Source: The Citizen Daily
Saturday, 17 September 2011 22:27
By Bernard James
The Citizen Reporter
Dar es Salaam. When will this senseless loss of life stop? And just how many lives would it cost to end the catastrophic disasters that appear to have found a permanent home in East Africa? These are the questions that East Africans are asking as the world’s attention is focused on Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, where shocking calamities have happened in recent weeks, some of them man-made, claiming at least 500 lives in a span of days.
In an unprecedented sequence, the region has been witnessing ominous tragedies, including the sinking of MV Spice Islander 1 in Zanzibar last week, believed to have killed nearly 1,000 people, although only 203 bodies have been recovered so far.
A day later over 100 people died in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, when fire at a leaking fuel pipeline swept through a congested slum.The two disasters followed on the heels of Uganda’s killer mudslides on the slopes of Mt Elgon in August, which claimed 43 lives at the same area where more than 100 died in March. Rescuers failed to account for an estimated 400 missing people, believed to have been buried alive.
The calamities, including notorious road accidents, continue to claim tens of thousands of lives every year in East Africa. The region is becoming synonymous with death at every turn. It is a tag that does not augur well for the development of its mostly impoverished people, who now wonder whether God had forsaken them.
The authorities are under censure for not acting swiftly and firmly to restore sanity in public governance to help halt the bloodletting and hold those responsible accountable for their acts of omission or commission.
There is consensus that the appalling increase in the number and frequencies of major disasters in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda is retarding progress and should be matter of serious concern. People are calling for concerted regional efforts to reverse the trend and value people’s lives.
Those interviewed for this story lamented an apparently deep rooted culture of lawlessness, which has been left to reign in many spheres of public governance, and the transport sector in particular.
Before the dust settled in Kenya, the week also saw 30 more people dying and many more going blind after taking illicit brew in the country, as Tanzania’s now infamous road accidents claimed about 20 people.
In addition, East Africa has suffered some of the most dangerous terror attacks in recent history as extremist elements found it an easy target: the 1998 simultaneous bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the attack on the Kikambala tourist hotel in Mombasa and last year’s bombings in Uganda– where 74 people were killed while watching the World Cup final.
Tanzania also has had its own share of scares with bomb explosions in the army barracks in Mbagala and Gongo la Mboto in Dar es Salaam. The two cases claimed over 50 lives.
Official statistics show that last year alone, horrific road accidents claimed lives of over 10,000 people in the region. In Tanzania, 3600 people perished in one of the darkest years, while Kenya came second with 3,000 lives lost followed by Uganda with 2,900 people who died on the road. The rate of fatalities in the EAC is among the highest in the world. Many other accidents go unreported.
The director of studies at the Institute of Social Welfare, Dr Andrew Mchomvu says most worrying is that the spectre of accidents has not served as a lesson, as they keep recurring year in, year out in a much deadlier form.
The “me first” culture and deep-rooted disregard for the law are to blame for the shocking state of affairs, other people say.“The level of negligence in our region is so high…we have become a kind of people not cautious about yesterday, but concerned about tomorrow,” said Dr Mchomvu.He says the culture has spread in the region and bred a ruling class that no longer cares to change things for the better.
Mr Mchomvu says things like reckless driving, lack of enforcement of the existing laws and principles that bring about decent life are among the clear indication that people no longer feel a sense of duty to care for others.He says disciplinary measures against perpetrators of wrong doing are weak or missing altogether.
‘Sign of curse’
For his part, Reverend Christopher Mtikila, an outspoken cleric and politician, says the frequency and alarming rate of disasters in EAC is a sign of a curse. “It shows how we have kept God at bay.”
He echoes the concern that lack of a sense of duty, and respect for the law has pervaded the national fabric, noting: “Everyone in his or her position does not feel the urge to fulfil his duties accordingly and feel proud of success. Rather, they consider how much they pocket.”
When MV Bukoba sank in Lake Victoria in 1996 due to overloading, many hoped the same would not happen again. But for the same reason, MV Spice Islander 1 capsized last week, with local leaders now claiming up to 1,000 people may have died because they cannot be accounted for.
“We have become indifferent to disasters. We have reached a point where it is difficult to change…and anyone who attempts to question this irresponsibility is ignored and viewed as a fool,” Mtikila claims. “Success in human beings must not be measured by the amount of wealth he or she has accumulated, but the amount of service and sacrifice she or he has rendered to the society.”
CCM’s deputy secretary general (Mainland) Mr John Chilligati, says that since most of the reported disasters were a result of disrespect to law and regulations, there is an urgent need to inculcate in the public a culture of voluntarily respecting the laws.
Says Mr Chiligati: “If you have a generation of people without a sense of respect for the law…then what you are witnessing today is expected to happen. We must strive to cultivate a culture of respect to the laws and regulations as part and parcel of our daily life” He believes the disasters are not a curse as some people claim. “I do not want to believe this is a curse, but rather a culture which we have to get rid of gradually, starting with our children.”
Head of the Anglican Church, Bishop Valentino Mokiwa, says what is happing today is a depiction of failure by the responsible authorities to stand for the law, moral decay and negligence on the part of the concerned individuals.
“Rampant corruption is an outright sign of how people who have been entrusted to enforce the law have failed to perform,” he says.
Lack of integrity
The top cleric says there is a high degree of laissez faire attitude and lack of integrity on the part of people entrusted to supervise policy of the region.
He adds: “The level of transparency is very low. There are a lot of such things like nepotism at places of work and laissez faire, hindering law enforcement and accountability. And this is very bad for the consumer.” For him, a typical example of lack of transparency, was the release of contradictory figures by the authorities on how many people had died in the MV Spice Islander accident.
“People earn salaries but they are not performing. The reality is that our law makers and enforces are the ones who are killing us,” he told The Citizen on Sunday in a telephone interview.
He says that, for instance, many vehicles imported to Tanzania and likely in other EAC countries are not roadworthy. “With the low enforcement of traffic regulations, road fatalities must be a constant phenomenon.”
The recent accidents in Tanzania and Kenya prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) director of the department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability, Mr Etienne Krug, to warn that preventable accidents were a bigger threat in Africa than HIV and Malaria.
“We don’t call them accidents anymore. We call them injuries as that is the result, and the causes of injuries are very much preventable,” said Mr Krug in an interview with German Press Agency.
Krug says governments must do more to prevent needless deaths, while average citizens too, if given the tools and knowledge, can help save themselves from painful and often debilitating bodily harm