02 February 2009

A Weak Mourning

The Kenyan government has determined the best way to deal with two fire disasters is to have a weeak of mourning.  I mentioned a few days ago about the Naumatt fire in Nairobi that has claimed the lives of at least 25 people.  A gas pipe burst and ignited during business hours.  Yesterday, a horrific disaster befell the people of Molo (in central Kenya Rift Valley).  A gas tanker turned over on the side of the road in the area of Kenya most affected by the food crisis.  People flocked to the tanker and attempted to siphon off gas.  Presumably to sell or trade for food.  The local police responded and "attempted" to keep the people away from the river of gas (reportedly knee high).  While hundreds of people gathered around an undetermined accident/person caused the gas to ignite.  What is described as a fire ball and explosion consumed the gas soaked air.  Igniting everything in its way.  Especially the people near whose clothes had been impregnated by the fumes of the gas.  Today the death toll stands at over 110 and the number continues to rise as people hanging on the life expire in the substandard Kenyan hospitals.  Survivors reported seeing "human torches" running to jump in the lake near by.  They witnessed people burn to death making a last attempt to extinguish the flames that had turned them into a living ball of fire. 

It has been rumored that the fire was set deliberately by an individual(s) who was upset because the police prevented him from stealing the gas.  I am inclined to believe this because the area is in such dire straits that if people were willing to wade through gas someone would be desperate enough to ignite the gas intentionally.  I do not wish to seem uncaring or unsympathetic about this incident, I am dismayed.  However, I must first acknowledge the stupidity of the people crowding around and taking gas from a tanker on its side. 

With that out of the way, the real issue is what drove the people to do this.  I hypothesize that this would not happen in the United States, maybe I am crazy to think so.  The first reason being that we have an adequate emergency response that would have kept the people away for their own safety.  The response would have been quick, not thirty minutes as in the case with the Nakumatt fire.  Second, people would not rush to steal gas from a turned over tank.  They would think about the consequences of such an action (ie. jail, fine, or death).  They would think this way because they were not that desperate. 

The actions of the people of Molo is a clear case of desperation.  They have been continually neglected by their own MP's and government and had to resort to crime and ultimately lost their lives.

This is not the exception in this country.  The violence last year is just another example of how desperate people are throughout the country and how willing they are to resort to extreme actions (ie. killing and stealing gas).  The country teeters on the precipice of more problems and little is done.  While things like this take place all over, the Prime Minister announces that he deserves the same pay as the President (2 million KSH a month aka 25000 USD a month).  Just a month past the MP's determined that they did not have to pay taxes.  Therefore the solution to the problem is to have a weeak of mourning.  All flags at half mast and government business stopped.

Reactionary governance can only last for so long.  There comes a point where governance must be proactive.  Public issues cannot be dealt with in passing.  This is as much a problem in Kenya (fires and elections) as it is in the West (financial crisis).  Reactionary governance is always easier when you focus on the short term (90's boom) and do not realize the effects just a decade later.