“I saw my son die as a result of illegal power lines in slum”- Janet
You may have heard of the tragic death of a promising, young Kenyan as a result of illegal electricity connections, but most probably, you didn’t. Reason being, no major media house covered the story, regardless of how senseless his death was.
In a bid to highlight this burning issue that often seems to go unnoticed, I met with the parents of said boy to hear their side of the story.
THE HOPE OF THE FAMILY
However, first things first. Evans was a 19-year-old Form 3 student at Upper Hill High School, where he was placed after winning a scholarship from Rock (Reaching Out With Compassion in Kibera), a foundation that helps needy but promising students through school.
Evans was one such boy, with an uncanny gift for maths and the sciences, and he excelled at school despite the dire situation he faced at home.
As we visit the small, one-bedroom house, we are met with a gloomy, almost disheartening atmosphere, and the parents, although just back from burying their son, graciously welcome us. We are accompanied by Dan Odour, who runs the Rock centre and is clearly on a mission to raise up the youth of the area where he himself grew up.
Evans, described as ‘the hope of the family’, was electrocuted and killed outside the tiny shack they live in in the slum. His father, Jeremiah Olwanda, says the incident happened after a heavy downpour, which caused debris to collect and flood the entrance of their house. Evans was on his way to assist his father cross a ravine when he mistakenly touched an electrified metal pole. As he was standing in a puddle of water, he was immediately shocked and succumbed to his injuries a few hours later.
The connection is said to be illegal, one of many dotting the skyline. Community members also say the ‘mabati’ that many houses are made of often shock people when it rains, posing a danger to residents.
‘THE CHILD DIED WHILE I WATCHED’
Evans’ mother Janet Atieno says residents often pay for a metre box and then supply the surrounding houses with illegal connections, charging up to Sh400 a month per lightbulb.
Although she tears up during the few hours we visited, she is clearly angry at the untimely death of her son, while the father explains how painful it was to watch his son dying in front of him. “Ilikuwa bahati mbaya. Mtoto alikufa nikiona kwa macho.” (It was bad luck. The child died while I watched.)
ANTI-ILLEGAL CONNECTIONS PLAN
After the incident, Ghoncheh Lee, co-founder of ROCK, reached out to KPLC to air her grievances but received no response.
The Star, however, managed to raise the matter with a KPLC representative, who said: “I’m not aware of that incident; that is actually a very sad case. I cannot comment much on the case because I’m not aware of it, but it would require some time for me to pick up the information.”
When asked what KPLC was doing about the proliferation of illegal connections, especially in slum areas, he referred to an ongoing programme that disconnects illegal wires and installs safe meter boxes in homes at a subsidised fee of Sh1,060.
“We have had a number of cases arising from those illegal connections, but we work with the community in most of the slum areas to give them quality electricity so that we avoid those kinds of fatalities”, he said.
“We are removing all illegally connected power. Traditionally what we used to do, we would go into a slum and remove every illegal connection without giving an alternative to the customers, but we started changing strategies recently through our slum electrification programme, which is funded by GPOBA (Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid).
A most pertinent question, however is, how many cases actually go undocumented or unreported?
This death also highlights the dire straits such slum communities face – the lack of medical care, proper transportation or basic garbage collection – which contributed to his demise and essentially, the loss of a potentially great Kenyan leader.
Kibera resident Evans Ouma, 19, who was electrocuted by faulty lines in an illegal power connection.