Enziu River tragedy should be a wake-up call for our planners

The Enziu River tragedy has taught us that bridges are a matter of life and death. [File, Standard]

According to Chapter 63 of Kenya’s Penal Code, ‘Any person who by an unlawful act or omission causes the death of another person is guilty of the felony termed manslaughter.’

This law is clear and must be judiciously applied in addressing the Enziu River bus tragedy. Someone or some people must be held accountable for the tragic death of 33 Kenyans.

This is not about finger-pointing or playing blame game. It is about accountability and justice. While this will not bring back those who perished, to whose families I convey my heartfelt condolences, it will reduce probability of such tragedies in future.

I fully agree with the sentiments of Nyeri Catholic Archbishop Anthony Muheria when he termed the tragedy as ‘needless and incomprehensible.’

Indeed, Kitui residents know seasonal rivers flood during heavy rains. When this happens, numerous bridges are overrun. This leads to loss of life, albeit not at the Enziu River scale. National and county governments also know this.

Unlike residents who cannot build bridges with their bare hands, the two governments have capability of building strong, modern bridges.

How can we build symbolic, reconciliatory bridges if we can’t even build actual concrete bridges for millions of Kenyans in the lower eastern region? Is building a bridge too expensive for the government? No.

Infrastructure Principal Secretary Paul Maringa confirmed recently that the government will construct a proper Sh30 million bridge across Enziu River.

Why wasn’t this done earlier, not just across this river but many others that also don’t have proper bridges. This question cannot be wished away.

The Sh30 million to be spent on the bridge is 2,420 times less than the more than Sh70 billion being spent on Nairobi Expressway. While this Expressway is absolutely important for our transport and economy, this comparison is to show that if there had been a will, we could have applied Sh30 million of our development budget to construct a proper bridge across Enziu River many years ago.

We need to meticulously unearth the systemic failure that left the Nguni-Nuu Road with no proper bridge across Enziu River. If we don’t address those systemic failures, there will be another tragedy on another road and another river.

There are hundreds of permanent and seasonal rivers in Kenya covering the Lake Victoria North, Lake Victoria South, Rift Valley, Athi, Tana and Ewaso Ng’iro North catchment areas. I can’t even tell you the exact number of rivers because the data is not easily available to the public. This is in itself an indicator of our systemic failure.

If critical data is known only to a few technocrats and academicians, the masses will continue to wallow in ignorance that can prove fatal. The State Department for Planning should become a lot smarter in sharing critical data with the public.

The starting point should be for them to provide easy accessibility for data that will reveal to Kenyans answers to these questions: How many rivers are in Kenya? How many of these rivers, whether seasonal or permanent, are prone to flooding? How many of these rivers need proper bridges?

Article 35 of our Constitution states that ‘every citizen has the right to access information held by the State and held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of another right.’

As a Kenyan, I am exercising this right and calling for the government to avail information that will answer questions asked in the foregoing paragraph. 

I suggest that we roll out a marshall plan of building bridges in every corner of this great country.

The Enziu River tragedy has taught us that bridges are a matter of life and death. That’s why ordinary Kenyans must make bridges their priority.

Almost every Kenyan, irrespective of where they come from, has a tale about a shoddy local bridge. Those low-grade bridges are timebombs waiting to explode. Think green act green!