2008-12 Election Violence – Kenya
Posted on September 21, 2009. Filed under: 2008-12 Election Violence - Kenya, 2009 Summer-Fall Newsletter, All Posts, All Writing - Susan, CTF-SOS DRS Kenya, Disaster Response, English, Ministry, Nairobi (Kenyan Delegation), Order (MI) - Pastoral Centers |
INTRODUCTION to the Nakumatt Fires
On Thursday January 28, 2009 a torrid fire ignited within the Nakumatt supermarket in Nairobi, Kenya. The blaze was believed to have been launched by the explosion of a generator following a power failure.
As billowing clouds of smoke corrupted the skyline, charred rubble and cinders showered the streets. City Council of Nairobi’s (CCN) Fire Brigade was impeded by the throngs of bystanders who, upon receiving notification of the catastrophe, rushed to locate their beloved ones. Water sources were quickly depleted, while communications systems in the vicinity failed. Carelessly stored canisters containing gas and other flammable chemicals detonated regularly, creating a series of explosions during the 12-hour blaze. One Nakumatt employee expired shortly after jumping from a window in an attempt to escape the smoke and flames within the edifice, while other victims vaulted from the roof of the structure.
Meanwhile, in attempt to deter vandals, supermarket employees had locked the doors to the market.
Of the 48 people reported missing, at least 28 lost their lives in the inferno. (See 40 Feared Dead in Nairobi Supermarket Fire.)
Nairobi residents were incensed at the lack of disaster preparedness exhibited by Nakumatt managers and public authorities, as well as at the unsympathetic response of government officials. The issue of compensation for victims and their families remains a topic of discussion.
“A civil action under the common law of negligence demands proof that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, breached the duty and thereby caused damage. Further, that the harm was neither too remote nor contributed to by the victims themselves. The law imposes a duty upon everyone to ensure that their activities do not injure their neighbours – anyone who may be affected by one’s actions.” (See Nakumatt Fire Tragedy: The Law Maze.)
In congruence with Catholic Social Justice Teaching, we Catholics have the responsibility to ensure the welfare of all people: those within our own communities and those who are affected by our actions. In addition, we have the obligation to demonstrate a preferential option for the poor and those who are unable to provide or care for themselves, whether in times of catastrophe and crisis, or within the context of daily life. Government and social structures should incorporate such theories into their practices.
The fires in Kenya, as well as the inappropriate responses of the authorities, reflect neglect for such standards. The loss of life is a tragic and overwhelming sadness for families, friends and people in the country, but just as tragic is a system that allows such negligence to occur. Conversely, we must be aware that the laws of any nation are a dynamic and evolving structure, and that we must respect the moral development of any country’s legal and social structure, as we should for those of each human person. Rather than condemn, it is perhaps better to assist by advocating for change in a constructive manner.
Introduction by Susan Stefanski
by Eunice Dagi, SSND
When one beholds the city of Nairobi, one cannot but admire the splendor of the modern buildings that decorate the cityscape. The variety of architectural designs are truly breath-taking. Some of these structures house very influential headquarters, businesses, hotels, shopping malls, entertainment venues and recreational facilities, all of which are patronized by a substantial number of people at any given time.
Interestingly, whenever I enter into these attractive and pleasing structures, I feel a deceptive sense of safety. Security personnel monitor the edifices and those who enter, conducting ongoing inspections to deter the smuggling of dangerous weapons onto these premises.
The last issue one could conceive of as presenting concern is the potential necessity to evacuate the premises in the unlikely event of an emergency.
Yet, an emergency occurred, in a place few would ever suspect. One can never over-prepare for a disaster, some say, but at least one can take precautions.
The 28th of January, 2009, presented a challenge to the level of safety preparedness of these attractive and elusively invulnerable public areas.
On the afternoon of this particular day, Nakumatt Downtown, a large retail supermarket franchise of Nakumatt Supermarket, caught fire. (See Photos: Huge fire at Nakumatt Downtown, Nairobi.)
More than twenty people died, and scores of others were injured or disfigured.
The wounded were transported to various health-care facilities for treatment. The majority arrived at Kenyatta National Hospital, where pastoral care-givers from the Servants of the Sick Training Center for Health Care Ministry ministered to their physical and spiritual needs.
We, the students of the Center, were barely two weeks into our unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) training, when the tragedy occurred. The chaplains and student chaplains present witnessed the evacuation of the fire victims to the emergency unit. Some of the student chaplains were already at the Kenyatta hospital, and mobilized in haste to provide assistance.
It appeared to be emotionally difficult for our chaplains and students to observe victims arrive at the hospital alive only to be carried out shortly afterward as corpses The mortuary staff, who entered in procession, appeared dumb-founded and confused. Despite their chagrin, the chaplains made efforts to provide comfort to the morticians and other by-standers.
The following afternoon, after completing our classes, we again visited the hospital. The moment we arrived, we received a call from the hospital chaplain, informing us that the Red Cross was in desperate need of chaplains. Immediately, I consulted the supervisor of the CPE, to inform him of the request from the Red Cross and of our intent to immediately depart to the scene of the Nakumatt tragedy.
When we arrived at the scene, we found hundreds of devastated citizens waiting with concerned apprehension, hoping to discover the whereabouts of their loved ones, or at least to catch a glimpse of their bodies. After the bereaved were organized by the Red Cross, we escorted them to the mortuary, where they were to identify their beloved ones.
Upon arriving at the mortuary, my heart began beating wildly, as I had never previously experienced such an intense situation. I felt extremely restless and anxious. I had to remind myself; “Look, you have
come to take care of the victims, so you had better be strong if you are to be of help”.
We, the students chaplains, a few counselors, and the Red Cross members gathered the victims to prepare them spiritually and psychologically for the viewing of the bodies prior to their entrance into the main mortuary. (DNA testing subsequently became a legal requirement to confirm the identities of the victims–See Advanced Tests Needed for Nakumatt Fire Victims.)
The moment I caught sight of the first body, I felt petrified, unable to perform my duties. I turned my back on the unspeakable scene that lay beyond the mortuary doors. Coming half way out, I had to remind myself again that I had come to give care to the victims.
And so, I stayed. I could not believe the horrific sights that assaulted my senses: human beings unrecognizable as such. Their appearance more closely resembled charred firewood in a forest. I struggled with my feelings. I did my best to offer care to the victims. (See 13 Bodies Found in Scorched Remains of Kenyan Shop.)
The families of the deceased would exit from the viewing room dumb-founded, weeping, attempting to derive meaning from the atrociously heartbreaking circumstances. “Why me?” they cried in agony, as if refusing to accept the truth of the abominable events which had occurred. Compassion filled our hearts as we continued to assist and appease them by allowing them to lament the pain of their losses and by simply listening to their sorrows.
In retrospect, the experience was disquieting, yet illuminating, informative and spiritually-enhancing. It was distressing and appalling, because I have never seen a human form so unidentifiable, with the appearance, rather, of something else. Nevertheless, I learned from the experience. It helped me to understand that, as care-givers, we are supposed to be ready and well-equipped to handle such situations at all times, to put aside our own feelings in favor of acting as Servants of the Sick and servants of the Lord. It was difficult to refrain from becoming overwhelmed, and to maintain a logical, care-giving presence in spite of the empathy that naturally flowed from our hearts for those we were to console.
I would like to express my gratitude to the Red Cross for so effectively collaborating with us (the Servants of the Sick,) and for their ability to respond to such needs as they arise.
Eunice Dagi, SSND (School Sisters of Notre Dame)
Edited by Gideon Kuwa & Susan Stefanski
The Catholic Catechism teaches. . . .
Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey here below. Then we shall see God “face to face,” as He is. So faith is already the beginning of eternal life:
When we contemplate the blessings of faith even now, as if gazing at a reflection in the mirror, it is as if we already possessed the wonderful things that our faith assures us we shall one day enjoy.
Now, however, we “walk by faith, not by sight”; we perceive God as “in a mirror, dimly” and only “in part.” Even though enlightened by him in whom it believes, faith is often lived in darkness and can be put to the test. The world we live in often seems very far from the one promised by faith. Our experiences of evil and suffering, injustice, and death seem to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it.
It is then we who must turn to the witnesses of faith, to Abraham, who”in hope. . . .believed against hope,” to the Virgin Mary, who, in “her pilgrimage of faith,” walked into the “night of faith” in sharing the darkness of her son’s suffering and death; and to so many others: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Catholic Catechism, 163-164)