The roof is on fire!
August 7, 2013 3:33 AM   Subscribe

At dawn today, the arrivals unit of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport caught fire (pictures!), leading to the total indefinite shutdown of the largest air traffic hub in east Africa. No one knows the cause of the fire, which comes days after a stupidly corrupt businessman's duty-free shops were seized by the government.
posted by kaibutsu (14 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Whoever did this is an asshole of truly colossal proportions.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:41 AM on August 7, 2013

It's just a coincidence
posted by Renoroc at 4:42 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am just paranoid enough to believe their is a connection to the eviction of the Goldenberg scandal firm. Here in NY if the Port Authority evicted a mob run money laundering business from let's say JFK, I have no doubt there would be a fire of suspicious origins within a week.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:54 AM on August 7, 2013

A friend who was at JKIA on Monday said it was an incredible sight: The workers had really just dumped piles and piles of merchandise on the street, which were being openly looted while the police stood by.

In a kind of reverse situation, in 2006 the government didn't like some things the newspapers were printing. So one night a couple masked men stormed the Standard's headquarters, burned all copies of the next day's paper, damaged the presses, then hit the road. They turned out to be a pair of Armenian brothers who had somehow shown up in Kenya not so long before. On arrival, they were given passports and access to all kinds of things. Ostensibly, they were meant to head an anti-narcotics force, but pretty much went about taking over local cocaine trafficking as quickly as possible, until getting run out of the country following the Standard raid.

So, wouldn't be the first time that high-government conflicts turned into high-profile madness. It's what happens when you have a political and business elite that mainly sees the country as a toy to play with.
posted by kaibutsu at 5:05 AM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Is there anyone, beyond the poster, saying this is more than coincidence at this point?

As an aside, I love how Business Africa Daily has the neat "In Summary" at the top of their article.

•Mr Pattni had rushed to court to block KAA from entering into a lease agreement with any other company, citing the indefinite lease entered with the government back in 1991 that gave him lifetime control of the premises.
Holy crap!
posted by Theta States at 5:48 AM on August 7, 2013

This post seems a little too ...excited?
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:30 AM on August 7, 2013

Shutting down the largest international airport in a country of 44 million people is a big deal. That the cause is assumed to be revenge rather than terrorism make it interesting.

Imagine if Newark, La Guardia and JFK all shut down simultaneously because of fires that coincidentally happened a day after Hudson News lost its leases.
posted by ardgedee at 6:50 AM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Planet Money had a fairly recent episode on Mr. Pattni, aka Pastor Paul. Corruption is a hell of a thing.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:59 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

15th anniversary of the US Embassy bombing in Kenya (& Tanzania), too.
posted by troika at 7:37 AM on August 7, 2013

total indefinite shutdown

Fire-ravaged Nairobi airport reopens after destructive blaze
posted by oulipian at 8:09 AM on August 7, 2013

In case people missed this aspect: "The country's largest newspaper, The Daily Nation, reported last month that Nairobi County doesn't have a single working fire engine, and that three fire engines were auctioned off in 2009 because the county hadn't paid a $1,000 repair bill." That's right, the capital of Kenya, a city of over 3 million people, doesn't have a fire engine.
posted by languagehat at 11:04 AM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Plus I think their water system works, so the fire engines would at least have been useful. I always wonder, when some civic effort in my country provides fire engines somewhere, what on earth they are going to put out fires with.

Plus, note that the Press is functioning, no doubt with courage.

kaibutsu, what sort of goods were dumped outside on the ground? I had a long stopover in that airport once, but it was in the small hours so the shops weren't open - all I noticed were touristy things, ebony or brass knick-knacks, fabrics, beads etc. But probably if there had been like, Gucchi bags I wouldn't have noticed anyway.

The thing to remember about certain countries in Africa (big, diverse place) is that ordinary people maintain a civil society in the absence of government-supported infrastructure; which absence is caused by grotesque levels of corruption. In other words, ordinary people, with heroic effort, continue to try and live a normal life. Educate their kids, look after their parents, go do a day's work and get paid for it, fulfil social obligations and maintain relationships, etc.

grotesque levels of corruption: propped up and armed by the global corporations doing well out of it. I don't even need to say that, do I?
posted by glasseyes at 12:33 PM on August 7, 2013

glasseyes: There's two kinds of shop in JKIA: the shops for travellers who need to blow their last shillings on knick-knacks for the family, and the shops for people who like to consume conspicuously. The duty-free shops in question were the kind packed to the gills with johnny walker, cigarettes, and toblerone. I'll see my friend in person in a few days, and will ask for more details. Judging from the picture in the article, I see cigarettes, new luggage, and good ol' random crap.

Kenya's funny for corruption. It's obviously completely terrible, but seems to come down entirely to individual pettiness required by the system. Basically, you gotta grease a shit-ton of palms to get into office, greasing lots of them with promises of future wealth.... So to survive post election, MP's have to do terrible things to pay off their dues. After the recent election, there was a massive pay cut for the new MP's, and they spent the next four months doing literally nothing except try to get their pay raised again. It's that bad.

But somehow, in all the back-reading and whatnot, it's never been something like Shell Oil holding the cards at the end of the day. Things like Goldberg were stacks of bad actors putting together sham corporations to funnel money from the public to their private accounts. These places were global only in the sense that they were set up to land the cash in British bank accounts, held by the Kenyan nationals pulling the levers. I'm not saying that the Big Corporations are doing no wrong (there were definitely some terrible things with drug testing some years ago), but that I've never seen any indication that they're main factors in the degree and kind of corruption we see. Hell, big business lives and dies by infrastructure, and the corruption in Kenya has made the infrastructure terrible.

Somewhat sadly, my biggest hope at the moment seems to be that the new president is, for the moment at least, corrupt in a kinda positive way. There's a plan to provide free milk for primary students, for example. Of course, Kenyatta's family owns like 85% of the commercial dairy production in Kenya. A massive conflict of interest seems nigh, but it seems a bit better than the usual system of just stealing the funding. (So long as the kids actually get the milk, of course.) This seems about the best we can expect from the enlightened new generation of Kenyan leaders. (Who also happen to be the children of the previous generation of leaders.)

I think these are things that are going to have to change, somehow-eventually, especially as the population becomes more urbanized. Urbanization comes with more tribal mixing, which should reduce that toxic edge in the politics. It also means that more people are fundamentally dependent on these institutions that the corruption screws up so much. When you've got a population with probably 50% subsistence farmers, they aren't going to care terribly much if the roads are bad; they seem to just vote for the local guy, because they care waaay more about getting better land allocation for the family than about the overall health of the nation-state.


One hopes for some leadership to bring some changes before the demographics do their thing. It's a slow and troublesome process, demographics.
posted by kaibutsu at 5:08 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having just come back from Kenya, I am super glad that the fire started early in the morning. The areas where the shops are are tightly packed together with very little room, lots of people squished into hallways and I don't remember a lot of fire exits. It could have been a massacre.

The whole airport area is insane, really. To me, it encapsulated a lot of the worst aspects of Nairobi.
posted by smoke at 7:21 PM on August 7, 2013

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