We have in the past few days seen so much of what brings Kenyans together, whether it is united in victory or united in grief.
Eliud Kipchoge’s stupendous sub-two-hour marathon in Vienna on Saturday was surely the stuff of legend.
Millions across the length and breadth of Kenya gathered in front of television sets to watch history in the making, celebrating as one united, patriotic people when the GOAT crossed the finish line a comfortable 20 seconds inside the two-hour barrier.
A day before the amazing #Eliud159 feat, sombre Kenyans watched live TV transmission from Mombasa as a car that rolled off a Likoni Channel ferry a fortnight earlier, drowning a mother and her young child, was finally retrieved from the depths of the Indian Ocean.
On Sunday, at the Chicago Marathon, Brigid Kosgei obliterated the long-standing women’s world record, shaving more than a minute off the mark set by Britain’s Paula Radcliffe 16 years ago.
To add icing on the cake, another Kenyan, Lawrence Cherono, won the men’s title.
The marathon feats so soon after another outstanding Kenyan outing at the IAAF World Championships in Doha underlined not just Kenya’s athletics prowess but the power of sports to unify a country.
Indeed, sports can play a massive role in bringing the people together and building a sense of purpose, patriotism and national pride.
Kipchoge’s simple homilies around the #NoHumanIsLimited theme are already gaining traction around the world.
They could be used to inspire millions of young men and women to look beyond helplessness and despair and lift themselves from poverty and dependency.
However, the athletics dividends could easily be undermined by the negativity, sloth, incompetence and greed which hold us hostage.
The Likoni ferry tragedy provides a case in point. Kenyans admirably stood in solidarity with the grieving family throughout the inordinately long recovery mission.
No sooner had the bodies been retrieved, however, and Mombasa Governor Hassan Ali Joho was on national TV assailing those calling the Kenya Ferry Services to account.
His view was that the car rolling of a ferry was an ‘accident’ for which no one can be blamed. Such thinking is part of our national tragedy.
We will forever be limited when we find excuses for calamities that arise out of reckless endangerment.
The Likoni ferry tragedy was not an unavoidable accident; it was not an Act of God, or ‘Shauri ya Mungu’ as we are wont to put it.
Mariam Kighenda and her daughter Amanda were killed. They were killed by criminal negligence and dereliction of duty.
Way back on April 29, 1994, an overloaded MV Mtongwe capsized, killing 272 people.
The KFS learnt nothing from the disaster and to date continues to operate in cavalier fashion with absolutely no thought for the safety and comfort of passengers.
HOLD TO ACCOUNT
It operates unseaworthy rust buckets, certified death traps often procured from shady brokers at multiple times their value.
Incidents and accidents at the Likoni crossing have become the norm rather than the exception, and excusing the KFS management will only extend impunity that will surely claim more lives.
In a civilised country, those deemed responsible following such a disaster would not only have been immediately removed from office but also arrested and charged over the needless deaths.
The ferry operators will always cite lack of funds for mismanagement. However, this can be cured if we removed our limits and abandoned a liking for free things.
At the moment, the Likoni ferries handle more than 300,000 pedestrians and over 6,000 vehicles every day.
Those on foot use the service without paying a cent while vehicle fares range from Sh120 for a saloon car to Sh280 for a pick-up or small van.
Fares for buses and trucks go to more than Sh2,000, depending on length and capacity.
What if pedestrians paid a token Sh20 to use the ferry? The extra monthly revenue, to the tune of Sh180 million, would certainly go a long way towards repairing the service, acquiring new modern craft and employing competent managers and staff.
Problem is, such a proposal would see Mombasa politicians inciting the residents against the fee, yet they would be the beneficiaries of a safe, comfortable and efficient ferry service.
Lost in all the hoopla would be the fact that those same commuters happily pay for matatu, bus and boda-boda services that bring them to the crossing to take the ferry.
We must remove the shackles that bind us to mediocrity and sloth if we are to emulate Eliud Kipchoge and rise above our limits.
[email protected] @MachariaGaitho