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Pledge over stampede death probe

Wednesday December 8 2004

By JULIUS BOSIRE

The Carnivore night spot and organisers of the Smirnoff disco dance have promised to abide by any recommendations made by the team investigating the stampede which left three partygoers dead and many others injured.

But they said it would be premature for either of them to take responsibility for the crush in which the three were killed, because it would be seen as interfering in the investigations.

Their comments came as church leaders and drugs campaigners blamed them both for the deaths and demanded that their licences should be revoked . . . and as the last body of the victims was formally identified.

He was 19-year-old Geoffrey Omenda Otieno, and his body was found after his father had a nightmare in which his missing son called out to him, "Daddy, come and pick me up at the mortuary." 

The other two who died were students at Nairobi University Mary Anne Nyokabi, aged 22, and Mark Ndonye Karuu, also 22.

Carnivore general manager Gerishon Misumi said yesterday of the tragedy: "We will act on the basis of the outcome of the investigation. We cannot prejudice the investigations by taking responsibility now but promise to abide by the recommendations made by the investigations team." 

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And for Smirnoff, the managing director of its makers United Distillers and Vintners, Dr Tony Joyce, said: "The relevant authorities are working to establish the facts around the incident. They are undertaking thorough investigations to establish the cause."

Religious leaders and anti-drugs campaigners yesterday accused the restaurant and Smirnoff of negligence and irresponsibility.

They also accused the two of being heartless by failing to express their condolences through media statements instead of directly to the bereaved.

Both UDV and the Carnivore management explained yesterday they could not have delivered their messages of condolence personally to the families of the bereaved because they did not have their contacts.

Dr Joyce said the company had obtained the contacts of two of the families and had already visited one of them.

However, at a press conference held at the office of the coordinator of the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada), Mr Joseph Kaguthi, the pressure groups said the tragedy could have been avoided if Government agents had taken control of the event by enforcing the law.

"The management of Carnivore and producers of Smirnoff must be held responsible for the mayhem that was witnessed over the weekend and the deaths and injuries that occurred," said the group of religious leaders and anti-drugs campaigners.

In a statement read by Prof David Ndetei, a lecturer at Nairobi University, the group accused Government agents of reluctance to enforce laws controlling advertisements, sale and consumption of beer and cigarettes.

"Can we afford to sacrifice the lives of our youth at the altar of easy-coming tax money from selfish multinationals. Is the Government happy to run on blood money – for that is what taxes from beer and cigarettes are – without regard of future generations?" he asked.

The group urged the Government to sacrifice the billions of shillings it earned from beer and cigarette companies and instead to safeguard the lives of its future workforce.

Prof Ndetei asked why drug and alcohol companies were targeting young people in their advertising and promotions.

"Whereas the code of advertising clearly stipulates that no alcohol or cigarette advertising should target any group where 25 per cent of the population is below 18 years of age, it is clear that it is not followed by local companies," he said.

The group urged MPs urgently to pass the Tobacco Control Bill and law enforcement agents to ensure that laws on the distribution and consumption of alcohol and cigarettes were followed.

Media and advertising companies were criticised for promoting immoral behaviour and they must stop it, the group said.

Some parents spoilt their children by giving them a lot of money for their own use, they said.

The religious community should stand up against the moral decadence being propagated in society, the group continued.

Addressing the Press conference was Nacada coordinator Mr Kaguthi, lecturers Prof David Ndetei and Prof Benjamin Mbindyo, also from the University of Nairobi, and doctors Samuel Gathua and Jean Kagia.

Businessman Rene Kiamba added his voice, together with church leaders David Oginde and John Wisley Nguuh, both of Nairobi Pentecostal Church, the Rev Wilson Mamboleo (Redeemed Gospel Church for Evangelists in Kenya).

The church leaders called for the revocation of the trading licences of both Carnivore and Smirnoff.

Responding to the criticism, Smirnoff said it did not target young people in its advertising. "Only legal drinking age adults were targeted for the Smirnoff Experience event. No one featured in any of our publicity material and advertising is under the age of 25 years," Dr Joyce said. 

And for the Carnivore, Mr Misumi added: "We do not sell alcohol to underage people and we support responsible drinking among adults."

He said a crowd had built up at the entrances where the crush happened because of delays caused by vetting those entering to ensure they all had tickets, were not under-age and were not carrying weapons.

He continued: "We have been here for 24 years and served Kenyans and all their vistors with commitment and dedication. Our record speaks for itself.

"It would be unfair to revoke our licence on the basis of one incident. This should not be judged emotionally and people should be fair to the organisation."