Since 1902

Failure to recover body of Abimbo goldminer big blot on government

Search and rescue efforts for miners trapped at a collapsed goldmine at Abimbo gold mine in Bondo Siaya County. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Months have gone by since the Abimbo goldmine collapse in Siaya County. Rescue efforts resulted in the saving of some lives and the recovery of one body. In the African culture, giving the dead a decent burial is the least that can be done. 

Unfortunately, this did not happen to Tom Okwach, one of the miners whose body has not been recovered to date. His family has been treated in the most cavalier manner.

Being poor and a progeny of a nonentity perhaps explains why ‘nobody’, even the ‘philanthropic’ politicians who are good at gaining cheap popularity in their demonstration of care for the poor, has come to the aid of Tom’s family. 

If Tom was the son of a prominent person, rescue efforts would have been intense. There would have been a team from the military and the county government camping at the artisanal mine as soon as it had happened. That raises the questions; Is the right to life not a basic human right that should be protected by the government by all means? Isn't he entitled to a decent burial? 

It’s time the two levels of government stopped the procrastination over recovery of Okwach's body. Both the county and national governments should redouble recovery efforts.

No amount of excuses will remove the egg from the faces of the two tiers of government. Something is terribly wrong in the way the two levels handle disasters.

It’s a fact that disasters are unavoidable. However, what separates a caring government from one that is careless and uninterested with response to tragedies, especially those that befall the lowly in the society, is how they approach threats to human life.

So far the two levels of government have, to say the least, demonstrated recklessness and lethargy in how they have handled the tragedy that befell the Abimbo hamlet in Siaya county.

Swift action like what the Migori County Government took when a similar tragedy occurred at Kapuodho goldmine in Rongo sub-county days later would not only have saved lives, but also removed the opprobrium from our national psyche. People like Okoth, the Kenyan citizen whose body is now rotting in the mine, have been pushed by the harsh economic times to eke a living from artisanal mining due to the high rate of unemployment in the country.

Little wonder, mining is still going on in Abimbo and other areas in the country. It is time authorities addressed this ‘catastrophe’ to enable Kenyans secure employment and work in decent and life-friendly environments.

Investment in the safety of the mines even where the artisanal miners, like Okwach, eke their living in informal sites should be prioritised.

Other than the physical safety, effort should also be channeled to awareness of safety among the miners so that they are empowered on how to handle the many accidents that occur in the course of their work.

Those who employ the miners should also be compelled by the authorities to provide the miners with modern equipment and adequate safety gear.

The lesson we should learn from the Abimbo calamity is that as a country, we should pull up our socks regarding how we respond to disasters. It is time both levels of government came up with airtight disaster response teams.

In addition, disaster education should be scaled up in the populace. Time is also ripe for thorough investigation to be commenced and all those culpable of allowing illegal mining to take place and those whose response to the disaster was lacklustre, be held responsible.