Let's take Jirongo's claim of toxic waste dumping seriously

Veteran politician Cyrus Jirongo. [File, Standard]

In a recent interview, veteran politician Cyrus Jirongo claimed to have handled evidence of toxic waste dumping in northern Kenya.

Mr Jirongo also claimed that some senior government officials at the time had knowledge of the matter.

All indications are that international firms were involved in the dumping. Since the interview went viral, several stories have emerged of patterns of deaths in Isiolo, Marsabit and Meru counties allegedly tied to the waste.

The story is a lot bigger than just being yet another example of a developing country getting hoodwinked to accept trinkets in exchange for killer waste.

It is a test of what our government is willing to do to protect Kenyan lives. We need answers about what actually happened.

Who dumped the waste? What was the terms of the exchange with our government?

How can those affected be compensated? What can be done to minimise the damage done and prevent future illnesses from the waste?

These are important questions to ask. It would be ideal if the government swiftly helped the country get to the bottom of the matter. The accusations are too great to simply sweep under the carpet.

For once, it would be great if the government stepped forward to demonstrate to all that it cares about Kenyans’ lives. Having spectacularly failed the “Shakahola test,” so far, the Kenya Kwanza administration has shown that it is cut from the same cloth as previous governments that had little regard for Kenyan lives.

However, it is never too late to change course. Every crisis – from the doctors’ strike, to the fake fertiliser scams, to the tragic accidents on our roads, to collapsing buildings, to malnutrition in the north, to the conflicts in West Pokot and Baringo – presents an opportunity for the government to learn how to value Kenyan life.

That none of these crises has awoken the government to action reflects poorly on the entire Kenya Kwanza leadership. Governing people does not always have to be about giving directives and meting out punishments.

At the end of the day, a government that does not value the lives of its citizens cannot enact policies that advance their interests. You cannot help people whose lives you do not value.

Self-respecting servant leadership begins in the recognition of the value of human life regardless of socioeconomic status.

The writer is a Professor at Georgetown University