she has educated them.
First aider and Molo ward representative Rachel Maru said accidents along Nakuru-Eldoret road, especially in Salgaa, have reduced.
Ms Maru said she can now afford to sleep after the road was turned into dual-lane by the government.
The 21km stretch from Salgaa trading centre to Sachang’wan on the Nakuru-Eldoret Road has for decades been the worst black spot in the country.
However, she is worried about motorcyclists as the State is yet to construct a shoulder lane for riders.
“We still have multiple accidents involving motorcyclists and many riders have lost their lives. We urge the government to further expand the roads to accommodate motorcycles,” she says.