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Kimwarer and Arror: Dam scandal that jolted the Jubilee legacy

Residents of HZ area at the Kimwarer Dam, Keiyo South Constituency in Elgeyo Marakwet County in September 2019. [File, Standard]

By the time the multi-billion shilling dams in Arror and Kimwarer in Elgeyo Marakwet County were downgraded in 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration was embroiled in graft allegations.

In early 2019, officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) started investigations into suspected mismanagement of Sh21 billion meant for the construction of the two dams.

The dams were to be constructed under the supervision of the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) under the stewardship of then Managing Director David Kimosop. 

However, the mega projects estimated to cost Sh63 billion never saw the light of day after money allocated to them was embezzled. 

While accepting a report by a technical committee appointed to review the two dams in September 2019, President Uhuru cancelled the Kimwarer Dam project on grounds that it was “technically and financially not feasible”.

The technical committee, which was chaired by Infrastructure PS Paul Maringa, said the Sh22.2 billion Kimwarer Dam was overpriced and that a reliable feasibility study was not conducted before the start of the project.

“The only feasibility study carried out on a similar project 28 years ago had revealed a geological fault across the 800-acre project area, which would have negative structural effects on the proposed dam,” the technical committee noted.

On the Arror multi-purpose dam, the committee in its report to the President noted that even though the project was economically viable, it was overpriced.

The committee proposed the height of the dam is scaled down to 60 meters from the original design of 96 meters.

The modified dam will only require 250 acres of land and cost between Sh13 billion and Sh15 billion from the previously estimated cost of Sh28 billion.

Even though the President had ordered the implementation of Arror multi-purpose dam project, KVDA and its contractor more than two years later have not implemented the project.

Meanwhile, Auditor General Nancy Gathungu in her 2020-2021 audit report for the financial year noted that the government had defaulted on loans which were borrowed for the two dams. 

Former Treasury CS Henry Rotich. [File, Standard]

On the political front, leaders in Deputy President William Ruto’s camp fiercely rose against the government’s move to investigate leaders among them the then Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and KVDA staff.

The Deputy President openly went against the probe claiming that the money alleged to have gotten lost in Kimwarer and Arror dams’ saga did not add up to Sh21 billion. 

“We’ve heard that there is some money totalling Sh21 billion for the Kimwarer and Arror dams construction. This is a flat lie. The money in question is just Sh7 billion which can be accounted for,” said the Deputy President then. 

Governor Alex Tolgos’ stand on the entire Kimwarer and Arror scandal elicited a storm within the Jubilee party-led government, putting him directly under fire from leaders close to Ruto.

Being a Jubilee governor from Ruto’s backyard and him siding with perceived anti-DP forces did not sit well with most leaders from the region. 

During a March 2019 visit to Elgeyo Marakwet, the region’s leaders attacked Tolgos during a function he was hosting as the Deputy President watched. 

“Governor Tolgos says we, leaders who are against this probe only speak from Nairobi. Let me tell you governor Tolgos, the fight that is in Nairobi cannot be compared to these small wars in county governments. Concentrate on what is happening within the county and forget about Nairobi issues,” said an angry Senator Kipchumba Murkomen during the function and Sambirir Girls’ School in Marakwet East. 

The senator claimed the dams’ saga was a ploy by some quarters within the Jubilee administration to politically undermine Ruto and his followers. 

“When a hyena wants to eat its children, it first accuses them of smelling like goats,” said Murkomen back then in a Senate sitting in reference to an alleged Jubilee’s onslaught against the Deputy President’s allies. 

Higher calling

In the Marakwet East function were other leaders who blamed President Kenyatta’s handshake with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga as the course of all the issues bedevilling the two multipurpose dams. 

“Governor Tolgos should understand that we have a higher calling in Nairobi. He should stay away from matters around this Arror and Kimwarer dams saga. It is beyond him,” said Belgut Member of National Assembly Nelson Koech. It is the consequences of the dams’ probe that was the stroke that broke the camel’s back as cracks started forming inside Jubilee after Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, KVDA Managing Director David Kimosop among others were shown the door and prosecuted. 

The Cabinet Secretary together with his Principal Secretary Kamau Thuge was accused of abuse of office by illegally procuring the services of CMC Di Ravenna – Itiniera Joint venture, an Italian firm and conspiracy to defraud. Kimosop faced similar charges.  

Stolen cash

Leaders around the DP went out bare knuckle defending Rotich and KVDA staff saying they were sacrificed in a scheme to edge people allied to Ruto out of government. 

“I can say without fear of contradiction that no money meant for construction of the Kimwarer and Arror dams was stolen. CS Rotich and all the people affected in the probe are innocent. They were just sacrificial lamps in a well-orchestrated plan by a group of people sitting in Nairobi,” said Senator Murkomen. 

The decision to cancel the Kimwarer dam project and downgrade Arror further angered leaders from the area, deepening the political rivalry that was now all in the open.  

“This is utter discrimination by the government. The Dongo Kundu irrigation project is priced at Sh50 billion and the LAPSSET port project costs Sh100 billion. No one has said these projects are overpriced. In fact, the President has already launched them. To say these dams, which are supposed to be a lifeline to this country’s food basket are overpriced, is insane,” said Senator Murkomen.  

The leaders demanded that the projects pick on with the money which had earlier been allocated to them, something which never came to be. 

Locals in the county still think they were denied a chance to redeem themselves economically through irrigating huge land masses in the majorly semi-arid Kerio Valley. 

The 900 families that were to be relocated to pave way for the dams’ constructions are still in their homesteads. Nothing, apart from enlisting them, has so far been done. 

The government had allocated Sh6 billion as compensation to families who would be displaced by the dams’ construction, something which locals had nodded to. 

As we inch close to the August elections, it will go down in history that the Arror and Kimwarer dams’ scandals deepened the wounds in Jubilee that had already been created by the handshake.

With the case against former CS Rotich, his PS and former KVDA senior staff set to continue, leaders, majorly from the Rift Valley, will always quote the failed projects as one of the greatest undoings of President Kenyatta’s government.  

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