A primary school in Nairobi was the site of an election day stampede. On August 8, 2017, voters went to the Starehe polling station to cast ballots for the next leader of Kenya. Twenty four individuals were hospitalized with an array of injuries. Fortunately, no fatalities were reported.
Apparently, some voters arrived up to 6 hours early in hopes of being the first to cast a ballot in the hotly contested presidential election.
“Chaos started when people could not identify their stations. When some began walking around to confirm where they were supposed to vote, others thought they were jumping the line. Police were unable to control them.” — Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Vice Chair Consolata Maina
When people think of human stampedes, they normally think of massive crowds. Stadiums and concerts in the tens of thousands or religious pilgrimages in the millions.
But stampedes aren’t necessarily related to crowd size. They have more to do with logistical aspects and unexpected variables.
In this case, the school had 21 separate polling stations. Each station was anticipating about 700 voters.
None of this sounds out of the ordinary. However, if you introduce the variable of “poorly” or “inadequately” marked polling stations. Well, that would naturally spawn confusion.
Let’s put this in American terms. If you spent the entire night camping out for front row Beyonce tickets, and then come morning, learn you’re in the Slayer line. Well, I imagine you’d become distraught and angry.
When emotions are running high… when people are impatient and constrained by time… If you introduce just one, lone variable (poor signage), it can result in sudden confusion and spontaneous chaos. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the planet earth is a crowded place. Every single day, there are thousands of events. And for the most part, all of them peacefully transpire without incident. But every once in a while, something unexpected happens.
The Nairobi election day stampede echoes my concerns about the potential for a cellular-induced panic. After all, it’s just another unanticipated variable. Nothing more, nothing less. Either way, the problem is easily remedied by being proactive and providing relevant information. In the case of the Nairobi stampede, clear signage and better coordination would have likely averted a catastrophe.
In the event of an “artificially generated stampede,” giving people access to some very generic public safety information (legitimate venue evacuation orders would NEVER initially be delivered via your personal cell phone) could make all the difference. It could be the difference between everyone returning home safely… or a tragedy. It’s my contention that government and private industry have absolutely no business deliberately concealing this critical snippet of public safety information. Yet, they do. And it’ll remain the status quo… until that specific variable (a sudden saturation of false, wireless information) is put to the test. And when that eventually happens, I have a strong hunch the outcome will NOT be a favorable one.