The Wednesday August 7 inferno that destroyed the arrival terminal at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), the country’s main airport, could have been prevented if not contained had some very basic mitigants been in place and (periodically) enforced. It is a very sad commentary on a country whose nationals, especially those who support the ruling elite, have so much pride, not to mention hubris, that its “international” airport has non-functioning fire hydrants and fire-fighting equipment, untrained or poorly trained and motivated personnel not to mention fire-suppression systems that would have detected the smoke…and fire…and at least mitigated the damage…if not doused the flames once the fire started.
I will say it again:
Of the continued embrace of a system of governance that rewards plum positions, including directorship/leadership positions in critical organizations such as the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) without holding said leaders fully accountable for the performance of the organizations in their charge. That the fire hydrants were reportedly not working is a direct result of lack of maintenance – the director’s job – Yes, it is the director’s job to ensure that the organization in his/her charge adheres to all applicable international and national standards including maintenance of critical systems/equipment such as fire hydrants. It is also the job of the director to ensure that the organization has adequate resources – trained manpower and well-maintained and functioning equipment to perform the assigned tasks.
Of the continued culture of “kitu kidogo”; “something small” or bribery/bribes and impunity that Kenya and her leaders are known for all over the world; a culture that has allowed the construction of infrastructure/buildings such as the airport now reduced to rubbles, roads and bridges etc. that do not meet applicable local and international standards such as installation of fire-suppression systems, availability of functioning hydrants within the premises not mention use of sub-standard building material or material whose design-intent is mitigation of common occurrences such as fires, water leaks, wear-and-tear etc. The applicable standards would have been enforced during the building inspections prior to approval and final commission of said building. Subsequent follow-up audits and inspection would have ensured that the applicable standards had been met and if not, corrective action with due-dates and responsible person(s) would have been enacted. Unfortunately, the fore-going scenarios makes two deadly assumptions: that the building inspections and follow-up audits would actually occur and that they would be executed by incorruptible officials!
Of the very culture of “kitu kidogo” and impunity that has allowed a tipping point of employees who are hired, not because they have the requisite qualifications and experience, but because they are the relative of the hiring manager (or someone above the hiring manager) or as has always been the case in Kenya, because they are from the tribe of the hiring manager and those in power! While there is nothing wrong with hiring a qualified and competent relative or even a tribesman/woman, there is something absolutely unethical if said relative or tribesman is incompetent and unethical. This situation is compounded by the hubris and arrogance reflected in expressions such as “KANU itatawala milele na milele” or “KANU will rule for ever and ever” popularized during the reign of President Moi or that “the (Kenyan) presidency will never cross the Chania River” popularized after independence during the reign of President Jomo Kenyatta.