“I saw my son die as a re­sult of il­le­gal power lines in slum”- Janet

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read - WAN­JIKU KI­MANI @love­wan­jiku

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.

UN­RE­PORTED CASES

“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.

/COURTESY

Kib­era res­i­dent Evans Ouma, 19, who was elec­tro­cuted by faulty lines in an il­le­gal power con­nec­tion.

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