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Fire. Again. With Political Melodrama (yawn.)

I’m sorry, I am completely unable to feel distraught or more than passively chagrined by the unfortunate events at Sinai slum in Nairobi. I am a little annoyed with the government and Kenya Pipeline Company because I hear (and I really haven’t read much about that incident) that the pipeline in question is 10 years over its intended lifespan – therefore a spill was inevitable. This could make a lawyer a very rich lawyer and some slum dwellers very rich – so this business of the prime minister and his minister for energy mouthing off on compensation (“within the limits of KPC’s wherewithal”, I heard Kiraitu say) is rubbish. A moderately smart lawyer should instigate a class action suit against the Ministry of Energy and the Kenya Pipeline Corporation and the such moderately smart lawyer should be able to get a remarkable settlement for the poor.

As far as I am concerned, the Government’s actions are representative of the level of culpability that they have in this matter at various levels. The most obvious is the fact that the pipeline is 10 years over its intended lifespan. The second is that the government allowed the slum dwellers to dwell in the cramped fashion that they did – and continue to do in other slums – without making any attempt to legislate (at a bare minimum) road reserves and basic amenities like running water. Of course, the government’s rejoinder on this second point is that these are informal settlements and that they don’t know who dwells on the land. My rejoinder to that rejoinder is that the government is responsible for all citizens and it has a responsibility to ensure even such basic requirements as roads for any dwellings – formal or otherwise. The obvious impact of such negligence on the part of the government then is that the firemen (and I imagine, women) could not reach the burning victims of the fire at the heart of the slum. The government effectively is responsible for the lack of escape routes – in the same way a building owner is responsible for lack of exits. But this is not new.

That the government then melodramatically responds to this tragedy by announcing two days of mourning and ordering the flag to fly at half mast is a woeful political move that is intended to hoodwink these poor unfortunates (and the middle class, to whom this tragedy will quickly be forgotten in a week). They mean to hoodwink all of us that the government cares, that it has ever intention of dealing with the issue as effectively as any government should.


Hark the debacle between the Prime minister and the CEO of the Kenyatta National Hospital: the CEO appeals to Kenyans for blankets and water and a few  minutes later the PM contradicts him, rather gruffly saying that the government could never be unable to buy blankets – and yet we all know that Kenyatta Hospital is pitifully underfunded and under prepared for a tragedy of this or any other sizable proportion.

Government obvious guilt aside, I am unable to react with any real feeling about this fire. We’ve been through this before. Remember Sachangwan? That a lot of the people – I don’t dare presume that it was all of them – but that a lot of the people who were burnt were, at the time of the fire, siphoning the fuel into jerry cans, basins and such, makes me unable to feel for their utter unforgivable stupidity. And more so, that some (ostensibly drunk idiot who inevitably would be among them) would light a cigarette in the environs of the fumes makes more for a “serve you right” than a feeling of true sadness. But then, an attempt is made to excuse them because they are poor and (i suppose we mean) their stupidity must not be held against them.

I don’t for a minute subscribe to the view that poverty begets stupidity. And while I am truly feeling that this whole incident is absolutely unfortunate and regretable, I am completely unable to feel more than dismayed about it. I cannot help but hold the view that we’ve been there,done that – and yawn.

I am a writer first and foremost. I am passionate about social entrepreneurship, which I define by finding ways to innovate the world’s processes to make life better for people – whether in business or in the non-profit sector. I am professionally involved at the Open Institute, Thellesi Co and various agricultural ventures.

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