The Kenyan stowaway

LAST week, the sad situation in Africa was again brought into relief when news surfaced that the  body of a suspected stowaway had fallen off a Kenya Airways flight and landed in a garden on Offerton Road, Clapham, southwest London. The impact was reported to have left a crater in the lawn and smashed a concrete path. The plane took off from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi and apparently, the stowaway was already dead when he fell from flight KQ100 near the end of the 4,250-mile trip. The frozen body was found in a garden, while a bag and provisions were discovered in the landing gear compartment of the Kenya Airways plane. Initial reports indeed suggested that the still unnamed stowaway may have been a Nairobi Airport worker, while later reports suggested that he may in fact have smuggled himself onto an earlier flight from Johannesburg, South Africa.

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According to reports, the plane took off from Johannesburg to Nairobi before heading to the United Kingdom, meaning that the man could have been on the plane for over 15 hours before falling if he had indeed started his fatal journey in South Africa. There have been been previous reported cases of stowaways on flights from South Africa to Kenya and the police in Kenya have in fact indicated that they are considering that possibility in the current case. Describing the incident as unfortunate, Kenya Airways said: “The incident has been treated as a sudden death and is now a police matter. The police have already been in contact with the Kenya High Commission to help identify and name the person. It is unfortunate that a person has lost his life by stowing aboard one of our aircraft and we express our condolences. Kenya Airways is working closely with the relevant authorities in Nairobi and London as they fully investigate this case.”

In its own reaction, the Kenya Airports Authority reiterated that safety and security remained a priority at the country’s airports and that the incident was being treated with the seriousness it deserved. A statement from Scotland Yard meanwhile said: “A post-mortem examination will be carried out in due course. Police are working to establish the man’s identity. A crime scene was put in place but has since been closed. The death is not being treated as suspicious. Enquiries are underway to establish the full circumstances. At this point, police believe the man was a stowaway and had fallen from the landing gear of an inbound Kenya Airways flight to Heathrow Airport.” The point was noted in the British media that the stowaway would have had to survive almost nine hours starved of oxygen and temperatures of around -60C at an altitude of 40,000ft.

To all intents and purposes, last week’s tragic stowaway incident illustrates the sad reality of life in Africa. Hobbled by visionless leadership, Africa has remained perhaps the world’s most inclement socioeconomic environment. From north to south and east to west, Africa has been assailed by bad leadership and the people made mere serfs of the political class. Libya is essentially a failed state. Nigeria, abundantly blessed but criminally managed, is now the poverty capital of the world while South Africa, the continent’s model for development, has witnessed rapid deterioration in leadership quality since Nelson Mandela’s exit from power. Countries like Uganda are not even pretending to be a democracy and the two Sudans are mired in contradictions.

Given the horrendous and appalling conditions in which the citizenry are being kept by politicians, it is no wonder that Africans risk life and limb to exit the continent. As we noted in previous editorials, the Mediterranean Sea, the ever blue waters connecting Africa to Europe via Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, is gradually proving to be the graveyard of the continent’s vastly disillusioned people, mostly youths seeking greener pasture, tired of the hostile and predatory environment. As we noted, only recently, about 120 Africans were reported to have drowned in a dinghy on the Mediterranean as they made for Europe through Libya. And with Libya being for many the route to Europe and the proverbial good life, these migrants go through extreme conditions of hostility and abuse to arrive at the point of departure. They suffer enslavement, torture and rape without respite.

We insist that the various governments on the African continent under the aegis of the African Union (AU) must step up their act. Africa has to be made less hostile to life and living. It has enough to sustain the vast population and can be given a massive turnaround with the right political leadership. Increasingly, Africa needs capable economic and social engineers and African countries cannot afford to retain the current crop of comedians in high offices. It is too costly to do so. They must address the apparently defective leadership recruitment processes and put the right people in charge.

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