Sunday, September 18, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

September 14, 2011

East Africa is in mourning. Every other day, villagers are burying their loved dead. The media is awash with gruesome pictures of road carnage in Kenya. Deaths on our roads have become a pass time. They can no longer make it to the headlines.

If Kenyans are not dying of endless road accidents, Tanzanians are dying in their hundreds from a boat accident. These deaths come so soon just after Ugandans buried many of their dead from a landslide.

The question ask is this: why would 600 intelligent people board a boat in Pemba knowing so well that the capacity of the boat was much less than that number? Where were the captain and his crew when the boat was overloading? Couldn’t they have stopped passengers from crowding in the already overcrowded boat? Or better still; why didn’t the captain decline to set sail unless extra passengers disembarked? Indeed this is what airline pilots do. They will never take off unless the exact number of passengers is on board.

Let us face the reality here; there may be many road accidents happening in Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda that we in Kenya do not get to hear about on a daily basis. However, when a number of people died in Uganda in a landslide, we got to know it, tragic as it was. For the Ugandan case it was an act of God and nobody could do anything about it. After all, Americans die of hurricanes, floods and wild fires every other day despite the sophistication of that society. What impresses about the American system is that they are disaster prepared and will battle the elements of nature to the bitter end. The amount of advance warnings and evacuation procedures is mind boggling.

What kills us here every day cannot happen in America in that scale. Highway Patrol Police have been brought up to control speeding and ensure that un-roadworthy vehicles are permanently off the road. Those who break traffic rules face multiple severe penalties that include withdrawal of driving licenses, heavy fines and even longer jail terms if found guilty. It is therefore good to see that ordinary motorists are permanently on the look out to ensure that petty crimes like jumping traffic lights or changing lanes careless do not occur.

In the last two weeks, Kenyans have lost at least 50 people due to stupid and reckless driving. Just the other day, President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka joined villagers in Machakos to bury 28 villagers that perished in a single road accident. Two days earlier, eight members of one family met their death under similar circumstances in Kericho, Rift Valley. At that funeral, President Kibaki directed the Ministers for Internal Security and Transport and the Police Commissioner to deal ruthlessly with rogue public transport drivers on our roads. Three days after this stern warning, eight more people died in a road accident due to reckless driving near the President’s rural home. It was like the two ministers and the Police Chief never heard the President’s warning. Now, in a country where the Head of State’s word counts for nothing, it may be difficult to have the small man obey any law.

As we mourned and buried our road victims, twenty –five Kenyans have lost their lives with an equal number gone blind after consuming illicit alcohol yet just a year ago, Kenya passed one of the stringent anti- alcohol laws.

Apparently the law enforcers have chosen to turn a blind eye to the vagaries of deadly illicit brews that are killing our people in their hundreds every year. Now the Mututho laws face the danger of being moribund before they are effected by the minister in charge of the Police Force.

Just two days ago, over one hundred Kenyans died a very stupid death. They were once again roasted in the inferno that was the Sinai fuel fire. These were slum dwellers that had for years built structures on top of the Kenya Pipe Line oblivious of the fact that if a an oil pipe burst and exploded for whatever reason and caught fire, they would die in their thousands. That is exactly what happened to them on the morning of Monday this week.

When a society loses its morals and ethical values in pursuit of quick economic gains; when the leadership stops applying the law and instead leaves ordinary people to their fate, the law of the jungle fills the vacuum. In the case of the Sinai fires, the Internal Security Minister, Energy Minister, Environment Minister, Transport Minister, Police Commissioner and the entire Kenya Pipeline Management were all caught in deep slumber. This tragedy could have been avoided a long time ago.

The Zanzibar boat tragedy was a case of a greedy boat owner who exploited the laxity or complicity of the regulator and law enforcer to put to sea an unseaworthy boat that he knew risked the lives of 600 Tanzanians. Now that over 200 Tanzanians are dead with scores injured and perhaps maimed for life, the Zanzibari Minister for Internal Security’s warning of punishment to the boat owner may amount to no more than just a fine with possibly no compensation for the families that lost their kin.

In the Kenyan situation, the Sinai people being slum dwellers will only be mourned without compensation as the real culprits-the law enforcement agencies hurriedly send their condolences, make high sounding political statements then depart in their helicopters to leave the villagers mourn their dead.

Yes, we have agreed to die senseless deaths while our rulers have refused to rule according to the law.