The tragedy raises questions about Kenya’s enforcement of building codes for schools and apartment complexes, which are often constructed by private contractors long accused of cutting corners.
“Look at these wires, the stones that were used,” said Peter Livasia, 30, a parent of an unhurt student. “The structure may look good, but when the building comes down, you realize it was made of nothing.”
Rescue equipment did not arrive at the school for more than an hour after the collapse. Bystanders used their hands to pull away the rubble and sent injured children to nearby hospitals on the backs of Nairobi’s ubiquitous motorcycle taxis.
When government officials arrived at the school by midmorning, they were greeted with anger.
“I’m sure they must have checked all these structures,” Moses Nyakiongora, director of the National Building Inspectorate, told reporters at the scene. “But we have very many unsafe structures in Nairobi.”
He added that his bureau will conduct an investigation into “why these makeshift structures, which are death traps,” are not being properly inspected.
Addressing any contractor who cuts corners, Nyakiongora said, “You are a murderer and a con man.”
Parents of the injured children gathered at Kenyatta National Hospital. Josephine Mwakasa, 30, emerged from an operating room, distraught after seeing her 13-year-old daughter, Julia Ndela.
“Her head is so swollen. She can’t talk. She can’t walk,” she said. “Julia is just staring at me. She can’t talk properly.”
Back at the school, anger was specifically directed at the school’s owner, Moses Wainaina Ndirangu.
One teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job, said Ndirangu had decided to build a second story on one of the school’s wings to accommodate more students. But it was clear that the wood and sheet metal used on the ground floor was not strong enough to support more weight, the teacher said.
“He should have just left the school as it is. Why did he have to put two floors?” the teacher said. Ndirangu’s attorney said his client would not be available for comment.
Livasia, the parent, said he paid about $90 a year for his daughter to attend the school, which had an enrollment of 917 and was considered above average by Kenyan standards. He said he did not fault Ndirangu for wanting to take on more students but for not ensuring that new construction was done carefully.
“I just want to know, the money we pay, where does it go?” he said. “The greed is killing our children.”