Nairobi News


DISASTER RESPONSE: Kenya’s vulnerability in the face of tragedy

The gut-wringing events of the past few weeks in the UK confirm the worst. The world’s safest neighbourhoods are now the most precarious, the traditionally heavily-manned institutions (refer to the shootings at the Iranian Parliament and the US Congress baseball practice in Virginia) and the safest cities are now exposed and today, everyone everywhere is prone to an attack.

In a demonstration of how dicey the security situation has become, the UK government was forced to raise the threat of terror from “severe” to “critical” in less than two days after the Manchester Arena blast. “Critical” is the highest possible scale of a threat, which indicates that a raid is imminently expected.

One thing however stood out after the two attacks on the British soil: the rapid response by the various security, emergency and rescue apparatuses. While the level of fatalities dominated news reports, it was the swiftness and split-second efficiency of the agencies that caught the attention of major global newsrooms.

For a country that has suffered multiple attacks in less than two months, with nearly 50 lives cut short, the Metropolitan Police and rescue services in the UK have particularly been on high alert, often intervening in time to avert more bloodbath.

Following the dawn inferno that tore through Grenfell Tower, a high-rise residential apartment in West London on Wednesday, June 14, leaving a dozen people dead, the whole world witnessed with awe as members of the London Fire Brigade combatted the defiant and almost uncontainable blaze with both a sense of duty and patriotism, having arrived at the scene in a record six minutes after the first emergency call.


These unfortunate occurrences brutally put into the spotlight the level of preparedness of our very own Kenyan emergency services.

That these emergency services sometimes take hours to respond to distress, utter failure or refusal by those in charge to invest in proper emergency equipment, and the authorities’ general state of complacency all constitute our disturbing vulnerability as a country in the face of tragedy, which is a grave matter that should concern us all.

A case in point is the recent building tragedy in Pipeline this week which took Nairobi County authorities more than two days to comb through the rubble in search for survivors. It sickens that people should perish in a collapsed building simply because the city county does not have the machinery to aid in evacuation operations.

In the wake of the attacks in Britain, British Prime Minister Ms Theresa May chaired meetings of Cobra, the UK government’s emergency response committee that comprises senior ministers and civil servants, the police and intelligence officers. Does Kenya for instance have such an emergency organ to assess the level of damage and advise the government on what to do in the middle of a national crisis? If one is in place, how effective is it?


We are living in a space where the risk of tragedy is at mind-numbingly stratospheric levels. To imagine therefore that these assaults are happening thousands of miles away, and that Kenya is safe, is ridiculous if fallacious.

With crazed people driving trucks into crowds –an easier but equally gruesome tactic being employed by murderers of late –and others raiding revelling joints to slay party goers, death has never felt closer.

How it distresses to imagine the kind of carnage that would occur if such methods of annihilation were used in Nairobi for instance, where people have a high affinity for crowds. Someone must have put a hex on Kenyans, because our penchant for orchestras staged by magicians, “doctors” and gods-know-what-other-self-proclaimed-professionals is astonishing. We would be clobbered to pulp. What catastrophe.

I prefer to walk in deserted alleys than along streets these days, as a matter of personal precaution. It is easier to spot and flee from a mugger than to detect and duck a motorist terrorist.

With an election coming in less than two months, security of Kenyans should be a priority. As the government seeks to fight violent extremism within our borders, exercising absolute vigilance at an individual level would significantly help to ward off possible peril.