Puzzle of Sh6 billion waste management plant that became 'white elephant'

Former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Swedish VR Holding Limited Company president Victoria Rikede while unveiling a plague to officially commission the construction of a waste management plant at Mung'ang'a in Mumias East on March 1, 2022. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Herds of cows, goats and sheep welcome visitors to the 15-acre parcel of land earmarked for a Sh6 billion waste plant project at Mung’ang’a village in Mumias East constituency.

According to residents, a vandalized plaque at the abandoned site filled with weeds is a constant reminder of the stalled project that was unveiled barely one year ago by former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya.

It was among Oparanya’s flagship projects that promised to create jobs for the locals and ensure enhanced management of solid waste in the county.

The plant was projected to incinerate approximately 800 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day.

Surrounding communities were elated when an electricity transformer was set up at the site and more than 15 households connected to it as part of the preparations to put up the plant.

Construct works were to take just nine months after it was unveiled, according to the former county chief.

Multi-billion project 

“But we are sad because things have come to a sudden halt and no one is talking about the multi-billion project anymore,” said Henry Sakwa, a resident.

He said locals were happy that they would earn money by delivering solid waste to the factory.

"I am devastated because something that was supposed to change the lives of our people has failed to materialise. I think it was a project tailored to woo voters," argued Sakwa.

Energy generated by the waste plant would revolutionize the county’s approach to dealing with solid waste menace for the benefit of over two million residents. Management of solid waste remains a major public health and environmental concern in the county.

The establishment of the plant would see the combustion of solid waste to produce electricity and clean energy.

VR Holding Limited Company, a Swedish firm, was expected to oversee the construction works of the factory in three phases.

Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa addresses the media in Kakamega town on April 14, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The first phase comprised the factory section where combusting of waste to energy and the production of clean energy was to take place. The second section would host a primary school for the community and the third section was to have a fully-fledged Level Four Hospital.

The company had even acquired a clearance license from the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum and was given the green light by National Environmental Management Authority after seven years of engagement, according to the former governor, Oparanya

It emerged that former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s intervention during the 2019 devolution conference in Kirinyaga County saw the release of the requisite licence by the ministry.

The company’s president Ms Victoria Rikede, who was present during the unveiling of the project, indicated that at least 1,000 new jobs would have been created in a period of nine months after the commissioning.

“This plant will create at least 1,000 new jobs for our people. And in our 25-year lease agreement, the county government will remain the custodian of the land and locals will be given first priority in regard to employment. We will speed up the construction of this project to benefit locals," said Rikede then.

Construction works

But Elias Matswa, a resident, told The Standard that locals were excited at first when the project was unveiled by the former governor. “However, failure to carry on with construction works has turned the site into an eyesore.”

Surrounding communities have petitioned Governor Fernandes Barasa to prioritize the project because it has huge potential to turn around their economic fortunes, especially after the collapse of Mumias Sugar Company rendered hundreds of sugarcane growers poor.

"The governor should engage the national government to help him complete the project for the sake of our jobless youth because a majority of them have resorted to drug abuse due to despair,” said Matswa.

Austin Shikuku,25, said: “I hoped to work at the plant but that was never to be. What my friends and I do here now is convincing households to allow us to graze their cows on the fallow land at a fee. Usually, we charge Sh200 per day.”