(Nairobi) Kenyan President William Ruto denounced on Saturday “corruption” and “incompetence” of officials who allowed the installation in a residential area of a gas storage site at the origin of a fire which left three people dead and 280 injured in Nairobi.
This installation in the densely populated district of Embakasi, in the southeast of the Kenyan capital, was initially described as “illegal” on Friday by the authorities.
But the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) revealed on Saturday that the company Maxxis Nairobi Energy had obtained an installation permit on February 2, 2023.
“Preliminary investigations revealed that four NEMA officers handled the license in a manner not in accordance with procedure and are therefore culpable,” NEMA board chairman Emilio Mugo said in a statement on Saturday.
The agency therefore “ordered that the officers involved immediately stand down pending further investigation by the relevant government agencies,” he added.
Without explicitly mentioning NEMA, William Ruto called for them to be “fired and prosecuted for the crimes they committed” during a trip to Kakamega County (West).
“Government officials issued licenses for gas installations in residential areas when it was very clear that this was not the right thing to do, but because of incompetence and corruption they have issued licenses,” he declared, in his first public reaction to this disaster, which has placed the government in the face of strong criticism.
The fire was started on Thursday around 11:30 p.m. local time (1:30 p.m. Eastern time) by the explosion of a truck near this liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage and filling site in Embakasi, district which had 998,000 inhabitants according to the last census of 2019.
Surprised in the middle of the night by the powerful explosion, residents described a “ball of fire” which then spread, devastating businesses and homes and sowing “chaos”. It took firefighters more than nine hours to bring the flames under control.
On Friday, the government reported three deaths, 280 injured and more than 400 families affected. No new reports were available Saturday morning.
Friday, Vice-President Rigathi Gachagua assured that those responsible for the site “will answer for their actions”.
They were still being sought on Saturday.
Only one person has so far been arrested: an agent responsible for monitoring the site where the explosion occurred.
According to initial information, the explosion was caused by the filling of gas cylinders in dangerous conditions, the Ministries of Energy and the Interior said in a joint statement Friday evening.
“On the fateful night, the filling of the LPG cylinders was carried out using multiple direct connections to the LPG tank, thereby increasing the risk of leakage and explosion,” they claim.
Condemnations and demolitions
This spectacular fire revealed a series of malfunctions.
On Friday, the Petroleum Institute of East Africa (PIEA), which brings together gas and oil companies in the region, stressed that this “illegal LPG filling and storage site” was known, the owner and some of his clients having been prosecuted in 2020 and sentenced in May 2023.
The organization deplored the sentences handed down, in particular against the owner, sentenced to a fine of “500,000 shillings (approximately 3,300 euros at the time, editor’s note) or one year of imprisonment, instead of 20 million shillings (approximately 134 000 euros) or five years of imprisonment.”
The government and the Energy and Oil Regulatory Authority (EPRA) for their part assured that three requests for the construction of an LPG storage and filling plant on the site of the explosion had been rejected on last year, in March, June and July 2023.
“The main reason for the rejection was the fact that the designs did not respect safety distances,” underlined the EPRA, citing in particular “the high population density around the proposed site”.
In their press release, the Ministers of Energy and the Interior also affirmed that “on two occasions, in March 2020 and January 2021, the factory built illegally on this site was demolished by the EPRA and the operators were prosecuted.”