For hundreds of families in Elgeyo Marakwet, the stalled construction of the Sh66 billion Arror and Kimwarer dams has brought the pain of delayed compensation for the land they vacated to pave the way for the project.
More than 900 families were promised about Sh6 billion as compensation for land they would cede to the ambitious dams project that was to serve more than 50,000 people living in the Kerio Valley region.
Arror Dam in Marakwet West was to cost Sh38 billion while Sh28 billion Kimwarer Dam in Keiyo South carried a price tag of Sh28 billion.
Senior government officials including former Treasury Cabinet secretary Henry Rotich and ex Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) managing director David Kimosop are currently facing corruption charges related to the two dam projects.
President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed a team to review the two projects following these corruption allegations, with the task force finding that they were over-priced.
He allowed implementation of the Arror dam at a reduced cost of Sh15.4 billion while the Kimwarer dam project was cancelled after it was found unviable by the technical committee.
The jinxed project, which has sagged under the weight of corruption claims, has now left the affected and frustrated residents contemplating instituting legal proceedings against the government for the socio-economic, psychological losses they have endured.
“There are no indications that the project will ever kick-off,” said Michael Chebii, an elder from Kipsaiya village, where Arror dam was to be located.
Both projects in the Kerio Valley region were meant to produce electricity and boost irrigated agriculture.
For residents, however, it is the pain of foregone income from their farms that they had to effectively vacate before the proposed construction could start that hurts most.
According to the families, the government asked them not to farm their land in 2018 because they would be relocated elsewhere after they were compensated.
“When the deal is good think twice. We were enticed only to realise that the entire process was lacking in transparency and accountability. We now fear we will lose our ancestral land and be rendered squatters,” said Mr Chebii.
He was promised 25 acres of land in exchange for five acres, a sweet deal he says, that would have transformed his life for the better.
“We visited several farms in Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia counties together with KVDA officials and the local administrators but at the end of it all it emerged that there was no land for families to be evicted from where the dam project was to be set up,” he said.
He is now lamenting the losses incurred for foregoing the planting seasons between 2018 and 2020 when they had been told not to carry out any agricultural activities on the proposed construction site as they awaited compensation.
“We have to be compensated for the losses incurred for the two seasons that we did not farm our land,” said Jackson Kaino, another resident.
Among the services the families missed out on as a result of the collapse of the dam projects include Last Mile electricity connectivity, road infrastructure development, health services among many others. Some of them were also arrested for resisting the dam projects after a disagreement on the compensation issue.
“We fail to understand why our leaders were advocating the implementation of the project while keeping silent on how we would be compensated. They landed here in helicopters wooing us to accept the project but said nothing on our next place to settle,” said Isaac Yego, the owner of two-and-a-half acres in Kipsaiya village.
He is among five people who were arrested after police broke up demonstrations by Kipsaiya residents opposed to the construction of the Arror dam unless they were paid compensation. They were released on a bond of between Sh10,000 and Sh20,000 each.
“We were branded anti-development for demanding for our rightful compensation only for the project to be hit by scandals,” said Mr Yego, who has vowed not to vacate his land unless he is compensated.
Several residents moved to the High Court to oppose the implementation of the Arror dam project, citing a lack of public participation and forceful land acquisition.
They named the National Land Commission, National Environment Management Authority, Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and the Attorney-General as respondents in the suit against the project.
“This project is being implemented without the involvement of residents yet the locals will directly be affected by the project since it is their land that will be converted into a dam leading to displacement,” read part of the petition by the applicants.
But the court dismissed the application, giving the KVDA a go-ahead to implement the multi-billion dam projects.
The Kenya Forest Service later pulled out of the land exchange programme for the two dams after the corruption claims emerged.
Under the deal, the KFS was to surrender 400 hectares of forest land in exchange for 570 hectares that was to be recovered from private land surrendered by the vacating communities.
The KVDA — the implementing agency for the project — was to acquire about 6,000 acres of land, including public forest to set up the twin multi-purpose dams.
Italian firm CMC Di Ravenna, which was awarded the tender for the two dam projects, has compounded the uncertainty after demanding compensation for irregular cancellation of the contract.
In the arbitration case at the International Chamber of Commerce, the firm wants the government through the KVDA to pay Sh12.38 billion as compensation for the cancellation of the tender.
And although the land question is yet to be resolved fully, Kerio Valley leaders have been petitioning President Kenyatta to intervene and hasten the implementation of the multi-purpose project.
Led by Elgeyo Marakwet governor Alex Tolgos, the leaders have asked for faster recovery of any project funds lost to corruption to facilitate the construction of the Arror dam.
“We ask the Head of State to consider the original plan for the construction of the two strategic dams which was to establish eco-system for provision of steady water supply for domestic, irrigation and hydro-electricity generation to unlock agricultural, industrial and urbanisation potential in the region,” said Dr Micah Kigen, the Elgeyo Marakwet ODM chairman.