Ernst Engel
Mombasa Road
Standard Media Group Head Office
University of Nairobi
Upper Hill

How rains bring out our true behaviour

Why does rain lead to traffic gridlocks yet the width of the roads do not change?  Tuesday last week was a classic example.

It took me one and half hours to get out of Upper Hill and another two and half hours to get from Nyayo roundabout to Standard Media Group Head Office, only six kilometres away on Mombasa Road.


Rains to continue for the next five days, Met says

In other countries I have visited or lived in, this behaviour was rare, even snow never led to traffic jams.

Why here? Having been a victim, I have tried to explain this peculiar behaviour.

Rain is supposed to calm us after many months of drought. Aquariums were once popular in our houses; the objective was to calm us.

Fountains in outdoor resorts ought to have the same effect. We also take a shower to relax.  Yet in Kenya, water in form of rain is a source of trepidation.

Rain has grand tidings. After rains, long before the crops are harvested, food prices start to go down in anticipation.

Economists point out that the general inflation falls in general, particularly in a poor country where food takes a big chunk of the family income. Ernst Engel (1821-1896) found that long time ago that the richer you are, the smaller the percentage of income that goes to food.

Folks from the countryside rejoice after the rains.

They do that with pride and thanksgiving in their hearts.


Rains are a blessing, not a curse

And why not, their lives are more intertwined with nature than Nairobians and other urban or pseudo-urban dwellers.

Fear of rain seems to be the peculiar behaviour of Nairobians, best seen on the roads after a shower, no matter how light.  Why this peculiar behaviour? It may be that Nairobians are not farmers and see rain as a nuisance.

In fact, many Nairobians are happy to have left the farmlands. They often return there for their final journey.

We must, however, observe that Lang’ata cemetery becoming a final home to many Nairobians, no wonder it is filling up.

To escape, the rain nuisance makes their clothes dirty, soils their expensive hairdos, Nairobians prefer to get to the comfort of their homes as soon as possible, either by private cars or public means.

That herd behaviour leads to gridlocks.  With everyone trying to get home as soon as possible, no one gets home!

Lots of people arrived home the next day, after midnight on that fateful Tuesday last week.

The behaviour can also be explained in another way.

When it rains, we come out in our true colours, selfish and self-centred. It is easier to be given way when it is sunny and bright than when it’s raining.

We suddenly feel others don’t matter and are a nuisance. Where are passengers supposed to get extra fare after the rains?

It is also possible that we fail to understand how our individual behaviour affects other people – either directly or indirectly.

Despite the internet, we seem not to appreciate how we are interconnected.

Lets us accept that capitalism is partly to blame.

It emphasises individualism, yet capitalism is about people and their communities.


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We look down upon the less privileged, those someone called the “invisible” people but make money from them.

Luckily, many firms are outgrowing that. Seen how corporate social responsibility is flourishing in Kenya?

Engineers and public officials make life harder; they do not build roads to withstand the worst case scenario, including floods.

The thought that roads could become our lodgings at night or death traps, makes Kenyans do all they can get home soonest possible. The behaviour after the rains extends to other facets of our lives.  Why does Nairobi river stink, yet downstream lots of peoples’ lives depend on it?

We pour waste, into the life-giving river because we don’t drink water from there.

We deforest our land, leading to climatic change beyond our borders. We don’t care much about other citizens, the same way we don’t care much as other motorists after rains.

The disregard of other people who we perceive as standing in our way to achieving our objectives has made corruption rife in Kenya.

In the same way, you can’t think about other road users, it is the same way you can’t think about others you steal from and the inter-generational effect of your actions.


Rains to pause this week as heat peaks

Behaviour after the rains extends to our economic, social and other facets of our lives.

Next time it rains; don’t jump into the next matatu or your car.

Just look for a vantage point where you can watch Kenyans come out in their true colours.

To make critical decisions about our lives and turn this country around, we need to first understand the real behaviour of citizens under the best and worst circumstances.

Could it be that in our national and even corporate plans, we disregard the realistic behaviour of citizens that is brought out by rains?

It is no wonder behavioural economics is competing with blockchains for our attention.

-The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi

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