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Let media ask leaders more questions about floods

The media has a way of surprising even cynics. Just when all kinds of negative stories about the media are about to suffocate readers, listeners and viewers, Kenyan journos always find a way to redeem themselves. It is just unfortunate that oftentimes it takes a disaster for the media to put its best foot forward.

These past rainy days have demonstrated just how competent Kenyan journalists are. The floods that have wreaked havoc throughout the country, killing tens of Kenyans, destroying homes, displacing thousands, and sweeping away crops and livestock, have also flooded our newspaper pages, TV screens and radio news.

Prior to the rains and the floods, politicians, bureaucrats, and businesspeople had hogged the news, as usual. Scandals were being unearthed all around. The juiciest of them being one where someone had been selling farmers stones mixed with manure disguised as fertiliser. Politicians were threatening to impeach the minister in charge of Agriculture. The minister was denying culpability vigorously. The producers and suppliers of the fake product were swearing that theirs was genuine fertiliser. Yeah, there could have been a little mix-up, but we produce licit goods, they reminded the public, including the farmers who might just see poor crop yield because of the ‘stones and manure.’

But give it to the media. For it kept the story alive even if one sensed that those with the responsibility to prosecute the producers and suppliers of the fake fertiliser were unlikely to charge anyone with the infraction. Even if it was just for purposes of the archive, the media reported this story well enough for future generations to know that at one time in the history of this country, there were responsible journalists. Which is why the story of the floods should lead to more questions for the country’s leaders.

The fake fertiliser was being sold in preparation for the planting season once the rains arrived. But even as the rains pounded many parts of the country from the first days of April, our leaders appeared unaware of the nature of this year’s rainfall. They didn’t seem to have been briefed or couldn’t guess for how long the rains would be around, and what effect they would have. No one seemed to know if the rains would cause flooding. The meteorology people were forecasting consistent rains in several regions in the country. However, they did not predict downpours or destructive floods.

The National Disaster Management Unit, who remembers it? What are its key functions? Is it supposed to be among the first responders to disasters such as the floods that are raging across the country? Shouldn’t NDMU be evacuating all those persons stranded on rooftops, atop trees, on bridges, in rickety houses etcetera? Someone in some office should have issued a disaster warning for the entire country the moment it was clear that these would not be normal rains. Or was the government afraid that Kenyans would laugh at it if it warned them of impending heavy rains because of previous experiences? Or maybe people whose duty it is to predict the magnitude of the rains were unable to do their job?

The media should ask the responsible ministries, departments and agencies to give Kenyans answers about the rains and floods that seem not to have been foreseen. Who is being paid to predict the rainfall patterns but didn’t see the signs of the rains? After the rains fell, streets and homes were flooded, and rivers overflowed, whose responsibility is it to produce a plan of action to mitigate the effects of the weather? Who is to coordinate the interventions in the various affected regions? What resources are available to address the many effects of the rains? Is someone logging the destruction of crucial infrastructure? Are they repairing the ones in immediate need of renovation?

But most importantly, the media needs to ask why leaders do not seem to be on the ground, in various places where disaster has happened? The leaders are called so because when there is a problem in the community, they are supposed to guide others in resolving it. Currently, public officials do not appear to be at the forefront in the salvage, resettlement, and reconstruction efforts. Why? Alongside the extensive reporting on the rains and their consequences in the country, let the media ask our leaders difficult questions about their seeming unpreparedness and inaction in the face of what is clearly a national disaster.

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