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THE GRIM REAPER’S TERRIBLE KENYAN HARVEST

By fire or poisonous brews, on the road or at the hands of our own countrymen, the Grim Reaper continues to scythe his way through a terrible harvest of Kenya’s population. His presence is rarely desired, with each death leaving people asking “Why?” Yet in truth all too often we invite his dark presence into our midst, or at least allow him easy entry into our daily lives.

THE KLU KLUX KLAN WOULD BE PROUD OF US

Regular Forum readers will know that quite recently we commented on the many ‘lynchings’ that are reported in Kenya on almost a daily basis (see ‘“Strange Fruit” and the impunity of the mob’) whereby individuals who are suspected of a crime (often a very minor one) but have not been charged let alone convicted, are stabbed, hacked, shot, stoned or hanged to death by the mob.

Here are just three recent examples of this quaint Kenyan pastime that have occurred within the last month.

At the end of August a ‘serial rapist’ was ‘lynched (actually, he was beaten to death) by residents of Ndaragwa after he was ‘identified by one of his victims’ (no need presumably to have any corroborating evidence, just take her word for it). Early September it was the turn of a ‘chicken thief’ (so the punishment fitted the crime then) at Nyombayathi village, Kanyakine division (he was killed by the mob using ‘crude weapons’). And on Friday last, a boda boda ‘suspected gangster’ was ‘lynched’ (just stoned this time) and his body set on fire in Kerugoya town, Kirinyaga County.

In the year 1892 in the United States, 230 ‘lynchings’ took place, 161 African-Americans and 69 whites, a record for that country. In two months alone this year in Kenya, over 100 lynchings were recorded. At that rate we will lynch anything up to 2,500 people this year. My word the Klu Klux Klan would be proud of us.

The Kenya press may refer to them as ‘lynchings’ but as the Forum has pointed out before another word that could be used is of course, ‘murder’.

A LETHAL BREW

At least 19 people died in Nyahururu after drinking an illegal brew, it was reported in the newspapers on September 15. At the same time in Ruiru, seven people died and four went blind after drinking a similar concoction.

According to a report in The Nation (‘Zombies who are the brew tasters’, September 15), ‘Every consignment [of the illegal brew] that arrives is tasted by watchmen, streetboys and loaders’ who are given Sh500 for their work. If they live the brew is deemed to have passed the test and is taken to the pubs seems to be the way it operates.

Today’s Nation reports another four people dying at Muchatha village in Banan, Kiambu, and three others being admitted to hospital having lost their site after drinking at a local bar.

How many hundreds die or are blinded by this trade every year the Forum does not know but the reports of similar events to those in Nyahururu and Ruiru appear in the press virtually every week. Surely the combating of this evil trade should be a police priority, not the hounding of legitimate bars that serve a drink a minute after official closing time.

The Nyahururu victims will be buried in a mass grave today. They came from the Maina slums. The Forum fears that to the police they just don’t count as human beings.

THE REAPER RIDES A MATATU

The Forum has also commented on more than one occasion about the appalling casualty rates on our roads and particularly about the many ‘accidents’ involving buses and matatus (see earlier postings, ‘Bloody buses’ and ‘Behind the wheel or behind bars?’). The slaughter goes on.

The Standard reported on September 9 that ‘13 more people die in two road accidents’, eight in Meru and five others in Machakos, ‘all traveling in public service vehicles’ (both were matatus, both in collision with a lorry).

A woman died and 66 people were injured The Nation reported on September 13 when a Nairobi-bound bus rolled at Cherboror shopping centre in Uasin Gishu County’. For good measure the survivors of the crash were all robbed of their ‘cash and personal effects’ by ‘people who rushed to the scene’.

More recently, eleven people were killed when a bus collided with a truck on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway at 1am in the morning. Eye witnesses said the bus driver was speeding.

Today’s Standard reports 13 passengers dying with scores injured in a crash in Kitui County after a bus rolled 15 kilometres from Mwingi town.

‘We are all to blame for road accidents, from traffic police officers who take bribes and turn a blind eye to offence and passengers who board unroadworthy vehicles putting themselves at risk of death’, Mr Nyandoro, a lawyer and member of the British Content Advisory Council wrote in a letter published in The Standard on September 17.

Njoki Karuoya writing in The Standard three days earlier (‘No one else needs die on our roads’) called for ‘Road safety has to be embraced as a quality of life concept’ and for the ‘implementation of new road safety strategies’ to cut road deaths in half by 2020.

Mr Nyandoro and Ms Karuoya are quite right (although the Forum doubts the latter’s contention that Ghana has the best safety record in Africa – have you driven on Ghanaian roads lately Njoki?) but the Forum would add its suggestions as to how to cut the carnage on our roads by 50 per cent (and well before 2020): the police must enforce the speed limit, pull all unroadworthy buses and matatus off the roads, and charge all drivers of said vehicles with manslaughter if by flagrantly breaking the law their actions lead to the death of others.

THE SINAI FIRE TRAGEDY

On September 12 petrol leaked from a pipeline into a nearby storm drain in the Sinai village slum in Nairobi’s industrial area. It would appear that some local residents rushed to scoop up the valuable liquid; others were at home sheltering from the rain in the many makeshift huts that crowd the area. Whether it was a spark or a discarded cigarette that set off a massive explosion is unknown but the resulting fireball incinerated over 100 people.

In truth nobody yet knows what exactly happened or who is at fault, be it the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC), illegal fuel traders siphoning off petrol from the pipeline, a combination of both, or other factors. This however, did not stop the rush to judgement.

By the next day The Standard’s ‘Opinion’ was blaming ‘negligence’ on the part of the KPC. By the end of the week, politician, lawyer and ‘civil society’ activist Paul Muite, whilst calling for an ‘independent probe’ claimed that ‘the management of the KPC had deliberately spilled the fuel to cover up for massive theft of fuel’ at their nearby depot.

Mr Muite may be right, he may not be, but he and others should remember that such rushes to judgement can lead to ‘lynchings’, real or metaphorical.

TALKING OF POLITICIANS…

Other politicians toured the Sinai disaster area, including Prime Minister Odinga. It is right that they did so but several commentators aired varying degrees of scepticism at their presence on these tragic occasions.

Kipchumba Some writing in The Nation under the headline, ‘The shame of leaders in time of grief’, declared that the gesture ‘smacks of overweening pomposity’ and that the ‘whole charade climaxes on the day of the funeral… Looking somber in their expensive suits… heads bowed’ and ‘frowns on their faces’.

Same day, same newspaper, same page and Father Calisto Nyagilo, a Roman Catholic priest blamed politicians, at least in part, for ‘abetting conditions that lead to Sinai-type tragedies’. “Politicians see these slums in terms of votes, and that’s why the slums are still there”, he was quoted as saying.

Kwendo Opanga writing in the Sunday Nation took a similar angle suggesting that MP’s interceded only ‘because they view people of Mukuru Sinai in terms of votes and not in terms of human life’.

In Kipchumba Some’s article he quoted Mr Paul Muite as describing the visits of politicians as “misplaced acts of cheap populism. They are not necessary and should be stopped. I don’t think they know how cheap and insincere they look when they are doing that.”

Those who read page 5 of the Weekend Star the day before would have seen a photograph of Mr Muite wearing a smart suit, head bowed, a somber look on his face, standing beside the hospital bed of one of the victims of the fire.

Stopping politicians viewing slum dwellers as voting fodder, or grandstanding in the aftermath of terrible events is as an intractable a problem as educating fellow Kenyans to run away from a fuel spillage rather than to it.

SEPTEMBER 2011, ONE OF KENYA’S WORST MONTHS

Quoted in The Standard today in a report headlined, ‘September the worst in my tenure, says Iteere’, Commissioner of Police Mathew Iteere described this month ‘as the worst month in his career’. Over 100 people died in the Sinai fire, at least 250 people have died on Kenya’s roads in the last month alone, more than 30 people have died from drinking illegal liquor, and the police are investigating at least 40 cases of ‘mob injustice’ arising in September.

The Forum would like to be up-beat, to look with optimism at the prospects for positive change, but with this month’s daily news of such terrible carnage, for this posting, this is just not possible.

Zimbabwe military press conference

Raila Odinga Speech at the CSIS Washington DC, USA

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