A feeder road in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. It is a one-way street complete with a pedestrian walkway and a biking lane

Why can’t we expect more?

One of the things I appreciate most about my job at the iHub is the opportunity to travel. Traveling opens a person’s mind. When you travel, you get to see how the rest of the world is doing compared to where you come from. As humans, we tend to sometimes deal with things by accepting them the way they are. The potholes outside your house become acceptable after a while. Kenya Power’s consistent blackouts turn to the norm after a while and you start devising ways to ‘fix’ the problem.

One of the places I have visited a lot is Europe. Every time I come back I realize just how much our leadership short-changes us. One of the things that have baffled me about European cities is how well paved they are. Each and every road in the city is paved! The back alleys are well paved, the highways are excellent, the feeder roads are too. How do they do this yet we can’t even keep our main streets pothole free?

Recently, I was in Las Palmas which is the capital of Gran Canaria. Gran Canaria is one of the islands that form the Canary Islands. It is truly beautiful! Over the four days, I tried without success to report a pothole. I made an effort to take as many photos of roads as much as possible so that you don’t think I am lying.

One of the main streets in Las Palmas
A backstreet lane in Las Palmas

Do you get the picture? The roads are well maintained. This is repeated in other all the other cities I have been to in Europe. While there I don’t need to wipe my shoes; it is pointless. A car wash business won’t make much money either.

How did they get there? That is a complex question and I won’t attempt to provide an answer to it. What I know is that we are doing badly. We have allowed our leadership to get away what would be considered murder in such countries. Our roads are littered with potholes. Repairs are done in such a shoddy way such that within a month new repair work has to be done.

Can we change this? How do we learn to demand more from our leaders? Our expectations are ridiculously low. In an alternate universe, I would have everyone travel to a place like Europe for at least a week. I am going with the assumption that if we saw how much better we could do we would demand more.

Seeing that this isn’t very practical let us start small. We have so many things to complain about in Nairobae (Nairobi when you love it). Conrad Akunga captured this well on a thread on Twitter.

I will highlight the following points he shared on the thread.

  • Unreliable power. So you have to buy fridge guards, surge protectors, generators and inverters.
  • Unreliable public health — so you have to pay extra for cover from private providers.
  • Unreliable security, so you also have to pay for private security and to make your house look like a fortress
  • For those in business you pay for all the permits and still a guy will come to your place of work to look for something to extort

The list goes on and on.

Potholes are the most visible. We have received a significant amount of data since we started mapping. We have also seen some repairs being done. We can’t take all the credit for it but we are positive that it has had an influence.

More data is needed so that we can continue sharing this with the Nairobi County government. Get mapping!


#WhatisARoad is a campaign to map out potholes in Nairobi using Twitter to create an opportunity for data-based engagement and follow-up with Nairobi County government.

Help us collect more data by taking a photo of potholes you see, indicating the location either by using GPS or pointing or the road and landmark and then share it on Twitter with the hashtag #whatisaroad.


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