Blame game continues for years as buildings keep tumbling down

Rescue operation continue at a collapsed building in Huruma on May 3, 2016 at Kenya's six-storey residential building at Huruma estate in Nairobi  PHOTO JOHN MUCHUCHA

Over 100 Kenyans have been crushed to death under the weight of collapsed buildings in the last 20 years but no one has ever been punished.

Like it happened in 1996, when 35 people were killed following the collapse of Sunbeam Supermarket, successive tragedies have seen tough talk from authorities and prosecution of landlords and planning authorities.

However, in at least 11 such cases, where some charges of manslaughter were preferred against the owners and officials involved either in design, approval, inspection and construction of the death traps, the matters are still pending.

No one has ever been punished for the deaths.

Yesterday, the death toll from the collapsed Huruma flat hit 26, as five suspects linked to the tragedy were released on Sh1 million bond with one surety each.

Samuel Kamau and Henry Muiruri, the two brothers who owned the building, as well as Crispus Ndinyo, Justus Kathenge and Seline Ogallo also have an alternative of Sh500,000 cash bail or they remain in custody. (see separate story)

The tragic destruction of life is mostly confined to the low-end settlements which house the bulk of the city’s workforce.

The events that follow house collapses follow an eerily familiar script: Top officials descend on the scene of disaster, make stern pronouncements followed by publicised arrests. Court appearances follow. Then matters drag on for years.

In the case of Sunbeam Supermarket, the blame was heaped on then City Council of Nairobi, which was ordered to form a committee to probe the tragedy. Officially, the issue remains unsolved, according to a 2015 Government report on status of city buildings.

In the same vein, no one has ever been punished for the disaster that struck Ushirika estate along Juja Road in 1998 in which four people were killed.

In 2006, death visited Ronald Ngala Street where 17 construction workers were killed after a building under construction caved in.

The director of Capital Developers Ltd that owned the building, Jimmy Kihonge, was later arraigned in court. Kihonge and six other suspects are still facing various charges in court including manslaughter and negligence.

The following year, tragedy struck Mukuru Kwa Njenga on June 11 when a 10-feet wall came tumbling down, crushing the shanties beneath. Thirteen people were killed but no one was ever charged.

In 2009, the then police chief Mathew Iteere vowed that owners of a five-storey building that collapsed killing two people would be arrested and arraigned in court.

In 2014, eight people were crushed to death when a six-storey building mostly housing students in Makongeni, Nairobi, which stood on a wetland caved in.

Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero then called for investigations saying: “The probe report will make appropriate recommendations and measures taken including criminal proceedings on past and present officers who are responsible for collapsed buildings.”

The owner of the Kaloleni building was arrested and charged in court with manslaughter.

And last year in January, two people were killed in Huruma and another 38 injured after a seven-storey building collapsed. The then acting Inspector General of Police Samuel Arachi and CID Director Ndegwa Muhoro directed the owners of the building, as well as county engineers involved, to report to CID headquarters.

The county rejected a report by an American design and engineering firm, Questworks that accused contractors of using cheap metal as “the authority of the City Council was not consulted”. Four people are facing manslaughter charges.

In April, last year, a building in Roysambu collapsed and killed seven workers and injured 15 others. Four people including two engineers, the owner and designer were arrested and arraigned in court on April 3, 2015.

Five people are in court over the collapse of another building in Huruma this year. In 1998 in Tena Estate, another house collapsed killing at least four. The case is still on.

Other cases that are pending in court include Karanja Road in Kibera in 2001, Kilimani Estate in 2001, Mombasa in 2009, Kiambu in 2009 and Pipeline, Nairobi, in 2011.