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Stay in your lane, you are better than the idiot that just sped ahead of you

By Daniel K Kalinaki

Tuesday December 24, 2019

Consider this scenario: You have an important flight to catch and are running late, with the traffic crawling at a snail’s pace. Do you: (a) - Call the airline and rebook to the next flight while making a mental note to wake up earlier next time? (b) - Keep crawling along in the traffic and hope for some sort of miracle? Or (c) - Cut into the lane of incoming traffic and, so-help-them-god, force other motorists and pedestrians to make way for you, for thou shalt not miss thy flight?
Many ministers, officials in government-owned vehicles, and folks with more horsepower than brains, bloated by the highfalutin flatulence of self-importance, choose option (c) above. In breaking decorum and the rules of the road, they often have, as accomplices, police-officers-turned-private-militia to drive menacingly ahead of them.

The law is clear on who has right of way, and no one in their right mind would want to block a fire tender or an ambulance; but unless Lake Victoria has sprung a leak, I honestly do not see why the Minister for Water, as recently witnessed, should careen down the wrong side of Entebbe Road, his convoy wailing like a banshee.
That kind of impunity is not new. Casual research shows that some people who carry guns for a long time present with symptoms of megalomania, passive-aggression, shortness of breath when asked to wait, anxiety when faced with orderly queues, and cognitive disorders when exposed to traffic signage. Some have even been known to suffer temporary amnesia and resort, instead, to asking strangers if they know who they are.
A few patients with a history of rapid rural-to-urban migration have been known to break out into violence or vomit profanities.
But what should interest us more are the actions of ordinary folks in the scenario above. Many good men and women will initially be inclined to maintain law and order. But if they watch as one car, then another, and another, pulls out of the lane and drives over the pavement or on the wrong side of the road, they are more likely to join the mad crowd. Don’t worry about the law; they can’t arrest us all.

This is a variant to the broken window – or what I’d call the Tofuka wano – theory: People are more likely to break a social norm if others do it and get away with it. The reason people pee on walls in Kyebando, but not in Kololo, is not for the absence of Tofuka wano graffiti warnings, but because it is more acceptable in the former than in the latter.
This story is the moral of the #StayInYourLane campaign that began recently in this newspaper and elsewhere urging motorists to be patient and respect other road users. It is both realistic and idealistic. Realistic, because creating extra lanes does not help you get ahead faster; it only makes the traffic worse for every one else.
It is also idealistic because great social changes can come out of small actions by citizens.
Rosa Parks upended racial inequality in the United States by refusing to give up her seat on the bus. Wangari Mathaai gave women voice and stopped Moi’s land grabbing just by encouraging them to plant trees and take care of the land they lived off. Florence Nightingale saved lives and upended the world of nursing by cleaning up hospital wards.

In the midst of an incompetent and weak State, there are things citizens and individuals can do to improve their lot and that of others around them. A person who jumps the queue in the bank is more likely to create another lane of traffic. A person who chews sugarcane and throws the rubbish out of his Ipsum window into the street is a mere polluting sugar factory on wheels.
Mind you, this is about poverty of the mind, not of the pocket. Many middle-class folks live in fancy mansions on large plots of land, but are unwilling to contribute a decimal or two of land to get wider roads, or money to pave them, yet doing so would significantly increase the value of the property.
Those who stay in their lane or wait in the queue do not do so because they are not important or have too much time on their hands. They do so because it is the right thing to do. We might not stop all the fools – some tropical strains of stupidity don’t always respond to treatment – we just need enough good people to do the right thing.