Solai Dam victims' families speak after Sh47 million compensation

Joseph Njane during an interview at his home in Solai, Nakuru County. Njane is one of the Solai Dam Victims. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Victims of the Solai dam, which breached its banks six years ago, resulting in the death of 48 people, have disclosed the reasons behind their decision to reach an out-of-court settlement with the farm owners who were facing manslaughter charges.

Despite the haunting memories and ongoing effects of the events that occurred on May 9, 2018, the victims cited their longstanding positive relationships with the dam owners as a key factor in opting for an out-of-court resolution.

The locals' decision led to a Naivasha court acquitting the nine defendants last month, even though they had been placed on their defense and had presented their evidence.

In July 2018, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) ordered the arrest and prosecution of Solai farm managers and high-ranking government officials. They faced various charges, including manslaughter, neglect of duty, and failure to prepare an environmental report.

In the case, Perry Manusukh, a director at Solai Farm, and eight others faced 48 counts of manslaughter and the failure to prepare an environmental impact assessment report. Others included Vinoj Jaya Kumar, Johnson Njuguna, Luka Kipyegen, Winnie Muthoni, Jacinta Were, Tomkin Odo Odhiambo, Willie Omondi, and Lynette Cheruiyot.

In April 2023, following the hearing, the Naivasha court ruled that the nine had a case to answer and subsequently placed them on their defence, with 36 witnesses testifying.

John Mwangi said their affectionate and long-standing relationship with the dam owners influenced their decision to withdraw the case. Mwangi said they were not coerced into agreeing to an out-of-court settlement.

He explained that, although he was the one who proposed the out-of-court settlement, the victims were not directly involved in the subsequent negotiations. "The out-of-court settlement came from us; we signed the agreement," he said.

According to Mwangi, the victims participated in the talks through their representatives. "When our lawyer came, he informed us that they had held talks and agreed on something. Together with the DPP, they told us they settled on Sh1.2 million for an adult and Sh800,000 for a child lost," Mwangi said.

He added that while they might have proposed at least Sh5 million for each life lost, no amount of money can truly compensate for a lost life. He said despite the Sh1.2 million being a modest sum, he had no choice but to accept it.

He said the greater amount will cater to his children's school fees and plans to start a small business for some of his children and also increase stock in his shop.

Mwangi, a retired teacher, described Manusukh as a generous man who has over the years helped needy families in Solai.

Joseph Njane, a resident of Solai, fought back tears as he cleared wild vegetation that covered his father’s grave. Njane, a victim of the Solai Patel dam, recounted the loss of his father. “We realised that even if they were to be jailed, they are a family, one of us, having lived with us for a long time. We agreed there was no need to see them jailed and wrote to the DPP to allow us to talk,” said Njane.

He said the court case had created a rift between them, adding that he was happy they could meet and talk. Compensation, to him, was nothing compared to the restored good relations between them and the farm owners. Njane confirmed they had received the money and stated that he would use part of the funds to rehabilitate the land.

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