Monday, July 10, 2006


Disaster Management

The ugly hydra of disaster management has sprouted another head. Thirteen innocent lives have been lost. The death of these Kenyans should not be dismissed as just another bahati mbaya. This is a tragedy that should have been avoidable or at the least manageable. Preliminary reports indicate there was chemical spillage on the floor of the factory. This should have been a clear warning signal to stop every thing until the source and cause of spillage was determined and corrected. But perhaps production was not to be delayed, there were pending orders to be fulfilled. Other reports indicate there was hindrance by some parties of those willing to rush in and attempt to rescue the trapped employees. That the fear of losing money to looters superseded the need to break down the doors and perhaps rescue some of those people in itself speaks volumes. The premium we place on human live is at such a low level that they better burn than us lose money. This goes to the ridiculous ethos of business conduct in Kenya, make money at whatever cost. Businesses should have adequate insurance for such tragedies and even loss of cash. The employees in such hazardous occupations dealing with chemicals should have insurance beyond the meager workmen’s compensation. The Labor Ministry has the responsibility of enforcing industrial safety and compliance with the relevant statutes.

The disaster management team should have been at the forefront in the prevention of such disasters through education. Most of our factories have no disaster management capabilities. Some do not even have a single fire extinguisher, and those that do may not have people competent to operate them. These are not trophies to be hung in the offices, they are survival kits that should be readily available to all on the floor and all should know how to operate them. Frequent fire drills in the factories should be mandatory. Evidence of these should be in the factory inspectors reports (if the office still exists in the Labor ministry). Each factory should have a fire marshal, an established routine in case of fire, a designated area for employees to gather in case of a fire, a delineated route of escape and a fire door accessible and operable from the inside. These are simple common sense safety measures, yet they are non existent in most factories.

The government should be proactive in disaster management. Safety equipment in factories and public places should be mandatory, they should even be tax deductible to promote their affordability. The law should be enforced where they are not installed. We should not sit and wait for disasters to happen before we enforce safety. Employers have a responsibility to acquaint every employee with the safety regulations in their factory and enforce their adherence.

The disaster management team is now awake and will perhaps issue a statement and visit the site of the disaster before going back to sleep until the next disaster. This is a team whose business is not public relations, their primary duty should be educating the masses on the basics of avoiding tragic consequences as a result of tragic occurrences. They should start with teaching the people what to do in case of a house fire, stove bursting in flames,ground caving in, floods, motor accident, chemical spillage, train derailment, mass changaa poisoning, before thinking about earthquakes and terrorist bombs. Our people are willing to help incase of accidents but do not always go about it the right way. This is education that can be carried through the mass media, train volunteers in first aid, not just for wearing uniforms and marching up and down during national days, but volunteers in all walks of life who can be the first line of response in a disaster.

Sitting down and drawing up budgets for offices, vehicles, titles and grandiose projects will not help. Basic prevention lies in simplicity of the issues not in their complexity. Disaster management should start at the ground level, the factory worker, the matatu conductor, the mwananchi crossing the road. It is a legal requirement that all matatus should have a fire extinguisher, how many of these work, are they checked for operation during the annual licensing of the matatu? How many people know how to operate them? These are basics that would come in handy in time of a disaster.

Let us educate our people on safety and this way they will save their lives and those of others. We do not have to wait for another disaster to happen for us to appreciate the need for being proactive.

Charles Wairia



The sentiments of Dominic Odipo on the electability of a non circumcised president in Kenya belay the wider problem of leadership in the country. (Eastandard, July 10, 2006). Over the years tribalism has permeated the political culture of the country to the extent that merit, qualifications and commitment are secondary. In every level of elected leadership in the country the issue of tribe is paramount. Even in cosmopolitan constituencies like those in Nairobi, the tribal constitution and concentration of the population determine who gets elected.

Over the years the issue of the tribe has been hammered into the minds of Kenyans to the extent that we no longer see ourselves as Kenyans first and tribes second. We are tribes first and Kenyans second. There are those who would say the tribe is not a factor in their national thinking, they are silent and in the minority. History has taught us otherwise. When Kenyatta was president the Kikuyus received favors from the government in jobs, ministerial appointments, parastatals, land allocation etc disproportionately from the other tribes. When Moi took over he replaced the Kikuyus with Kalenjins in meting out favors and preferential treatment. Kibaki has now reversed the trend and put Kikuyus back on the most favored table.

National issues will unite people irrespective of tribes. We have seen it happen in Kenya right from the war of independence and lately with the formation of LDP, although it was a group of disgruntled Kanu elements, and during the constitutional referendum. We have seen the nation coming together in times of natural disasters and other man made tragedies. The people have transcended the tribe and pulled together as a nation in the recent past. As soon as these tragic events pass we retreat to our tribal cocoons and seek to promote the egoistic interests.

The principal culprits in propagating tribalism, in my opinion, are our leaders. Over the past forty years, during election time the leaders hammer on the tribal theme at the expense of other agenda. The electorate is bombarded with the false gospel of tribal supremacy. They are told the enemy is the other tribe, if you elect the other tribe you will deny your own the chance to eat and consequently the chance for you to collect any crumbs. From previous practice and experience, the people regrettably have seen this happening and therefore elect their own. But if we were a nation that valued and promoted meritocracy we would be a nation that fights tribalism. When the area is tribally homogeneous we transcend to the clan and filial ties to promote ourselves. Rarely is merit a prerequisite for leadership.

Right from the top, the seats of power are shared on tribal considerations. It does not matter whether you have the relevant qualifications to lead a ministry, what matters is if you are of the relevant tribe. Merit is thrown out of the window and that is why we have a bloated cabinet with people manning ministries in which they have no background training or experience.

What has all this got to do with circumcision? We may have the best candidate for the presidency from the Luo community, he may have all the best credentials and present the best agenda for the nation and still be unelectable. By virtue of lack of physical mutilation of genitalia of their male species, the Luos are in the minority in the Kenyan tribal cultural practices. When threatened by a common enemy, the Luo, the Kenyans will revert to their common bond and perception of cultural supremacy by virtue of their having faced a common torture, the knife. That is why the Kikuyus perceive themselves closer, culturally, to the Luhyas and Mijikenda than to the Luos and vise versa.

Circumcision as a tribal rite of passage is consistently dying. Among the Kikuyus it no longer carries much significance to the initiates. Most, if not all, are circumcised in hospitals and clinics. This is increasingly being performed at younger ages when the significance of the ceremony is lost to the initiates. There is no longer the glory of withstanding the knife and the teaching that went with it. As a rite of passage it is obsolete and therefore irrelevant in the modern world. There are some tribes that still hang on the past performance like the Bukusu, but with the advent of AIDS the tribal circumciser is fast joining the jobless crew. The pain of cutting the foreskin or plucking teeth is pain. You cannot and should not apportion degrees to either. Neither should you determine leadership on whether you have withstood either pain. Our leaders know this but they will not dare tell it to their people. They thrive in the perpetuation of peoples’ ignorance that the enemy lies in the foreskin and not the government policies and their execution.

Time has come for this nation to grow out of tribal psychosis and promote national leadership based on merit and vision. Loss of foreskin does not instill wisdom and leadership, it instills a permanent scar and momentary pain. The covering of the glans is not the covering of the brain, the two are not related and that is why God in His inestimable wisdom placed the two in opposite ends. To judge a leader by removal of foreskin is not only immoral but also downright degrading to both the potential leader and the electorate. What we need to do is to remove the mask we conveniently adorn as protectors of culture and traditions, while what we are protecting is greed and avarice for leadership and exploitation of the masses.

Charles Wairia

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