In Africa, if your building doesn’t collapse at the construction stage, go eat your chicken. Today witnesses a new statistic in Kinoo, Kenya. A 5-storey building just collapsed after cracks appeared in some of its columns. It’s a case of differential settlement and a matter experienced contractors would have addressed at the time the foundation was being established.
But, why are buildings in Africa collapsing at construction stage? It’s easy to claim that buildings collapse because of design errors. As if owner builders (business men in town who think they can avoid or misuse professionals) like the case of this Kinoo developer ever follow designs. Most building collapses are inspired by location specific factors and unethical character of developers. I want to list a few examples of African buildings that have collapsed and then make my points after.
1. In 2017, in Alexandria, Egypt, a 13 floor building tilted and rested on a neighboring structure across the street. The city authorities detected failure signs and evacuated all people in the neighborhood so no person died. The cause of this failure was the demolition activities that were ongoing in the neighboring building which the city authorities had permitted to take place in 2004.
2. In 2016, in Lagos, Nigeria, a 5 floor building collapsed killing 35 people and injuring many. The developer had exceeded the number of approved floors and added more without running a structural condition assessment.
3. In 2013, in Tongaat, South Africa, a shopping mall under construction collapsed killing 2 people and injuring 29 others. A combination of poor quality of concrete and early removal of formwork and scaffolding before concrete could support roof loads are what was cited as the cause of the collapse.
4. In 2013, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, a 16 floor apartments building collapsed killing 36 people and leaving 2 injured. The design was for 10 floors but the developer decided to take it to 16 floors and more. It was under construction.
5. In 2013, in Nyagatare, Rwanda, a 4-floor building collapsed killing 6 people and injuring 30 people. It was still under construction. The contractor had no tools, the concrete was mixed on ground with hoes and spades, and workmanship was poor.
6. In 2013, in Kisumu, Kenya, a 5 floor building collapsed killing 7 people and injuring many others. You know Kenyans, they can’t be counted when they are still on their feet and can run. But, the structure was still under construction and the cause of collapse was a change from a 2 floor building that had a foundation designed for 2 floors to a 5 floor building without reengineering the foundation. Also, the quality of concrete on site was poor.
7. In 2010, in Akere, Nigeria, a hotel building under construction collapsed. Poor quality materials.
8. In 2008, in Bwebajja, Uganda, a 5 floor building under construction collapsed killing 10 people and trapping 38 people who are yet to be rescued. The cause of the collapse was developer character. The owner had no professional contractor on site.
The list can go on but I’ll stop here. The Kinoo building collapse will not present any unique reasons. It will be a story of client/developer deficiencies. It will be a story of a businessman who avoided hiring experienced engineers to do their work. All the times, “omutwe omutono gukooya amagulu”. In fact, developers waste much more money when they avoid hiring experienced contractors.
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