I grieve with the folks of Sinai, but action must start now

I will begin this note by expressing my heartfelt condolences to the people of Sinai slum.

To the families who have lost their loved ones in a senseless and cruel death; we are sorry for your loss.  To many others who may have lost their primary bread winners; their deaths are inexcusable.  To whole communities whose ecosystem has been wiped out; we must collectively say enough is enough.

The heart-breaking thing about the Sinai slum fire is that in 2009 a journalist predicted such demise.  I have read his story and I am convinced that he probably just witnessed too many avoidable deaths and took the extra step to highlight a potentially high-risk.  I have a feeling that in writing his story, he’d hoped we would take preventive measures rather than curative ones.

Unfortunately; as with most of our problems, nothing else was done.

Recommendations of the relevant ministries and their inter-ministerial committees were not implemented and the eviction notices were not enforced.  Fast forward to September 2011, we have more than 120 deaths and many more injuries on our hands and as a country; we do no more than to condole with their families today.  Tomorrow, the politicians will be gone from Sinai slum and like a blot of ink on a white page; the memory of the horror will be swept under a carpet of vested interests… until the next time.

For me, the post-mortem of this Sinai slum tragedy must begin now.

When I mull over this fire, I recall a time when the Nairobi Town Clerk said he would embark on a demolition of houses built illegally.  There was uproar and he was stopped short in his tracks.

Why must Kenyans be allowed to do whatever they want even when it endangers their lives?

I am aware the Kenya Pipeline Company identified the risks and even went as far as engaging mechanisms to resolve the problem.  So what happened?  Did they get all the support from the government as required to deal with an obvious political problem of squatters?

There is the issue of cost of relocating the squatters and of putting up social amenities to cater for their needs.  Who should meet this social cost?  There is the issue of enforcement where the incentives may not be strong enough to ensure that laws and regulations are adhered to.  All these factors and very strong vested interests must have been present within and without the Sinai slum community.

Is the fact that squatters were able to continue living on top of an oil pipeline an indication of our unwillingness to deal with societal problems?

Did the line ministries take the necessary steps to avoid such a disaster?  Were our politicians caring enough to forestall this problem before it happened instead of rushing to make declarations a little too late?

The ideal situation would have been to fence off the area where the pipeline passes and move people as far away as possible.

Often, we have seen the enforcing institutions unable to take action because our court system has issued injunctions that debilitate them.  We have seen injunctions issued against the planned demolition of unsafe and inhabitable buildings or developers allowed to continue developing on road reserves etc.

Shouldn’t the government dictate that the general welfare of the public should override any court decisions that are of singular benefit to select few?

In the absence of such action, we are not absolved as individuals, from taking responsibility for our own lives.  We have seen and been warned of the dangers of siphoning fuel from tanks or fuel lines, yet this practice persists.

The question we should be asking is whether this behaviour is pervasive because of the harsh economic times; where the economic benefits far outweigh the risks even when it’s your life at stake.

Secondly, in any given scenario there are many other factors at play.

For me, this tragedy is indicative of so much that has gone so wrong with Kenya.  But in the spirit of Kenyans for Kenya, I am saying that we have the capacity to begin to take matters into our own hands.  In my view, anyone trying to run for political office should have a well-thought out plan for dealing with such ills and to avoid senseless loss of life.

After all, of what productive value is a dead person to the socio-economic status of his people and to the country as a whole?

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