Makueni County residents are not yet convinced that the proposed Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is a blessing.
Many in Kibwezi East, Kibwezi West and Kilome sub-counties where the railway will pass through, view it as a nightmare of sorts.
Assurances by the Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) that all would be well have fallen on deaf ears, thanks to distrust between the authorities and people that dates back many years.
It does not help matters when wanton destruction of river beds by unauthorised sand scoopers is blamed on senior county and national government officials acting with impunity to reap from the heightened demand for the commodity from SGR.
To counter the rumour such as claims about a Berlin wall like barrier that will separate even families with crossing points far apart to compensation fraud for property owners on the path of the mega project, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure has held several meetings with residents and their leaders, but to no avail.
Says an officer from Principal Secretary Nduva Muli’s office on condition of anonymity: “We have explained at meetings with the political leadership and residents in Makindu, Wote, Kibwezi and other centres that the design will include numerous under passes and over passes for convenient crossing and that compensation will not be bungled. There are no middlemen as they claim.”
According to James Mukosi, the CORD chairman in Kibwezi Sub County, individuals posing as National Land Commission (NLC) agents are acting as brokers in land matters: “It is like the Government has no policy to ensure all affected people are rightfully compensated.”
He says intimidation has been the order of the day as people who cannot express themselves in the local Kamba dialect dictate payment terms with a ‘take it or leave it attitude’.
“They say the railway cannot fail to be built because of an individual and force people ignorant of their legal rights to sign documents,” says Mukosi.
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr, also advocate of the High Court, says no environment assessment report of the project was done as required by the law adding that the design of the railway should have been made public complete with identified crossing points.
“The design must not be a secret where people will be affected with dire economic and social consequences. As things stand, over 20 schools are affected in Kibwezi alone with no word to the eventual fate of the learning institutions. Compensation in this respect ought to be in kind,” says the Senator.
Kibwezi West MP Patrick Musimba sought legal redress on behalf of his people prompting a Machakos High Court to issue a 14 day stay of the railway’s construction work in his constituency. The hearing of this matter will be on November 5.
The order issued by Justice Charles Kariuki barred any dealings on the project until the matter is heard and determined.
Barred from dealing with the project in the constituency were respondents NLC, KRC, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and Attorney General Githu Muigai.
Lawyer Kethi Kilonzo for Dr Musimba had told the court that Kibwezi residents were not compensated for the land purportedly acquired for the SGR project commissioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta in April.
She said affected residents were not given notice before the take over as required by the law and emphasised the need for the project to be subjected to public participation and environmental audit.
Kethi argued that the names of affected residents did not appear in the Kenya gazette as required while measurements of some affected parcels of land were inaccurate.
“Notice of the dates and appointed time during which parcels of land, business premises and dwelling houses were measured and demarcated were not received by residents contrary to the law,” she argued.
The petitioner had accused the respondents of failing to address oral and written petitions and complaints.
“The railway line will affect schools, market places, water points and other social amenities,” Kethi said adding that the process of land acquisition was unconstitutional because no environmental impact assessment was undertaken and a report issued.
The ruling is a double blow for SGR that has been blamed for contributing to the unregulated harvesting of sand that is an important component of water in Makueni County and the Lower Eastern region.