When it was a crime to keep kerosene in your house

Kerosene pressure lamp. [File, Standard]

What does the government have against kerosene? Even when prices of other oil products went down to cushion Kenyans from the rising cost of living, the price of kerosene remained defiantly high.

While hiking the price of kerosene a while back, policymakers argued that this was the only way to curtail the cartels which had been using this fuel to adulterate diesel. This brought it at per with diesel and somehow stopped the cheats from “baptizing” diesel but in the process hit the masses hard since this was the primary source of lighting for millions of Kenyans.  

When Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, who is aspiring to be the next Deputy President confessed during a debate that he did not know the price of this commodity because he does not shop in supermarkets, he unwittingly reawakened a debate that was 119 years old.

Long before Rigathi was born, the government had banned the storage of kerosene. A piece of law legislated against storing of kerosene and other inflammable liquids in a house.

This law was however relaxed for Nairobi when the governor, E.P. C Girouard on January 27, 1910, directed that, “no kerosene or other highly inflammable oil shall be stored in any house or building within a township in larger quantities than 4 cases (40 gallons).”

Girouard repealed this law to exempt Nairobi residents. People in other township(s) who wanted to stockpile kerosene had to obtain special permission from the town clerk.

“The town clerk may in his discretion and subject to such conditions as he may prescribe grant a licence for the possession of any stated quantity of such oil in a place provided by the township for such purpose.”        

Although a lot of water has passed under the bridge, kerosene is still a hot political potato and every now and then finds its way into the political discourse.

It is still a controversial subject in schools where there have been claims of its inclusion in diet to subdue hormones in boarding schools. While teachers say this is no longer the case, some retired cooks insist there was a time this was practised in some schools.

What is not in doubt is that all petrol stations in Kenya are banned from dispensing petrol in plastic containers or to students to extinguish school fires and deter arsonists.

Today, conservationists are agitating for cleaner energy which spells doom for the usage of kerosene against spiralling costs of electricity and demands by the International Monetary Fund that the State stops subsidising petroleum products.

It appears the government is still trying to keep kerosene out of the reach of the masses as it did, a century ago.