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?

15 Replies to “I grieve with the folks of Sinai, but action must start now”

  1. chris kirubi, you have pretty much summarised the whole tragedy.”its indicative of how much has gone so wrong with kenya”.

  2. Kirubi – you are more informed than I’m. The Govt is blameless in this one. Sometimes the govt is held hostage by the same leaders who walk the picket lines claiming maskini hawana haki, it may wish well for the people but then the NGOs and the loud mouths sense blood and flock in saying the govt is insensitive. years ago a politician said “mkiwaona hao weka tire’ as regards KPLC and illegal connections. Then Maitha, God bless his soul confronted the illegal extensions in Nairobi especially on City Council houses the first to raise objection was the catholic church, they happen to have been allocated land in Mau Forest. Look at Kibera, KR and now RVR have been asking, pleading and begging the people to move from their way-leave but who will listen. Not even the most honorable among us. This is no time to blame the government but ourselves. Who will police us if we can’t police ourselves!

  3. This tragedy reminds me of the infamous call by the former Makadara MP, Reuben Ndolo “mukiona hawo, weka tairi”.  Regrettably but not unexpectedly, his prophesy has come to pass. As the country mourns for the loss of over 100 lives today, let us take stock of our past and present mistakes and fix them now. Let us re-examine our character as a nation. Are we a country of killers? Statistics have it that since January 2011, over 2000 Kenyans have lost their lives through road accidents. In the last five years we have lost over 1000 Kenyans through fire tragedies. I am not sure how many Kenyans have died of hunger and brutal attacks. These are more deaths than what NATO forces allies have suffered in Afghanistan in the last nine years. Is Kenya at war with itself? Fellow compatriots, let us learn to do the right things in the right way.

  4. I grieve for the victims of the Sinai tragedy particularly for the innocent children consigned to an early grave by the senseless greed of their parents who should have known better than to look for a few shillings by siphoning/collecting a river of flowing fuel. All it took was one spark to ignite the conflagration of petrol vapor that quickly spread across the slum. While condoling with the families of victims of the Sinai fire tragedy this matter raises more questions than answers. 

    Why would educated/aware/enlightened people refuse to vacate an area which they have been told  was a potential death trap? 

    Why would people endanger their lives as well as those of their families, friends and neighbors by siphoning/collecting fuel after previous tragedies involving similar misadventures elsewhere in the country? 

    In a situation where the dangers to the residents were obvious and well documented, why did the government dither and procrastinate about making a decision on the eviction notices served on the residents by Kenya Pipeline Company over the years? 

    Will the politicians and NGO’s who have been mobilising the Sinai slum residents over the years to resist attempts to evict them from the pipeline right of way take political responsibility for this tragedy?

    The often cliched answer when confronted with eviction by many of the slum dwellers around the country is “lakini tuta enda wapi” citing poverty as an excuse. But is poverty really an excuse for desperation and risking ones life?

    It is clear that the rule of law and the governments mandate to ensure that all citizens are taken care of equally has long been abdicated and with a new constitutional dispensation hard answers to some searching and pertinent questions need to be found if we are to avoid scenes where our leaders are for ever attending burials and scenes of tragedies to condole with Kenyans consigned to a macabre death. 

    As a president, I would loath a job description that involves attending funerals caused by tragedies arising out of human greed, lack of respect for authority and rule of law and failure to enforce existing rules and regulations!

  5. I’m loving your  statement…. this tragedy is indicative of so much that has gone so wrong with Kenya! its  really painful  in less  than  five  years  hundreds  of  Kenyans  have  died  from preventable  causes  2007/2008 hundreds  died  in the ost  election  violence ,2009 78 people  perished  in the sachang’wan tragedy , soon after many more  died  in various  parts of the  country after    consuming illicit  brews ,  then  came  the cholera  outbreak  in  Northern kenya  and many kenya slums ……goodness!! don’t  even get  me  started  on the many road  accidents  we  have  had in those  five  years , then the  biggest  tragedy of  all the famine  in  Northern  Kenya ….and just  when you thought  it  wouldn’t  get  any worse the Sinai tragedy happens!! where  are  we  headed ?????

  6. Courts do not issue injunctions by themselves, they do so when there has been violation of the law. If there were no courts, who would protect the public from arbitrary government decisions, such as the proposal a few months ago to demolish buildings from Mombasa Road to Waiyaki Way? If there are unsafe situations, eg illegal structures, people living on oil pipelines or railway reserves, there are procedures to be followed. In this case, the Kenya Pipeline had warned about people living there but the other government departments, eg local authorities, and provincial administration did not act.

  7. I agree with you, politics play a big role to hinder safeguarding of many of us Kenyan, they dont solve our problems. Come nxt election we have to get the right people to represent us.

  8. I join with sympathy for those who have lost their loved ones. I totally agree with Chris. Kenya has become a country of contradictions – the very beautiful and the very ugly. The Kibaki administrtaion may have done well in restoring the economy. What we need urgently now is an administration that will bring society back to order. If you have been to Mombasa lately, you will get a sense of a country that has lost it – heaps of garbage all over, drugs and prostitution day and night, chaotic traffic. Kenya has simply become a lawless society. In other places  – people are building under high voltage cables, commercial churches are popping all over etc and I can bet soon, delinquents- – like we have seen in makadara will be the waheshimiwas. We can only pray that God will save us from ourselves – Amen

  9. My friends, I thank for your contributions to this debate.  It has been enlightening reading your comments and hearing your passionate views.
    For me, it is clear that politics has always interfered in critical matters.  However, our government has been voted in by the majority of Kenyans to lead them and hence should not abandon their responsibilities.  We have seen the government exercise its authority to compulsorily acquire and purchase land that was required for the construction of roads. 

    Why can’t they exercise the same authority to ensure the general welfare and safety of its citizens?

    Why can’t the regulations be implemented to ensure that unsafe buildings are torn down, land reserves for railway lines, rivers (nairobi river & dam), and water catchment areas are vacated, that matatu drivers observe road safety regulations?  Personally, I am tired of seeing government officials attending mass funerals that are completely avoidable, when we what they should be doing is enforcing regulations that promote the welfare and safety of all Kenyans.

    Let us agree, that it should never be the poor and/ or affected parties that dictate what happens in any given situation.  Obviously, their own interests for survival would override their desire for safety.  The government must provide sober (not populist) leadership and exercise its authority to ensure that Kenyans remain safe at all costs.  thank you.

  10. I read and agree with all the comments here but how can we (i.e. all like minded people here) organise ourselves to form pressure groups that will make politicans stand up and listen. I despair thinking there are so many of us but our opinions go un-noticed

  11. what do you expect with m.ps such as sonko???/ instead of educating the masses, they storm the kpc offices… surely its people like sonko that make me ashamed to be kenyan .kenya is a lawless country ,why shud people have an upper hand even in such issues for health safety.we have a govt and its ahigh time the gov start doing its job.

  12. How do these slums really develop? Are there Chiefs and local leaders who enforce rules to protect private and public land? I can’t blame these settlers because they are just looking for somewhere to live, but somebody should have been there to say NOT HERE.

  13. francis m sakwa
    it so so sad the only thing the government can respond after a score of death is we will compesat u how long will they compensate dead Kenya now in Nyahuiru at lest 12pple hav lost there live due to illecity brew will they compensate last week we hed several accident the same tone. it is high time for the gorverment to work on the long term solution regarding kenyan disaster rather than the song compensation Wat r u compensating death!!

  14. My condolences to all those who lost their lives but there are disasters waiting to happen take for instance people who are living along the raliway truck in Kibera slum, clearly we have a long way to go but i would like to urge my fellow citizens to take responsibility for the lives and not to wait after a disaster as happen is when they start blaming other parties. 

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