Walking through the tunnel of death: In Murang’a, politics won

Walking through the tunnel of death: In Murang’a, politics won

That the ethnic and political divide in Kenya has reached new lows became evident with the controversy over the Northern Collector Water Tunnel (NCT) Project. Predictably, the line between supporters and opponents was drawn not on the pros and cons of the project, but rather petty political and ethnic loyalties.

As with other major scandals that have come to light in recent days, the whistle on this water project was blown by opposition leader Raila Odinga. The politician claimed that the project would lead, within five years, to the desertification of Murang’a, Garissa and Tana River Counties, through which the waters from the Aberdares flow through the Tana River.

Now, Odinga isn’t just any other whistleblower. When he blows the whistle, everything from that point tends to take a political tangent. Surprisingly, even on a life-and-death matter such as this one, it didn’t matter to those who see themselves as members of the king’s courtyard whether what had been said was helpful or not. It only mattered that the person seeking to unseat President Uhuru Kenyatta had raised the issue, and so the project had to be defended.

But why should a noble project to provide water to the ever-growing population the Nairobi metropolis raise such controversy? According to available information, the project aims to get water from three rivers in Murang’a – Maragua, Gikie and Irati – and move it through a tunnel. The three rivers originate in the Aberdare Ranges and join up with others to flow as the Tana River through Garissa and Tana River Counties into the Indian Ocean.

On the face of it, this should be a project to be welcomed by all. Those in favour say that only excess waters will be abstracted, meaning that the rivers will maintain their normal flow. No water will be abstracted during drought and low rainfall.

Whenever it rains heavily, flooding is quite common in Tana River County, with consequent deaths and damage to crops and wildlife. Of course, it makes a lot of sense to make better use of this excess water by redirecting it for city residents to use, thus also saving those downstream from the constant floods.

But many questions remain. Given the penchant by the Jubilee administration to shout from the rooftops over every little achievement, the fact that this multibillion-shilling project is only now coming into the limelight has raised eyebrows.

Matters are not helped by the fact that contracts for the works were awarded and equipment deployed even before the National Environment Management Authority had given its greenlight. That makes the granting of environmental approval a fait accompli, turning the whole process of undertaking an Environmental Impact Assessment into child play.

But even more seriously is the issue of communal participation. A project of this magnitude should only be undertaken with the knowledge and agreement of local populations that will be affected, yet few people seemed aware of the project. The Murang’a County Assembly had apparently raised serious reservations about the project, yet it went ahead before those concerns were addressed.

Again, if a resource is to be removed from one County for the benefit of another, it is only fair that the source County should benefit. After all, the water will not be given free but rather sold to Nairobi residents, so why should Murang’a pass the water to Nairobi free of charge?

It is also important to note that the other Counties that benefit from the downstream waters of the Tana River were however not consulted despite the fact that they are also naturally interested parties. It is difficult to explain away this glaring omission on the part of the government, treating Murang’a County as though it is the only stakeholder.

But at this stage, it shouldn’t matter who has raised concerns about the venture. The most noble approach would have been to halt the project, address the concerns, and then probably resume it at a later date once consensus has been achieved all round.

Interestingly, this is not the way things happened. And it signifies an increasingly dangerous trend in East Africa: That if a leader belongs to Kenya’s CORD, Tanzania’s CUF or Uganda’s FDC, even those you try to help will denounce you in favour of their oppressor.


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