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What Kenyans are peculiarly good at: Forgetting

A few weeks ago, several Kenyans died in the most unnecessary manner. They were trampled underfoot by a stampeding mob. I refer to the Nyayo Stadium tragedy of October, which left many families grieving and dozens in hospital.

Do you remember what I’m talking about? Is the event beginning to reappear through the mists of time? I doubt it. Most Kenyans seem to have done what we are peculiarly good at doing: forgetting.

At the time, as ever, there was outrage aplenty. Something must be done, we shouted in unison. Heads must roll, changes must be made, we ululated together. Such an unnecessary loss of innocent life, we wailed as one. A 7-day inquiry was ordered, and ultimatums issued by bigwigs. The media lamented the frequency of these pointless tragedies.

And then…nothing. Nothing at all, as is usual around these parts. If the inquiry was ever conducted and made known its findings, I must have missed it (perhaps by blinking). If heads have rolled and stadium management procedures have been overhauled, those must be state secrets that will appear in Wikileaks decades later.

I held out little hope that the powers-that-be would do much in any case; their record of decisive action is not impressive. What is most disappointing is the propensity of the ordinary public – that’s you and me, in case you were in any doubt – to just forget the whole damn thing. The stampede left the public consciousness after a day or two; media mentions tailed away within a week. Even on Twitter, where thousands of chattering Kenyans gather daily to chirp at each other, there was little interest in this tragedy after the first couple of days.

So why do we do this? Would we forget if we ourselves had lost a loved one? Would we forget if we ourselves had been present and had a limb broken? Is our sense of the collective only present when the consequences are personal? This really does not reveal anything good about our urban me-first society.

Here’s why we should remember. That stampede was not an act of God or rained down on us from the heavens. It was caused by the failures of men. There was a patent lack of crowd control, of efficient ticketing, of intelligent seating allocation. Those who manage that stadium and those who police it should have a lot to answer for. But who is asking them anything?

Equally, football fans should look themselves in the mirror. Do they attend sporting events or tribal conflagrations? Bang in the 21st century, what makes them believe in sacred gates and the power of juju to influence the outcomes of games? Has neither education nor religion made any impact on their beliefs?

Here are some other things we have peculiarly forgotten over the years: buildings that fall down on inhabitants; fuel tankers that roll off roads and citizens who present themselves for immolation; buses and matatus that drive and crash at grand prix speeds; fires that gut properties with no fire brigade to be called on; crime waves that periodically consume our best and brightest.

All of those things kill Kenyans; all are management failures; all are avoidable. But because we forget them almost instantaneously, we do nothing about them. There are no reforms, no reorganizations, no rethinks, no retoolings. Everything reverts to its original state. Those whose failures cost lives carry on in office. And all those things are going to happen again – it’s just a question of when.

This is no one’s fault but our own. If we want to put an end to incompetence and neglect, we have to demand it. Our own apathy is killing us. Ponder that for at least a moment before you get back to your cornflakes.

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