No justice for Kyanguli fire tragedy victims 17 years later

The list pinned on some of the six mass graves of the students who died during the Kyanguli fire tragedy that claimed 67 lives in 2001. [File: Standard]

It was a rainy Sunday morning in March, 2001, when the nation lost scores of students in a fire.

Sixty-seven students died on that day at about 1.05am at Kyanguli Secondary School, Machakos County, in one of the country's worst fires. Another 21 boys were injured while 70 others survived.

Although survivors from the 'upper dorm' that had 200 students and parents who lost their children have moved on, they have yet to receive compensation 17 years later.

According to the chairman of the Kyanguli bereaved parents association, Benjamin Mutune, the parents of 63 of the students who perished came together and filed a case at the Milimani law courts in Nairobi.

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The parents sued the then head teacher, David Mutiso Kiilu, his deputy, Kasyoka Makau, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), the school's board of governors and the Attorney General for failing to prevent a felony.

After 16 years, Justice Joseph Sergon ruled that the school management, as the Government's agent, was negligent as it failed to prevent the fire.

“There were two attempts to burn down the school before that day. The head teacher and his deputy failed to take measures to avert the fire,” the judge said on March 3, 2016.

The court awarded the parents Sh40,950,000 which was broken down as: pain and suffering Sh9,450,000, loss of expectation of life Sh12,600,000, and loss of dependency Sh18,900,000. The money has never hit the accounts of the parents.

If the Government had paid then, each parent would have received Sh650,000, but the accrued interest due to the delay by Treasury to release the money has increased the amount to Sh54 million.

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Mr Mutune told The Standard that the delay in processing the payment had drove parents into depression.

“We have lost almost 10 parents. About a week ago, some of the parents camped outside Parliament Buildings in an attempt to compel the Government to release the money,” said Mutune, who lost his second-born son Lazarus Mutune, who was in Form Four.

At the office of the Attorney General, Senior Litigation Officer Charles Mutinda said the matter had been forwarded to the Ministry of Education, which is supposed to provide the funds.

However, a source said the ministry was allocated less money and it was trying to get more funds from Treasury, hence the delay.

The Standard team caught up with one of the survivors, Munzyu Kimau, an accountant at Exotic Destinations Ltd at South Coast, Mombasa.

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Mr Kimau, now a father of two, recalls the tragedy as if it happened yesterday. Though he lost his case due to delay in filing it, he said his joy would be to see the relatives of the many friends he lost get compensation.

“I was lucky to be the only survivor in that upper dorm, cube 6. I lost many friends in my class, Form 2N, and the only thing the Government can do for the affected parents is to ensure the money is processed and sent to their accounts,” said Kimau, 34.

The dormitory housed students from Form One to Form Four aged between 14 and 20 years.

He said before the incident, there had been several attempts to burn down the office of the principal and the library.

The previous year, the school's Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination results were cancelled because of cheating. Some of the learners blamed the school head for the problem.

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Two boys accused of starting the fire were charged with murder, but their case was terminated years later.

Kioko Kilukumi and Advocates, which represented the parents, said it had written follow-up letters to both the Ministry of Education and the AG.

“The AG and the PS are aware of this delay. I wrote to them,” said lawyer Kioko Kilukumi.

The parents who lost their loved ones in the tragedy were mainly from Makueni, Machakos and Kitui counties.

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