BY MARY KIMONYE
Our heartfelt condolences go to the families of the Kenyans who lost their lives in what is likely to be Kenya’s worst oil disaster. This is like a terrible dream that keeps coming back.
Kenyans, who have followed similar incidents over the last eight years or so, are grappling with the traumatic aftermath. To their credit news reporters have gone to great lengths to ask the same question over and over again… “Will Kenyans ever learn?”
In 1998 a tanker rolled into a maize farm in Sidindi, Ugenya. As was the practice, residents rushed out with jerrycans and buckets to “harvest” this godsend gift. Over 30 perished when the tanker exploded. In 2009 over 100 people perished in Sachangwan in similar fashion. They were consumed by the inevitable fire sparked by area residents scooping the highly flammable petrol from the tanker.
Early this year a fuel tanker overturned in Kisumu spilling its contents onto the road. Again residents rushed to the scene to draw fuel from the crippled truck. This time round the police got there on time to prevent the scramble for fuel. It was reported in the media that the Police had to use excessive force to keep residents away. The poor cops, striving to do their duty, were pelted with stones by rowdy Kenyans, demanding to be let in.
The Sinai Village disaster has claimed over 100 lives. Some of these Kenyans picked up containers and rushed to the trench. Many questions go unanswered regarding the behaviour of Kenyans when such disasters strike.
Is it poverty, greed, lack of a value system or just a case of bad attitude? Should we not be running in the opposite direction when a tanker rolls and spills fuel? Is it that Kenyans never learn even from the horribly catastrophic results of this seemingly ignorant behaviour?
Kenya’s image and reputation is at stake
The news about the fire made headlines across major global news outlets and will continue to do so in the short term. From an image and reputation point of view, this tragic event has a direct impact on the ranking of Kenya as an investment destination.
Consider the preliminary information surrounding the accident. Aging fuel pipes, encroachment on land reserve meant for use by the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) and deliberate acts of defiance by residents, seemingly not respecting the law and basic safety principles.
Even after an eviction order by the Kenya Pipeline Company in 2008 the squatters on the KPC land refused to leave. Perhaps political expediency superseded safety concerns. Now sadly people have paid the price with their lives.
Kenya’s ability to regulate safety standards and mitigate potential industrial hazards is seriously called into question. Investors coming into the country will definitely remember these unfortunate events when considering Kenya. This behaviour of the Kenyans who always dash to siphon fuel from tankers instead of helping the victims points to a bigger underlying problem of character.
It is plausible that Kenyans no longer subscribe to the traditional values that kept the society going and may need to refresh their belief system. The National Economic Social Council (NESC) and the Brand Kenya Board have developed a set of values which by all means reflect the African way of doing things.
These values are expected to among other things, create a national identity for Kenyans and develop a set of shared beliefs, while encouraging solidarity. A value system comes in handy especially when a society has to deal with challenges. Kenya is dealing with myriad of challenges and in this particular instance one could point at; erosion of etiquette, poor work ethic, impunity and disregard of ethical conduct,
Kenyans need to take a hard look at the proposed values if the country is to achieve change from within. These are ;Honouring God, Justice for all, Promoting Peace, Unity, Appreciation of diversity, patriotism, integrity, hard work and respect.
Each individual must be committed to these values and ensure that they become part of their life, if Kenya really matters to them. This is the only way we can enhance the image of Kenya and make this country a good place to work, live and invest in.
(Mary Kimonye is the CEO of the Brand Kenya Board)