‘Siaya Fuel Inferno’ Fuels Fear on the Survival of SMEs

More than 13 people have died from the fuel tanker explosion in Malanga, Siaya County. The apocalyptic fuel dash comes only a week after The Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA), maintained fuel prices for a month. This raises fear of the struggle Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are undergoing in the process of sustaining their market connectivity. Despite the lessons leant from previous such infernos such as the Sachang’wan where at least 111 people were killed and hundreds injured, nothing seems to have changed, as the depth of the Kenyan economy worsens.

The Malanga terminator

Residents of Malanga area, along the busy Kisumu – Busia on Sunday morning woke up to Fuel – Manna, after a truck carrying petrol overturned on collision with another vehicle late Saturday.

People including motorists, and other matatu operators had rushed to the scene with jerry cans to siphon off fuel from the overturned tanker before it exploded.

According to witnesses, the tanker exploded covering all those in search for fuel in an apocalyptic fireball. The BBC reported that, it had taken two hours for firefighters to reach the scene, near the town of Malanga, which is about 320km (200 miles) north-west of the capital, Nairobi. A lorry carrying milk travelling in the opposite direction had collided with the petrol tanker.

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SMEs in the furnace

According to witnesses interviewed most SMEs who faced the wrath of the vandalized petrol were motorcycles operators and the local community eyeing to sell petrol as it had a lot of value with the current market.

This comes only a week after EPRA, a body that manages the prices and regulation of petrol among other Energy items in the announced a consumer reprieve on the commodity prices, a benefit embraced by SMEs as an advantage in market performance.

Most of the locals had had problems of the commodity, and with the loophole there main aim was to stock in bulk, an array that would open up business later as demand arises, not knowing they had been leading their way into a death trap.

The cases have been attributed to the high cost of living that forces Kenyans to do the unthinkable including risking their own lives for a piece of the petrol.

Residents have attributed the Saturday night fire incident to the poor state of the economy, saying the victims were out for a quick source of income.

Inferno Case files

On July 13, 1998, the evening of this date went on the dark history after 33 people who rushed to fetch fuel from a tanker in Sijimbo village in Ugenya near Sidindi market died. According to reports, they had hopes sell it later but one man who lit a match stick changed the whole narrative.

The Sachangwan fire tragedy that occurred in January 31, 2011, killed 111 people and leaving hundreds injured after oil tanker went up in flames. The incident is still a horror to many residents in area and also the witnesses. The same scenario of trying to survive in a hard economy led them into a death trap.

Also in January 9th, 2021, Kisii residents scrambled for petrol after truck ferrying fuel overturned near Nyamataro-Daraja Mbili. Despite it being calm, the situation could have been worse if the police couldn’t have intervened.

July 18, 2021, Sunday morning was marred with horrifying video of the incident where at least 13 people were reported dead while over 11 nursing injuries after an accident at Malanga on Kisumu-Busia Road.

These case files represent an economy that continues to rust in the shells of high cost of living, most SMEs have been finding their way to stealing fuel even when the wounds of tragic past are still open.

Turkana oil project

Turkana oil with a potential production of 70,000-100,000 barrels per day (bpd) was discovered in 2012 creating a high level of excitement and economic hopes.

Most SMEs had hopes that the prices of fuel would later come down since the Kenyan owned endowment would shelter the cost of importation that was being used.

However, with several reports of exiting the project by the end of this year Tullow Company who have been manning almost 50% of the shares, would see project at a difficult state. The second global oil price collapse in 2019 weakened Tullow’s financial capacity, forcing the company to exit Uganda while looking for a buyer for Kenya assets.

Almost a decade now and the prices of fuel have been rising exponentially without a consideration of the local SME who depend on transport to make profits.

Weak institutions, inadequate macroeconomic policies, poor governance and lack of profit-sharing mechanisms among the relevant stakeholders (local communities, central government, current and future generations, and national and international private sector investors) have left SMEs at the heart of fuel prices over time leading them to indulge in vandalisms of death.

The prices of super petrol still retail at KSh 127.14 in Nairobi, KSh 124.72 in Mombasa and KSh 127.67 in Kisumu. In Nakuru, the same will retail at KSh 126.75 and Eldoret at KSh 127.67. The price of diesel and kerosene in Nairobi selling at KSh 107.88 and 97.85 respectively. Mombasa will has a retail price at KSh 105.27 and KSh 95.46, while Kisumu is KSh 108.46 and KSh 98.68, according to the recent review done by EPRA.

Government Say.

Police reports indicate the fire started when one of the victims opened the tanker compartment to siphon petrol faster, presumably before the police arrived and dispersed them.

“The members of the public took advantage and went to siphon petrol as one compartment of the tanker was open. Another resident realizing the other compartment was closed and delaying them, opened it to enable them to siphon very fast before the police could arrive in the process it caused a spark and blew up,” said Gem OCPD Mosera Chacha to the media.

Mombasa Kenya.

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