It was Thursday night and I was tipsy from NewsCafe cocktails. I can not remember what I had, maybe 7 Deadly Sins or Bull Frog. Two glasses of any of their cocktails and you are set for the night – the high sneaks up on you when you least expect it.
Not Thursday night
I had been ‘talking’ to this guy I met online. Let us call him Nanii. ‘Talking’ is what we millennials call it, when what we really mean is texting as you figure out what you both want. He texts me in the midst of my tipsiness about a trip to Mt Longonot he is planning with friends. He wants me to join them.
Of course, I say yes. I had not been to Mt. Longonot in a while and I am really good at making rash decisions. Plus, who doesn’t love a road trip out of town? Nairobi can be stifling and may drive you crazy if you do not leave every once in a while. My only dilemma was that I did not own a car and had no driving licence.
I went to college straight out of high school and never got round to taking driving classes. Back then, there was always something more interesting to do with my time and money.
My only experience with driving schools was 4 years ago when I had to negotiate a deal for the tech startup I worked at. No deal ever closed. They gave me the run around until we called it, adjusted our strategy and focused elsewhere.
How frustrating is it that Kenyan business people never seem to make up their minds? A hundred emails and meetings later, time and money spent, and still no absolute response. Does our entire business community need training on how to say no? Seems like it.
Do not get me wrong, I can drive. My first time was in 2002, at age 9. It was Mum’s white Toyota Corolla, the second car she owned. She has always drilled into us the importance of being independent and making our own money. This has always stuck with me, I am not comfortable at all with others paying my bills (I do accept gifts!).
Mum and I were driving home from her veterinary shop. It was a short drive because Narok is such a small town. Today, it is growing quite fast thanks to devolution. I marvel at the new developments every time, buildings going up, lots of traffic and huge crowds of people.
Images courtesy of Places to Visit in Narok, Kenya
We get home and Mum goes out to open the gate. This was my chance! I jumped into the driver’s seat and started the car. I fiddled with the gear and clutch as I had seen Mum do many times, stepped on the accelerator and watched, delighted, as the car snaked its way into the compound. I parked and alighted, feeling very proud of myself.
My reward was a sharp pinch on the cheek and a fast spray of words that felt like an artillery attack. I was lectured for hours and denied money for candy and samosas for a week. To me, no candy was capital punishment!
Incidentally, Imani did the exact same thing with Mum’s car a few weeks ago. Let’s just say it did not end well for her either.
I was 14 and in high school the next time I drove. I asked nicely, obviously the punishment 5 years ago left a mark. I would drive to and from town during the school holidays.
The Driving License
So, here I am, tipsy, in the bathroom at NewsCafe, checking myself out in the mirror, as I call up my friends to see who is up for adventure, has a driving license, and knows how we can find a car.
I tried Fiona first. No answer.
I tried Betty, she answered on the first ring. “Sema, unafanya nini Sato? Twende Mt. Longonot. Nanii will be there and I need backup”
Being the best friend that she is, she was game. “Sure, I have my license and I know a guy we can rent a car from.”
Friday afternoon, we discover that Betty’s driving licence was expired. By this point, nothing was going to take this adventure away from me. I had seen a report about online renewal of driving licenses, we crossed our fingers and fired up Google.
A few clicks led us to the e-citizen portal, where we discovered that any Kenyan citizen could apply to renew their driving licence, pay via MPESA, download and print the new licence. On the spot! It felt like Christmas come early.
A one-year licence will cost you KSh 600 while a three-year licence will cost you KSh 1400. There is a KSh 50 mandatory ‘convenience’ fee that NTSA charges which feels a lot like a TKK (Toa Kitu Kidogo) fee.
Tips for KE Gov.
The ease and simplicity of getting the driving licence needs to be replicated across all government institutions ASAP. Kenya has the fastest internet speeds in Africa with 81% of Kenyans being internet users.
We are also home to over 20 accredited universities that offer Computer Science, Computer Engineering and a variation of similar IT programs. These are but two strengths the government can take advantage of to ensure that all necessary services are digitised and easily available.
Back to the Plan
We did hike up Mt. Longonot and I met my person, Nanii. Yeah, that’s a story for another day. Next time I am downing those NewsCafe cocktails, I know what I will be toasting to.
Here’s to adventures with friends who always have your back.
Here’s to instant driving license renewals which enable said adventures.