The new county government of Nairobi moved into office last year with many promises. One digital promise was the installation of traffic cameras at selected junctions in Nairobi. The physical installation of the cameras was actually done, and Nairobians have got used to be being blinded by sharp flashing light as they pass through various junctions.
But was blinding drivers the main objective of installing traffic cameras?
Those familiar with the technology know that traffic cameras are supposed to capture the registration number plates of the offending drivers – those who have jumped the red light in the spirit of the Nairobi “rush” hour. Eventually, the cameras would relay this data to a central office server where links between the car registration numbers and vehicle owners are established.
Once the owner is found, his or her residence is then searched and established, and a stiff penalty or summons forwarded accordingly. Failure to settle the penalty in good time would lead to serious repercussions, including but not limited to withdrawal of the driving license.
This system is really the magic behind the apparent civilized, perhaps docile nature of drivers in developed economies. A Kenyan traveling abroad would be shocked to see drivers waiting patiently at a traffic junction on some easy Sunday morning. They will wonder why the drivers are pleasantly patient compared to our local breed in Nairobi.
The answer lies in their functional traffic camera systems that enforce discipline on the roads. So whatever happened to our traffic camera systems? Is it that we rushed to install the gadgets without thorough thinking about the back-end systems?
Perhaps the cameras are clicking away and transmitting data that is not connected to any other data sources. For the system to be functional, the captured car registration details must be able talk to two other databases: the car ownership database and the residential address database.
But wait a minute, we actually do not have an address database! Kenyans live in places that do not have officially documented geographical coordinates. So you may know who owns the offending car, but you will need further investigation to establish where she or he lives. Could this be the problem behind our “dead-on-arrival” traffic cameras?
Postal Corporation of Kenya urgently needs to setup a “Geographical type” of address system. And this is not just to bail out the IT guys at the Nairobi County Council, but also to kick our emerging e-commerce sector to the next level.
If Uchumi knew how to drop the groceries at your doorstep, you would never have to physically drive through our legendary traffic jams in order to get your shopping done. You could complete all the shopping processes online.
If Nairobi Water Services knew where you lived, they would efficiently reconnect your water services, avoiding their notorious behavior of knowing where to disconnect but surprisingly failing to know where to re-connect.
If the traffic camera had a functional back-end system, they would trigger the search and dispatch process that will land that hefty fine or summons to your doorstep. And maybe, the Kenyan drivers will finally join the rest of the world and become civilized, if not docile, on the road.
But meanwhile, Nairobi County Council must think of making use of the already installed traffic cameras, even as we wait for the Postal Corporation to get its act together. Perhaps a link with Google Maps could create an innovation that leap-frogs the existing geographical address systems.
Let’s get thinking because after all, necessity is indeed the mother of innovation.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at the Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Twitter:@jwalu