Kenya is a victim of greed and incompetence, not climate change

Residents maneuver through flooded water at Kware area in Pipeline, Nairobi after heavy rains on May 1, 2024.


What you need to know:

  • I believe we are victims of greed, corruption and indecisive, incompetent leadership.
  • All these have subsequently stood in the way of building resilience and adapting to the effects of climate change over the years.

The dust will soon settle on what has been one of Kenya’s worst flooding disasters. The dust should not settle, but it will, because our collective national amnesia and myopia will see to it. We will forget, then get something else to preoccupy ourselves with temporarily. The recent floods will soon be the latest addition to our overflowing list of national ills that we have chosen to accept as the new normal before tragically moving on.

Perhaps the floods will sit in a corner somewhere with endemic corruption, poor customer service in public offices, and the elusive national healthcare system, or maybe it will prefer the company of last year’s prolonged drought, another phenomenon we have long forgotten.

One of the reasons why the flooding will soon be forgotten with not much corrective action is because it was largely labelled a climate change disaster and left at that. Leader after leader blamed climate change, not just for the excessive rains and flooding, but also for the destruction, loss of lives, displacements, damage to infrastructure and crops, and the looming food shortage.

Those that were badly affected were tersely comforted with the stark reminder that they were but the latest ‘victims of climate change’. And therein lies the problem. The dangerous implication of saying we are ‘victims of climate change’ is that it gives the impression that this is something out of our hands, that it is but a natural disaster, that it is ‘God’s will’, and there is nothing we can do about it. It is a dangerous implication because it gives the perfect cover for leadership to say, ‘Our hands are tied, this is climate change, you know?’

While the extreme weather events manifesting through excessive rains, floods, and drought can be attributed to weather variations and climate change, is it accurate to attribute the destruction that befell us to climate change? How about the hundreds of lives lost, disease outbreaks, thousands displaced, billions in infrastructure destroyed, and the collective billions lost economically?

When the weatherman warns us in advance of extreme weather events and we are still caught flat-footed, should we still blame climate change for our woes? Should we accept and laud the subsequent uncoordinated response, the knee-jerk reactions of evictions and midnight demolitions as the best we can offer as a people? I believe not. Until we have an honest discourse on the root cause of the problem and our collective complicity in it, we will soon be staring at a biting drought, followed by another flooding, which shall find us yet again unprepared.

I believe we are victims of greed, corruption and indecisive, incompetent leadership. All these have subsequently stood in the way of building resilience and adapting to the effects of climate change over the years.

How else do you explain Nairobi, the gateway to East and Central Africa, having almost a non-existent drainage system? How else do you explain contractors and developers issued with licences to build on riparian land? How else do you explain hotels and resorts given the green light to build on riverbeds? How do you explain entire towns and cities mushrooming with no clear planning and contingency measures?

How about all the apartment buildings put up with the sole intention of rent collection, but zero investment in drainage systems? How else do you explain the encroachment of rivers, lakes, and oceans by businesses and settlements? And how do you explain, that even after such heavy rainfall and flooding, we shall witness water shortage and that crops will wither for lack of water?

It is not enough for us to wag our tails and point fingers at climate change. We are not helpless. And while certain aspects of adaptation and building resilience may be capital-intensive, a lot of it doesn’t have to cost a dime. It’s all a matter of doing the right thing, decisively and radically so. That responsibility lies squarely with the government, and with all of us. We must resolve to be the generation that does the right thing. The generation that will restore the environmental equilibrium and harmoniously co-exist with nature. Because it’s the right and wise thing to do. And because it is the only way.

Tobias Belle is a sustainability advocate and the communication and knowledge management lead at Kenya Climate Innovation Center