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Friday, 16 September 2011

Sinai Fire Tragedy:-The Slum Dweller's Perspective..

As the embers of fire die out in Sinai, one can’t help but question why Kenyans seemingly court disaster.

One of my colleagues recently quipped that September has become the new August. The dooms month, with deaths occasioned by road carnage and other fatalities has ‘traditionally’ been August. If you reside in Kenya, you will attest to the fact that the untold loss of life in September 2011 is an all time high:Road accidents, deaths attributed to illicit brews, natural calamities-drought, not to mention sicknesses and other social disorder deaths like thuggery and domestic disturbances.

But I digress...

It is very easy for the general public to label the Sinai fire victims {et-al} greedy, stiff-necked Kenyans who brought death upon themselves in the pursuit of a quick buck.Infact, the high and middle class society will continue judging these people harshly since they cannot put themselves in the proverbial shoes of such people who live in squalor and by the grace of God.

A woman being ferried to Hospital from the scene of fire:Sinai Slums

Slum dwellers usually find themselves caught in between a rock and a hard place. On one end, they do realize that there are laws that govern certain rules of engagement.Yet, they choose to remain oblivious and live precariously.

On the flipside, there is the quest to survive despite all odds.A father living in a shanty and earning minimum wage from construction work in the Industrial Area will feel obliged to fend for his family as the sole bread winner. This will mean that he has to take ‘advantage’ of any money minting opportunity. In a man eat man society that is the slum, quick thinking and lightning speed action makes the difference between a meal on the table and hungry looking kids with expectant wide eyes looking at you as you open the iron sheet that is the door to your house.

Sinai Villagers in recovery efforts from the expansive Nairobi River

You would be so wrong if you consider this to be ignorance. I personally know well learned people who live in slums. Brilliant minds who engage innovation and entrepreneurship to make ends meet. Graduates from reputable institutions who have the zeal to make it from the ghetto save from the rampant unemployment that has reduced them to homage in the murky waters of the slum.

Coincidentally, Sinai the slum,is synonymous to the Biblical Sinai where the Israelites sought refuge enroute from Egypt. And so is the case with the fire ravaged Sinai and most of the informal settlements in Kenya. After the harsh realities of life grappling with unemployment, high cost of living, political turbulence etc,most of the ‘low class’ Kenyans resign into their peace and serene humble abodes in their slum houses.

The close proximity of houses and stalls to the railway line in Kibera for instance is a disaster in the making. Did you know that any structures erected next to a railway line ought to have a 10 metre provision on either side? Did you also know that there was a laid out plan to have a wall erected at these 10 metre marks to act as a buffer between the inhabitants and the railway?Did you also know that the plan included construction of low cost housing units that were to have trading units on the ground floor and bed-sitter sized houses on the second floor?

A biased high-middle classed mind will label this ‘encroachment’. But to the slum dweller, this is ‘the way of life’. The railway line has been reduced to a foot path in and out of the slum. It has as such become the most ‘sensible’ place to set up business premise { wooden stalls..}Should a goods train, ferrying flammable material derail in the shanty, your guess is as good as mine. Then another series of blame games will begin.

As I’m writing this, Kenya Railways has already began eviction of residents that have encroached the railway line in Kikuyu town. This is a knee-jerk action precipitated by the Sinai fire tragedy. Though a good move, the manner in which the eviction was done was ruthless: a gang of hired youth descended on the resident demolishing their wooden structures without any prior notice.

A train passes through an informal settlement in Nairobi.

Sounder alternatives ought to be employed to safeguard the populace. It would be unfair to propose to relocate slum dwellers without setting up viable options; compensation-to land owners, landlords etc-or building of affordable housing. In this light, the government ought to provide security of tenure to landowners.

Politicians who are also notorious for propagating mushrooming of slums ought to take responsibility of their utterances when pursuing their political ambitions. Rather than persuade slum dwellers not to pay rent with impunity, they should offer them alternatives while warning them on the consequences of land encroachment especially in areas already determined volatile.

Kenyans should also rid themselves of the culture of dependency. Its high time collective will be utilized in combating these social inhibitions. For instance, it would be proactive if slum dwellers pull together resources in form of associations. The intention would be to come up with a substantial amount enough to purchase a piece of land and construct decent housing units. As an association they would have even more bargaining power if say they were to approach a financial institution for a loan to bridge any deficit.Workable?Yes!It has been done before successfully.

Finally,a total re-evaluation of our values as Kenyans is required.Kenyans tend to overlook issues.My personal take would be that Kenyans,major on minor isuues and minor on major issues.It is this total disregard of norms that drives people to encroach on potentially industrial harzadous lands.If you look at it from an economic point of view,we as Kenyans will suffer even more if say,Oil investors are to take into account such incidences as the Sinai fire tragedy to opt out on future deals with the Oil operators in the country citing inefficiency to regulate safety standards.

* The Scribe takes this opportunity to condole with those affected by the Sinai Fire tragedy,those who are recuperating in Hospitals,those who have lost their loved one.It is a painful death.May God grant you peace during this difficult times.

The Scribe Rests his Pen....


  1. the government should be serious for once and avoid such a scene in the future!!!

  2. The tragedy Liannes is that we as Kenyans dont learn from past mistakes.Let's hope our government doesn't continue dragging its feet where the lives o Kenyans are concerned.