Anger at State's delayed help, confusion amid devastation

The search and Rescue team assisted one of the children of Mama Jane Nyambura who were stuck inside their house and were not able to get out after the raging waters of Kijabe dam flooded the area. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

As the country grapples with floods, which have so far killed over 160 people and left a trail of destruction, the government's apparent ineptness in its response has come into sharp focus.  

The slow response in the face of the unfolding humanitarian crisis has attracted the ire of politicians, activists and victims, who are wondering why the military and the National Youth Service were not deployed early enough to assist victims and prevent more deaths and destruction.

So far, more than 150,000 people have been left homeless while many roads have bee cut off.

President William Ruto's government has been accused of failing to empathise with the victims while using a disjointed approach towards the natural calamity that has so far claimed 169 lives, according to the government reports, injured 102 and displaced at least 30,099 households.

After days of devastation, the President yesterday declared that the military would step in to help in the recovery and evacuation efforts.

The government's confusion was displayed by Education Ezekiel Machogu when he postponed school re-opening at the 11th hour, throwing learners, parents and teachers into confusion.

Machogu stated around 1am on Monday, saying that the government had pushed school opening dates for a week.

Governing by confusion

The schools were set to open on Monday, and the last-minute decision was announced at a time when some students had already reported to their schools. Others were caught unawares in the morning of their way to school.

Machogu’s decision came at a time when his Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang had announced that the postponement of the reporting date would be done on a need-by-need basis, saying some schools had not been affected.

"I can assure all of us that as already directed by the President we are all prepared and looking forward to our children going to school next week on Monday 29th. As a ministry, we shall be part of the multi-agency team so that we adequately walk with our colleagues to ensure that children will be safe when we go back to school next week,” he said on Friday.

A destroyed car in Kamucira village in Mai Mahiu was swept away by the raging waters of Kijabe Dam on April 30, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Yesterday, Information Communication and the Digital Economy CS Eliud Owalo had arrived at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi for the 2023 Ajira Digital Program National study report while the President was chairing a special Cabinet meeting to discuss the deadly floods.

Owalo was forced to leave the ceremony in a haste and the master of ceremony announced that the CS had been summoned to State House, leading to the cancellation of the launch.

While this was going on, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua was in Gitugi in  Murang'a where six people were buried alive by a landslide. 

Disastrous response

Opposition leader Raila Odinga yesterday expressed disappointment over the government’s response to the crisis, saying the floods have exposed what he called Kenya's failure to properly plan for weather and climate change-driven disasters and invest adequately in infrastructure and social welfare.

“The situation therefore calls for accountability and a reordering of our priorities as a country. The devastation has made clear that as a nation, we must confront the emergency of our failure to learn. The government has been talking big on climate change, yet when the menace comes in full force, we have been caught unprepared,” he said.

Raila was concerned by the government’s failure to establish advance contingency plans in preparation for the long rain season despite the Meteorological Department predicting heavy rains and storms.

Jubilee Party Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni charged that the government has failed to handle the disaster "because it is a disaster itself", noting that despite the various crises affecting the country, it has not seen any reason to address it.

A police officer carrying a boy from an area swept away by raging waters of Kijabe Dam at Maai Mahiu in Nakuru county on April 29, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

“Amidst national disasters like the Shakahola massacre that claimed over 500 lives, road accidents that claimed over 100 lives, the health crisis that has seen patients die, the Covid-19 like flu that is ravaging the country and now the floods, the President did not see any need to stop his globetrotting spree to condole with his people. This is why I dare say the government is a disaster by itself,” Kioni claimed.

"Governments all over the world are elected to protect their people not only during external invasion but also when they are affected by the natural calamities as the one we are currently in.”

He said the government’s efforts should go beyond collecting bodies but acting first based on the scientific proof to avert the dangers such as relying on the information by the weatherman to move people to safer grounds.  

Safina party leader Jimi Wanjigi claimed the President has abandoned Kenyans at the "hour of utmost need", describing his conduct as "a don’t care attitude".

“The President's indifference to the enormous human suffering of Kenyan people is appalling and Ruto must unequivocally apologize to the people of Kenya,” he said.

Nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba argued that county governments too must be held accountable for the provision of the disaster management funds.

“Public Finance Management Act states that two per cent of the county allocations be set aside by each county for disaster management. The counties have received the monies as follows; Nairobi Sh846,000,000, Nakuru 342,858,289, Marsabit174925219, Narok Sh298,000,000, Murang'a 214,000,000. These funds have been devolved to counties,” she said.

The counties highlighted by the Senator are among the hardest hit by the floods and landslides.

On Monday, Interior CS Kithure Kindiki, in a directive to County Security and Intelligence Committees, warned Kenyans who force their way through flooded bridges would be charged with attempted suicide and called for the deployment of enforcement teams to all areas prone to flooding.

The CS said the deployed officers must prevent motorists and pedestrians from making dangerous crossovers in these flooded places, saying should they defy the directive, the enforcement officer must arrest and charge such persons.

Misplaced threats

"Deploy enforcement teams at urban and rural road spots prone to stormwater flooding and without bridges or where the water has breached the bridge to prevent motorists or pedestrians from dangerous crossovers and to arrest and prosecute offenders for attempted suicide and/or attempted murder as the facts of the case may be," the Cs said.

Prof Gitile Naituli, a governance expert, wondered why the national government has not deployed the military, which has the much-needed specialised equipment to rescue the victims of flash floods and landslides and leave the ignorant locals to on their own.

“In areas where the locals are risking their lives by making makeshift boats and using ropes to rescue fellow human beings who can be seen in videos standing on a stone in the middle of the river, it is the Kenya Navy that should be using their specialised boats to rescue people. In places where victims are seen on rooftops trying to rescue the victims, it is the Kenya Air Force and the Kenya police jets that should be airlifting the victims. The military should have been busy setting up safe areas for the victims,” he noted.

He said instead of threatening to punish people who force their way through floods, the government should be using taxpayers' money to sponsor advertisements to sensitize ignorant Kenyans on the dangers of floods, dos and don’ts.

An aerial view of the area swept away by raging waters of Kijabe Dam at Maai Mahiu in Nakuru county on April 29, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

“You don’t threaten people, you educate them because in threatening them, they associate you with threat and punishment and not leaders with well-intended intentions. Good leaders are identified during crisis.”

After the special Cabinet meeting yesterday, the government directed that all people residing within risky areas such as near dams and other water reservoirs in public or private land, and areas prone to mudslides and riparian lands, to move out in 48 hours. The Cabinet warned that those who defy the order would be relocated forcibly.

“All members of the public affected by this directive will be notified by the end of day tomorrow (today) May 1, 2024. The Government has put in place measures to support the evacuation and temporary shelter of those that will be affected by this directive in the event that they require assistance,” the Cabinet dispatch read.

The Cabinet was also informed that water levels at the Masinga and Kiambere dams have reached historic highs, with Masinga by yesterday morning surpassing levels recorded on May 7, 2020. Kiambere also recorded its highest levels on Friday, surpassing the previous record on November 29, 1997. 

The Kenya Red Cross Society Emergency and Response Manager Antony Muchiri said 14 boats have been deployed in the flood-prone areas. He said an additional nine; two in the upper ends of Kisumu, two in Homa Bay, three in Tana River and two in Garissa, were needed.

The organisation had no helicopters to deploy for emergency response, Muchiri said, but had patterned with the Airbus company to airlift victims.

He appealed for support from well-wishers as they were running short of specialised equipment such as life jackets, helmets and harnesses.

Racheal Mwikali, the co-founder of Coalition for Grassroots Human Rights Defenders in Mathare, said members of the public have been forced to dive into the floods to help their colleagues following the government's absence.

"Instead of assisting the situation, the government wants to close the community-run centres in Mathare. We feed over 300 people on a daily basis while 2000 people require support," she said.