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Mama Ngina and Field Marshall Muthoni’s Locs: Sanitising the Kenyattas

9 min read.

By cutting and removing a part of Mau Mau fighter Mary Muthoni wa Kirima’s body which symbolizes a past state of being, a past that has nothing to do with her, Mama Ngina has appropriated Mau Mau-ness and its legacy for present political purposes.



Mama Ngina and Field Marshall Muthoni’s Locs: Sanitising the Kenyattas

The Kenyatta family is trying to falsely reinsert itself into Mau Mau history, and thereby bask in its legacy, with ahistorical claims that both Jomo and his widow Mama Ngina fought in the forests. Mama Ngina is seen shaving the dreadlocks of a nonogenarian former forest fighter, while curiously adorned in Maasai dress. What can it all mean?

The reality is that Jomo Kenyatta was never in Mau Mau, let alone spent any time in the forests. He spent much of his life post-1951 (the year Mau Mau began, although its seeds were planted earlier) railing against Mau Mau, which he called a “disease”. It is highly unlikely that Mama Ngina, who married him in 1951, was a forest fighter either. This story asks, why are the Kenyattas trying to reinvent themselves as friends of Mau Mau so many years later? The historical legacy of Kenya’s first family is at stake…

“We fought for our children’s sake,” declared Mama Ngina after shaving the long dreadlocks of 92-year-old former Mau Mau fighter Mary Muthoni wa Kirima at her home near Nyeri. In a bizarre ceremony organised by the women’s wing of the Kikuyu Council of Elders, the former First Lady wore Maasai-style clothing and adornment. Mama Ngina wrapped the 70-year-old dreads in the Kenyan flag and placed them in a traditional kiondo basket, saying they would be stored at the national museum.

But who exactly fought the colonialists? Not Jomo Kenyatta, nor Mama Ngina – not in the literal sense. Yet the Nation’s version of this story (4 April) went on to claim that Ngina had been Muthoni’s “friend during their stay in the forest and jail term at Kamiti Prison”. Given that Mau Mau only began officially in 1951, the year Mama Ngina became Jomo’s fourth wife, it is highly unlikely that the new bride spent the early 1950s in the forests fighting alongside the people he so despised. The Kamiti story has surfaced before, but no evidence has ever been provided.

Let us remind ourselves what Jomo Kenyatta’s stance on Mau Mau was. “Mau Mau was a disease which had been eradicated, and must never be remembered again,” he declared in a public speech at Githunguri in 1962. This heralded the start of a period of suppression of public memory of the Mau Mau movement. Mau Mau was banned by Kenyatta, and remained banned under his successor, Daniel arap Moi. As Hughes has written before: “National unity was to be achieved at all costs, with history the bloodless casualty”. The Kenyatta regime maintained a “deafening silence about Mau Mau”, according to historian David Anderson. This was interspersed at times with limited recognition of Mau Mau veterans, when it suited Kenyatta politically. This selective “forgetting” has led to the apparent confusion and ambivalence many Kenyans feel about Kenyatta’s legacy. How can a man who denied leading or even endorsing Mau Mau, which is widely seen as having brought about uhuru, be regarded as the person who led Kenya to independence? The two things do not hang together. Kenyatta also sharply told poor landless veterans that they shouldn’t expect anything for free, when they asked, after independence, for land and other rewards for their sacrifice. Veterans have been crying ever since.

One of Hughes’s best research informants was the late Paul Thuku Njembui. He fought in the forests, spent seven years in British detention camps, and claimed to have sheltered Dedan Kimathi for a while in his home at Karima Forest, Othaya. If anyone knew what Kenyatta did in the war, it was men like Thuku. He was adamant on that point:

I want you to pay attention. Kenyatta was not a Mau Mau. Who could have become the first president of Kenya? Is it Kenyatta or Kimathi? Kimathi continued fighting for freedom up to the end of his life, but Kenyatta surrendered – he betrayed his people, even though he became president. If Kenyatta was a forest fighter, or had he been, he could have helped the forest fighters thereafter. But he did not. The colonial government of course declared Mau Mau an illegal movement and Kenyatta remained with the same idea that Mau Mau was illegal. So did Moi.

He also believed that Kenyatta told the British to execute Kimathi: “Kenyatta was there to say, ‘Kill Kimathi! Let him die!’ Because he knew that he would [otherwise] have no chance of being president.” In other words, Thuku alleged that British officials consulted Kenyatta about this. That is highly unlikely, if not impossible.

Heroic history

A leading historian of Kenya, who asks to remain anonymous, had this to say:

Mama Ngina is clearly trying to write herself into heroic history. A senior chief’s daughter, she was more likely to have been under Home Guard protection than in the forest. Nor can she ever have been in Kamiti. Some of Jomo’s children were lodged with Nairobi’s Etonian grocer, Derek Erskine, for quite some time during the Emergency. Mama Ngina was certainly with Jomo during his period of detention at Lodwar and then Maralal, after his jail term had expired. How else was Uhuru conceived?  I remember one Kenyan friend [another leading historian] saying how important it was politically for Jomo to have proved himself still sexually potent before taking on political power.

On checking with other historians, they too have not found any evidence that Mama Ngina was in the forest in the 1950s. If she had been, why have we not heard anything about it until now?

It is not clear from the press coverage whether the journalists concocted these claims, or whether they reported what Mama Ngina had told them. Either way, it is a very strange concoction, since the claims can be so easily dismissed by historians who have researched this period.

Potent imagery

The symbolism of the imagery is easy to decode. Mama Ngina is wearing an elaborate white mantle, similar to that worn by important elders or (in another culture) royalty. In her hair sits a tiara or Kenyan-style crown. It is Maasai in derivation, but branded with the Kenyan flag. Hughes, who has long researched Maasai culture and history, has never seen this style, with a vertical piece standing up over the forehead, worn by older women, only little girls, so that is odd in itself. This story began by describing her dress as “Maasai style” because it is not authentic. Red dresses and shirts to which tiny metal mirrors are sewn (are they not Indian in origin?) have only become popular among Maasai in the past 10 to 20 years or so; they didn’t wear such clothing, or even much beadwork, in the not-so-distant past. As a former First Lady she is effectively conferring an ennoblement, or blessing, on a rather bewildered-looking Muthoni.

How can a man who denied leading or even endorsing Mau Mau, which is widely seen as having brought about uhuru, be regarded as the person who led Kenya to independence?

From a cultural heritage perspective, the ceremony is a cultural invention, masquerading as traditional, though Kikuyu co-wives and friends did traditionally shave each other’s heads. In a rite of passage not dissimilar in some ways to FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting), and the shaving of Maasai warriors’ dreads by their mothers when they graduate to junior elderhood, the self-styled Mother of the Nation has cut and removed a precious part of the body which symbolizes a past state of being. The only problem is: this past has nothing to do with her. Thereby, through false pretences, she has appropriated Mau Mau-ness and its legacy for present political purposes. In so doing, she has attempted to weld Mau Mau to the Kenyattas, when in fact they have always had a deeply troubled relationship.

It is tragic that Muthoni may well not know, or remember, the history of the strained relationship between Kenyatta and Mau Mau, and could not object to being used in this way by such a powerful figure. However, others insist she knew what she was doing, and specifically asked for Mama Ngina to shave her.

Low profile

Kenya’s first First Lady has always kept an extremely polite low profile. This is not to say that Mama Ngina has been inert, especially where serious, if not controversial, business interests and deals are concerned. Her extensive commercial pursuits are well known, and some have brought her the wrong kind of attention. Now, in a “reunion” hosted by the women’s wing of the Kikuyu Council of Elders during which she cut off Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima’s hair –  and where it was reported that the two women had “buried old differences and together, passed on the baton to the new generation of economic freedom fighters and peace crusaders” – Mama Ngina has stepped back into the limelight, and into more public controversy.

Mama Ngina has absolutely no record of mingling with the hoi polloi, the madding crowd of have-nots such as Field Marshal Muthoni who have consistently threatened to invade the pitch of the sanitized politics of “law and order”, as they did in 1952. Having been born into a traditional chiefly family (her father was Chief Muhoho wa Gatheca), Mama Ngina married the country’s founding president and together they proceeded to amass huge family fortunes and establish a commercial empire. Some view this union as having been Jomo’s “lunch” card to African respectability, Gikuyu elderhood. In a sense, there was no Jomo without Ngina, who hailed from a kind of African “royal ancestry” that is oblivious to the struggles of ordinary people.

These people solicited her help in 1966 when they wrote to Mama Ngina, begging her to take up their case with the president. Wanjiku Wariku, writing on behalf of the Women War Council, a veterans’ group, expressed their shock. For it seemed to them that Mama Ngina had forgotten the women who had played a crucial role in producing and bringing food to forest fighters at the height of the struggle. They told Ngina they had been writing to Kenyatta for years, without success. Now they were appealing to her in the hope that she would pass their petition to the president. Their entreaty is even more forceful in its original Gikuyu rendering: “Twĩna kĩmako kĩingi nĩ tondũ tuonaga tawariganĩirwo nĩ atumia a karaĩ na gĩciko,” translated as, “We are stupefied by the fact that it seems to us that you forgot all about the women of the cooking pot and spoon.”

There is no archival record of Mama Ngina having responded to the women of Karaĩ na Gĩciko, or Pots and Spoons, as they called themselves. We may surmise that no help was forthcoming. Had she met the likes of Field Marshal Muthoni before 2022? Most probably not. Why now?

It is not clear from the press coverage whether the journalists concocted these claims, or whether they reported what Mama Ngina had told them.

We need to go back in time in order to understand the background to this event. As an ageing Jomo drew close to the end (he died in 1978), many of the people around him, including Mama Ngina, grew increasingly apprehensive and fearful of what would happen after his death. Mama Ngina’s fears were personal, not political.

According to letters between members of the British diplomatic corps in the mid-1970s, “stories about Mama Ngina” were “interesting” (wrote a diplomat at the British High Commission, Christopher Hart, in a 23rd January 1975 confidential letter to Messrs. B.T. Holmes and Mr. Wallis). There was mention of Kenya’s endangered and dwindling elephants, the ivory trade, and the occasional mention of the word corruption. The letter mentioned reports from other sources suggesting that Kenyatta realized that when he died, Mama Ngina would “have to flee the country” and others would have to “provide for her future”. According to Hart, Kenyatta had no illusions “about popular feelings toward his family” and realized “there will be many out to get Mama Ngina as soon as his protection” was removed. Mama Ngina was justifiably afraid of Jomo’s demise.

This partly explains why the Kenyatta family remained in relative silence and obscurity until Uhuru, one of two sons Jomo had with Ngina, was plucked by Moi out of relative obscurity in the mid-1990s. It came as a surprise to many people when he was put on the KANU presidential ticket in 2002. The Kenyattas had spent more than 20 years in the political shadows, and in Gikuyu internal ethnic politics, and did not openly seek to court public support until it became clear Uhuru had a chance of gunning for State House after President Mwai Kibaki in 2013.

Even then, Kamwana, as Uhuru was popularly known, was unconvinced. He admits to having listened to mademoni (demons of self-doubt concerning the bid, and naysayers of it). What we have seen since Uhuru overcame mademoni is the re-ascendance of the Kenyatta name and family in national politics. With the looming end of ten years of Uhuru’s presidency, what is now at stake is this ascendancy and newfound credence. Their political relevance. And, most importantly, once again, the protection of their inestimable wealth and vast commercial empire. But this time around, Mama Ngina isn’t afraid. She is confident of her role in securing the double Kenyatta legacy. She has come out and spoken, finally.

In a sense, there was no Jomo without Ngina, who hailed from a kind of African “royal ancestry” that is oblivious to the struggles of ordinary people.

What we now see, therefore, are emboldened attempts since 2013 to use the combined memory of Mau Mau and Jomo to this end—the political relevance and protection of Kenya’s royal family. Gone are the days when Uhuru Kenyatta shied away from bringing up the memory of his dad, saying that people should let him rest in peace. Here is a chance to redeem the memory of the man who publicly fell out with the KLFA.  A chance to re-make and re-write the history of this blatant betrayal of freedom fighters, maladministration, brazen greed, self-aggrandizement and corruption of the two Kenyattas, elder and younger.

Unfortunately, and this should come as no surprise to the Kenyattas, this is how the supposed “reconciliation” between Mama Ngina and Field Marshal Muthoni will be seen: as a desperate and long-belated attempt to conflate the memory of the KLFA with that of the Kenyattas. Maybe there were worthy intentions behind the attempt to reconcile different generations of historical players. But this event was more than a little disturbing and shocking; it was sad, and ill-advised.

Our University of Nairobi historian colleague, Margaret Gachihi, who has researched the role women played in Mau Mau, has a different perspective:

In my view, and you can quote me on this, Marshal Muthoni’s physical and symbolic shaving of her dreadlocks marks the end of an era in the history of the Mau Mau liberation war. Not many took note of her words that at 92 years she felt the end was nigh. She’s closing a very special and important period of our nationalist history. In her shaving she shed her burden to the next generation, indeed threw the gauntlet to those who honour and uphold the legacy of what the war represented. What’s sad, and ironical, is that recognition of our gallant freedom fighters has been left to the very last of their days.

As the elections near, we will no doubt see more of this kind of crude cultural mash-up for political ends. Meanwhile, Mama Ngina, daughter of a loyalist chief, has been born again as a Mau Mau. Or has she? The last word goes to Paul Thuku. He sang an old Mau Mau song to Hughes, which referred to black chiefs: “These people wearing crowns are the ones who sold off our land.”

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Dr Lotte Hughes is an historian of Kenya and empire, and a journalist, who has written extensively about Kenya. Her publications include Moving the Maasai: A Colonial Misadventure (2006). Dr Nicholas Githuku is a scholar and writer based in New York, and the author of Mau Mau Crucible of War: Statehood, national identity, and the politics of postcolonial Kenya (2016).


Ukraine and Tigray: A Hierarchy in the Value of Human Life

The starkly different responses of the international community towards the crises in Tigray and Ukraine show us that the world must strive towards an international order that works for all.



Ukraine and Tigray: A Hierarchy in the Value of Human Life

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia on 24 February 2022, created reverberations that were felt around the world. This egregious breach of the most sacrosanct principles of the post-World War II international order was rightly met with shock and widespread condemnation. The international mood was captured by Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Amb. Martin Kimani, in his well-received address to the United Nations Security Council. His speech particularly stressed the importance of the existing rules and rejected imperialist and “irredentist” aspirations.

While appropriate, such affirmations of the significance of multilateralism nonetheless place the spotlight on other instances where the international community has failed to muster a fraction of the mobilization witnessed in the case of Ukraine. Many have protested the failure of the international community, including members of the UNSC, to apply the same humanitarian and human rights principles in the face of the gruesome atrocities committed against civilians in African countries. One glaring example in this regard is the action – or lack thereof – of the international community in the face of the ongoing genocidal war and humanitarian catastrophe in Tigray, northern Ethiopia.

On 4 November 2020, the federal government of Ethiopian, Eritrean armed forces, Amhara, and other regional militias launched a war on the Tigray region. This attack, which may originally have seemed like an attempt to violently resolve the political and constitutional differences between the Tigray regional government and the federal government, revealed itself from the outset to be a brutal scorched-earth campaign targeting the Tigrayan people. This campaign included indiscriminate shelling, hundreds of massacres, weaponized rape and famine on an industrial scale as a tool of war, violent ethnic cleansing, deliberate destruction of livelihoods and vital infrastructures including healthcare, education, and agriculture. Coordinating its efforts with regional states and Eritrean armed forces, the Ethiopian federal government also imposed a total siege and humanitarian blockade denying millions of people access to basic needs – including food and medicine – and services  such as electricity, banking, and communication.

Despite this dire situation – described as hell for millions of innocent children, women, and men as a result of the gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws – the international community has been unable to take any meaningful action beyond the moral outrage expressed early in the conflict. One such example was delivered by Amb. Linda Thomas Greenfield, United States Representative to the UN Security Council, exactly a year ago in April 2021:

Do African lives not matter? It’s time for the Security Council to have a public meeting on this issue. It’s time for the Council to take meaningful action to address the crisis. And it’s time for the Ethiopian government to respond responsibly to requests for humanitarian access….

Similarly, in June of 2021, Joseph Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, called the situation in Tigray unacceptable and went on to add:

To the people of Tigray, we say: You are not alone. To the parties involved in the conflict, we say: The world is watching. You will be held accountable.

This clarity, however, gradually disappeared over the months and was replaced by false equivalence, bothesidesism, and generalization. This was accompanied by a shift from addressing grave atrocities deserving of international mechanisms of response and accountability to a reductive and deliberately vague narrative formulating the ongoing conflict as ethnic clashes and political contestations between political entities.

This shift was most apparently displayed in the decision by the US government to halt the release of the report on the determination as to whether genocide has been committed against Tigrayans. The Biden administration has also replaced unequivocal calls for the withdrawal of both Eritrean and Amhara forces from the constitutionally recognized borders of Tigray with more recent calls for the withdrawal of only the Eritrean armed forces. Similarly, the EU, which had vocally demanded the complete withdrawal of Eritrean and Ethiopian forces from Tigray, failed to issue any meaningful sanctions.

The international community has been unable to take any meaningful action beyond the moral outrage expressed early in the conflict.

The ensuing attempts to reframe the ongoing crisis solely in terms of a political conflict among political parties make a mockery of the extensive and deep suffering of millions of Tigrayans and impede the possibility of pursuing accountability and remedies. It also denies the massive asymmetry of the forces at play, where one side is comprised of two sovereign states with all the attendant military and diplomatic power, and support through the supply of advanced armaments from several nations (including UAE, Turkey, Iran, China, and Russia), against the people of a tiny and besieged region fighting for its survival.

The extent to which the international community has opted to move away from a principles-based approach in relation to Tigray is brought into sharp relief when we consider not just the rightful outrage but the immediate action that has been taken  in the case of Ukraine. When Josep Borrell declared “Ukraine, you are not alone!”, this promise was almost immediately backed by meaningful and sustained action from the European Union. Nor would the international media and commentators, who readily assign equivalence when covering Tigray, consider doing the same for the Ukraine-Russia war which also involves an invasion by an immeasurably stronger force, in violation of international law.

Meanwhile, although the situation in Tigray has only worsened and gruesome atrocities continue unabated, Tigrayans have been demonstrably shown to be alone. Besieged and deliberately silenced by the communications and media blackout imposed on the region, Tigrayans have also been ignored by the international community, including the diplomatic community in Ethiopia which seems to have opted to normalise relations with the Ethiopian regime.

Meanwhile, although the situation in Tigray has only worsened and gruesome atrocities continue unabated, Tigrayans have been demonstrably shown to be alone.

This was most recently demonstrated in the overly enthusiastic and uncritical responses to the Ethiopian government’s announcement of an indefinite humanitarian truce on 24 March 2022. Although the government of Tigray agreed to the call for a humanitarian truce in good faith and committed to a cessation of hostilitiesno aid had entered Tigray at the time of writing. This development is unsurprising considering the track record of the Ethiopian regime. The international community has, however, invariably been satisfied to applaud words and not look too closely at actions when it comes to ending the grisly and unnecessary deaths of innocent Tigrayans.

So, are Tigrayan lives worth less? 

Quite simply the international community continues to fail to care enough to stop the ongoing genocide of Tigrayans.  Seventeen months on, the combined efforts of the world have even failed to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to more than 7.3 million Tigrayans who are under complete siege and openly being starved to death. The resolve and commitment to uphold the same human rights values and principles and humanitarian laws the world is seeking to enforce in response to the invasion of Ukraine is lacking in Tigray. In the case of Tigray, political relations and interests have been prioritised while in Ukraine the focus has been on deploying the full weight of international law and the principles of collective security.  Thus sadly, those in charge of enforcing international law have become direct and indirect contributors to protracting and escalating the genocidal war in Tigray. In so doing, the international community has confirmed that there is a hierarchy in the value of human life and that the application of international humanitarian laws varies based on race, geography and, particularly, national interest.

More specifically, multilateral forums have been revealed to be impotent to safeguard international principles unless one or more powers choose to adopt their cause. We need only look at the disparity of the responses received from the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) regarding the crises Tigray and Ukraine.

Lip-service for African victims and outrage for European victims

Some of the more self-aware coverage of the Ukraine war has queried whether there is a racial basis to the disparity in the world’s response to the crisis as opposed to others in the Middle East and Africa. And no doubt this is a factor that deserves to be more thoroughly understood and addressed. This disparity in response is also evidenced in the (ostensibly) very bastion of African empowerment. As Professor Alex DeWaal very rightly pointed out, the primary responsibility of upholding international humanitarian and human rights in Africa lies with the AU. And yet the AU officially affirmed the actions of the Ethiopian Prime Minister even as he set about committing atrocious crimes under the guise of a law enforcement operation.

The international community has confirmed there is a hierarchy in the value of human life.

Following this declaration of support, the AU has remained more or less silent and, without any sense of irony, has opted to hold the summit 2022: The Year of Nutrition in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, even as the Ethiopian government is starving millions of its own people in Tigray. The AU was not even moved to respond when the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes cynically abused the principles of Pan-Africanism and Pan-African solidarity to forestall international condemnation for their actions. In fact, all African members of the United Nations Human Rights Council seemed to heed this call and either blocked the vote or abstained from voting on a European Union-lead effort to establish an investigative mechanism into the atrocities committed in the Tigray war.

The United Nations Security Council

The UNSC has established a wide range of mechanisms to address breaches in international law. Amongst these, the most relevant to the dire situation in Tigray would have been Resolutions 2417 (condemning the starving of civilians as a method of warfare), 1325 (on women and peace and security) and 1820 (on sexual violence as a weapon of war). Although the UNSC has met more than ten times (both behind closed doors and in public meetings) to address violations of human rights and humanitarian law including Conflict-Related Sexual Violence and the ongoing humanitarian blockade, to date none of these mechanisms have been enacted to help the people of Tigray. And while this has mainly been due to the non-intervention veto wielded by Russia and China, it bears noting that members that have now rightly condemned the terrible aggression against Ukraine, including the Kenyan Ambassador, have found themselves unable to condemn the most barbaric acts of the Ethiopian regime or vote for meaningful action.

The AU was not even moved to respond when the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes cynically abused the principles of Pan-Africanism and Pan-African solidarity.

Even while – symbolically at least – representing the African continent on the UNSC, Ambassador Martin Kimani was unable to muster the same eloquence or passion for the millions of Tigrayans suffering very close to home. The UN Secretary-General himself chose an approach of appeasement and remains unwilling to even attempt to enact any of the measures in his purview against the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has rightly led to the full activation of these principles. A similar principles-based and early response to the war on Tigray could have forestalled both the protraction of a brutal conflict and one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. Today, with international attention gripped by the growing toll of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its regional and international implications, there is credible concern that this will result in the further neglect of the people of Tigray and lead to the deaths of millions of Tigrayans.

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The Paradox of Donor Funding in Arid and Semi-Arid Kenya

Relying on aid cannot transform society because poverty is a structural problem. Donor funding merely changes the relationship between the people and their government, increases government control, and promotes the embezzlement of funds and the misallocation of resources.



The Paradox of Donor Funding in Arid and Semi-Arid Kenya

Despite receiving plenty of nongovernmental support to fight poverty, northern Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) remain poor. According to a 2021 United Nations report, more than 2.1 million people (14 per cent of the population) living in the ASALs of Kenya are food insecure, and this number is projected to rise to 2 million in 2022. A 2018 World Bank report says that an estimated 433 million people live in abject poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, and while the poverty rate has decreased, the number of poor people has been rising since 1990. In recent years, the critical drivers of increased food insecurity have been the global COVID-19 pandemic that caused economic and political disruptions, erratic rainfall that is poorly distributed in space and time, resulting in poor pasture for livestock, and low livestock prices due to deterioration in animal body conditions.

Compounding this is the lack of institutional preparedness, weak food security policies, and unsustainable policy responses. Aid and other foreign assistance has been flowing in to fill the void created by these structural failures and policy gaps. However, aid cannot transform society because poverty is a structural problem, and relying on aid, which is a temporary measure, is not the solution.

Foreign aid, donor funding, and the attendant conditionalities have been the subject of debate for decades, with development practitioners, policy analysts, and economists coming out in strong support of foreign aid. While supporting market-based economic models in developing countries, they believed that what was needed was to pump money into developing and low-income economies to build roads, factories, and other essential infrastructure to trigger economic growth and development. The so-called official development assistance has evolved over the decades, with the aid model changing from relief food to cash transfers, food vouchers, and nutrition for assets/peace.

It might sound counterfactual, but foreign aid hurts the poor in developing economies more than it helps them. The conflicting narratives of support and development have been ignored or altogether shelved by analysts and practitioners; these two concepts have been presented oxymoronically. I believe that the “big push” theory for poverty alleviation leaves the developing economies worse off than before. My scepticism is primarily based on the fact that the effects of aid intervention are not evident at the level of the recipient households. The lives and livelihoods narrative that some specialists and donor communities peddle concerning the impact of aid development financing on families has made me exceedingly sceptical. In her book Dead Aid Dambisa Moyo shares similar sentiments, that aid has left African people much worse off, and in as much as her views may be vehemently put, her conclusions are supported by those of other development experts like William Easterly.

While donors are eager to showcase their best projects where positive change in the lives and livelihoods of the recipients is evident, the aid industry is less inclined to ask critical questions when a project fails to deliver the expected outcomes.

For the last two decades, foreign donors have pumped billions of dollars into Kenya’s ASALs with the stated aim of alleviating household poverty but with no visible results. What happened, and what is happening? There is no one single answer to this question, but what is clear is that donor funding changes the relationship between the people and their government.

The government taxes its citizens to fund the provision of public services and to pay public servants. The people ultimately hold the cord to the public purse and have “undeniable control”, which gives them the power to cut the government off if it fails to deliver. However, a country that has received a colossal amount of money from donors tends to have a weaker relationship and is less accountable to its people.

For the last two decades, foreign donors have pumped billions of dollars into Kenya’s ASALs with the stated aim of alleviating household poverty but with no visible results.

By supplementing government resources, donor funding has increased government leverage over its people. Peter Bauer, a critic of foreign aid, considers that support increases government control, and promotes the embezzlement of funds and the misallocation of resources. The United Nations and other aid bodies within the international community jump into Third World economies to fund development in countries with authoritarian regimes like Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia, a clear indication that it is the economic and political interests of the funding/donor country that matter most and not the recipient population’s welfare.

Secondly, countries with abundant natural resources such as diamonds and oil tend to be more impoverished than those with fewer natural resources. Economists speak of a “natural resource curse” because the wealth strengthens authoritarian regimes and enables corrupt systems while the revenue streams from oil wealth and foreign aid ruin already non-transparent institutions while turning political institutions toxic. Examples of countries where foreign wealth has strengthened despotic regimes include Somalia, Nigeria, and Rwanda.

Thirdly, what works for whom is contingent on the geopolitical value—“war of terror” —and the market share. Compounding these are commercial, political, and ideological interests, and support to strategic allies rather than attending to the needs and welfare of the local community. This, in simple terms, is “aid for us, not them”. Much as development aid is camouflaged in the language of altruism, such assistance leads to the exploitation of developing nations.

Northern Kenya 

Kenya, particularly northern Kenya, has been a beneficiary of this financing model. Kenya’s ASALs have been the focus of non-state actors trying to “bring development” to the local communities, from fighting disease outbreaks, to providing food, water, hygiene and sanitation, to poverty alleviation.

In the northern part of Kenya, 70 per cent of the local population lives in abject poverty. The vagaries of climate change, compounded by inter-communal conflict, insecurity, and recurrent drought, have posed a significant risk to the only source of income for the majority — pastoralism. This has created gaps in service provision by the government, prompting donors and development agencies to step in to fill the void.

The justification for development aid is the continued belief that poor regions are trapped in poverty due to lack of money. Following this logic, millions of dollars in donor funding have been pumped into Kenya’s vast arid and semi-arid regions over the last ten years. Infrastructure stamped with the donor’s logo or billboards indicating the source of funding dot the landscape, from educational facilities to health centres, dams and pit latrines. So, what does this tell us (or not) about the sustainability of aid? What are the implications of donors taking over of the provision of public services?

Most, if not all, development practitioners, policymakers, and consultants hold the belief that any significant development in Sub-Saharan Africa is the result of financing through foreign aid. These analysts and experts are, however, detached from the reality at the community level. While it is true that projects in sectors such as health have a lasting effect on the recipients’ lives, their arguments are primarily hinged on “what is seen rather than the value of what is seen”. Since aid comes with conditionalities regarding how it should be invested, the likelihood of it being invested in a project that is not considered a development priority by the end users is highly likely. Such projects quickly turn into “white elephants” once they are handed over to the target group or the local government since they often lack the administrative and technical framework that should be designed at the project’s inception stage in order to guarantee sustainability.

The justification for development aid is the continued belief that poor regions are trapped in poverty due to lack of money.

The vicious cycle of poverty in Africa often results from poor economic and political institutional arrangements that block opportunities for low-income households to create decent livelihoods for themselves. Continued assistance and donor funding for already weak and ill-prepared institutions merely represents a windfall for the holders of the public purse and encourages rent-seeking behaviour. This endless credit line leads to a soft and corrupt regime, supports the administration’s incompetence, and discourages the government from learning from policy missteps.

I do not argue that aid has zero impact on the lives of beneficiaries; indeed, its effect has been felt in the short-term in the health sector and during natural disasters. However, I can argue that aid in its current form cannot contribute to poverty alleviation at the household level. What can be done? It is time that Kenya breaks with its obsession with foreign aid and explores alternative means of providing opportunities for low-income families and marshalling resources for development.

Firstly, it is imperative to understand that no development can be exogenously driven unless the subjects take the lead. The partnership between the African government and the donor community is a “donor-centred” one where plans and programmes are drawn by consultants in foreign capitals to determine a change in the lives and livelihoods of the recipients living in the outback. To address the current lacklustre outcomes of development aid, the asymmetrical relationship between donor and recipient must be re-examined. The recipient must take the lead and drawing up the plans and programmes must be “recipient-active”.

This endless credit line leads to a soft and corrupt regime, supports the administration’s incompetence, and discourages the government from learning from policy missteps.

Secondly, the aid-financing model must re-evaluate its project design, in particular the backward mapping models where the recipients have to pilot the process with the technical help of development partners “free” from political interference. In as much it cannot be entirely free from local politics, project prioritising must be undertaken by the end-users. It serves no purpose to introduce the concept of hand-washing when the prospective beneficiary has nothing to offer his household for the next meal.

The international community, the Bretton Woods system, and the governments of developing countries have avoided developing a concept of self-development that would help Africans to become resilient and have not helped local communities to sustainably develop their agency to meet their own needs.

It is time for African governments to draft a new rulebook about what they want for future generations in the coming decades, what sustainable development implies, what resilience to changing climatic conditions means. It is time to move towards the path of a “non-aid” development financing model. African bureaucrats must realize that the success of Africa’s people is not in the hands of the consultants and development experts from downtown Manhattan; they themselves hold the key to the continent’s development. However, this does not imply that engagement with Western allies and partners in trade and other commercial arrangements should stop but, rather, a mutually beneficial partnership should be sought.  “It always looks impossible until it is fixed.”

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Arror and Kimwarer: Theft on a Grand Scale

A footnote in a World Bank report dating back four decades inspired the mounting of fictitious dam construction projects in Elgeyo Marakwet to create avenues for the theft of billions of shillings in public funds.



Arror and Kimwarer: Theft on a Grand Scale

In a November 1983 report of a World Bank appraisal mission to Kenya to look into the Kiambere hydroelectric dam on the Tana River, then under construction, there is a small footnote about other Kenyan rivers with hydroelectric potential. One of those identified is the Arror River, a major tributary of the Kerio River in the North Rift. Arror is a Marakwet word that means “the river that flows and makes a loud sound” and, in the last few years, the river has more than lived up to its billing. It is the site of one of two phantom dam projects (the other is on the Kerio River near Kimwarer village) that have been used to siphon billions of shillings from public coffers. Even for a government with a well-earned reputation for thievery, the Arror-Kimwarer scam is a breath-taking and unparalleled display of corruption.

The idea of building a dam on the Arror River dates back to 1986. According to the Nation, at the time, Arror Dam was projected to cost KSh414 million, it never materialised but due to lack of funds. Answering a question in Parliament in February 2009, then Assistant Minister for Water and Irrigation, Mwangi Kiunjuri said that the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) commissioned an Italian firm to carry out a feasibility study for “dams for irrigation and hydropower generation in Arror River Basin” that “indicated the suitability of the project to generate hydropower and develop a potential area of about 6,460 acres of irrigation”. According to Kiunjuri, the project would add 70 megawatts to the national grid. However, according to figures cited by Kiunjuri, in the 23 years since the project was first proposed, the cost of the project had increased 42-fold, ballooning to Kshs16.8 billion which, he said, exceeded the entire allocation to his ministry.

Kiunjuri was answering a question from then Member of Parliament for Marakwet West, Boaz Kipchumba Kaino, about “plans to construct two dams for irrigation and hydropower generation in Arror and Chesuman Locations in Marakwet District . . . which were factored in the 1995-1996 development plan”. According to Kaino, “many studies have been carried out on the same project. Each study has come up with the same 70 megawatts potential.”

In September 2009, Kaino again put Kiunjuri on the spot regarding the two dams. While reiterating his answer from seven months before, the latter added that there had been a request in 1994 to build 11 small dams in the Kerio Valley, and that “the only attempt that has ever been made in that area to have a dam for irrigation and production of hydropower was in 1986,” an apparent reference to the Arror dam.

Interestingly, in these exchanges, there was no mention of a dam at Kimwarer, only at Chesuman, nearly 90 kilometres to the north. The plan for a multipurpose dam in Kimwarer appears to have been mooted sometime after the Arror dam. It is listed in the National Water Masterplan 1992 as one of 28 multipurpose dams for hydropower, irrigation, domestic water supply and flood protection and was said to be at the pre-feasibility level in a 2003 report for the World Bank, alongside “Sererwa Dam located on the Arror river”.

A decade later, when the National Water Masterplan 1992 was updated to the National Water Master Plan 2030, Kimwarer was listed together with Arror as one of six multipurpose dam projects in the Rift Valley Catchment Area “designed for hydropower and irrigation. According to information from the KVDA, the hydropower component of the Kimwarer Dam would have “an installed capacity of 20 MW”. By 2012, a pre-feasibility study had apparently been completed. The KVDA published the Request for Proposal for the new Arror project (which included Kimwarer in this latest version) in December 2014.

In 2015, there was a new commitment to the dam project from the Italian government. Then prime minister Matteo Renzi visited Kenya in July. It was his second trip to the continent in two years. Several European countries, including Italy, were indeed keen on strengthening their relationships in Africa at that time. The main International challenges were fighting global terrorism and curbing migration. Renzi was among the initiators of the Khartoum and Rabat Processes. Launched in Rome the previous year, the Khartoum Process was a platform for political cooperation amongst the countries along the migration route between the Horn of Africa and Europe. The European Union launched the EU Trust Fund for Africa in November 2015 in Malta, a tool “to deliver an integrated and coordinated response to the diverse causes of instability, irregular migration and forced displacement”. Renzi travelled to Ethiopia and Kenya in this context. (Renzi’s meeting with president Uhuru Kenyatta made the headlines less for its content than for a picture shared by The Star in which Renzi seemed to be wearing a bulletproof vest under his blazer.)

“During the visit of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to Kenya, SACE, Intesa Sanpaolo and BNP Paribas announced the finalization of a €306 million loan to finance the Itare Dam project, built by CMC-Ravenna on behalf of the Kenyan National Treasury”, the SACE press office reported the day after the visit of the Italian Export Credit Agency. Intesa Sanpaolo is among the biggest Italian banks while CMC, the Italian construction company awarded the project, would feature prominently in the Kenyan dams saga. CMC signed the contract in May 2015. Itare was the very first dam awarded to the Italians in 2014 but, like the others, the project has never been concluded. It is listed in the Kenya Vision 2030 project, an ambitious development plan that has been ongoing since 2008.

After Itare, public invitations to tender were issued for Arror and Kimwarer, dam projects that by July 2015 appeared to present a unique opportunity for Italian companies to invest in. Italy has had an historical presence in Kenya since 1966 when the San Marco space launch platform was built near Malindi, a town now dubbed Little Italy. San Marco is still used by the Italian Space Agency to launch satellites into space. Italians soon followed, making investments along the Malindi coastline, exploiting Kenya’s natural resources and gaining privileged access to the country in the process. These long-lasting ties did not prevent the failure of the dam projects, however, which turned out to be a political game rather than a development opportunity.

Itare was the very first dam awarded to the Italians in 2014 but, like the others, the project has never been concluded.

Yet when cancelling the Kimwarer dam project in 2019, the government, through a statement from State House, claimed that the dam, which by then was to cost KSh22.2 billion, was “neither technically nor financially viable”. The statement further said that a technical committee “formed following the discovery of irregularities and improprieties” surrounding the Kimwarer and Arror Dams, had established that no current reliable feasibility study had been conducted on the former. “The only feasibility study carried out on a similar project twenty-eight (28) years ago had revealed a geological fault across the 800 acre project area, which would have negative structural effects on the proposed dam”. If a feasibility study had shown this in 1991, why then was the dam included in the National Water Master Plan formulated a year later and again when the plan was updated over a decade later? And what accounts for the over 68-fold increase in the cost of the Arror project to KSh28.3 billion in 2009 from an initial KSh414 million in 1986? In fact, according to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, “Kimwarer and Arror dams were planned for during Mwai Kibaki’s government and the contract awarded to an Iranian company, which estimated the entire cost at Sh5 billion, now the figure has escalated to KSh63 billion”.

To get to grips with the saga surrounding the construction of the controversial dams, in late 2020 Dauti Kahura travelled to Elgeyo Marakwet County in the greater Rift Valley region, where the twin dams were to be built. It is one of the 20 smallest of Kenya’s 47 counties, with an area of 3,050 square kilometres and a population of slightly less than half a million people, according to the 2019 population census.

Agriculture is the county’s economic mainstay. Potatoes are grown in the highlands while in the flat middle belt, maize plantations dot the landscape. Fruits such as avocadoes, mangoes, pawpaw and grains such as green grams, sorghum and millet do very well in the Kerio Valley. The topography, climate and availability of water make the area ideal for the production of these crops.

The county’s biggest town is the world-famous Iten, renowned for producing elite athletes and world-class marathoners. But other than a huge banner announcing “You Are Now Entering Iten Home of World Class Athletes”, there is little else about the bustling little rural town that tells you anything about its great sons and daughters.

Leaving Eldoret in neighbouring Uasin Gishu headed north-east to Iten, one’s attention is drawn to the rolling plateau of hectares upon hectares of maize plantations that disappear into the horizon. It is harvest time, the morning sun is out and the ready-to-be-harvested maize stalks are arranged like igloos. Massey Fergusson and John Deer tractors and combine harvesters dot the landscape, an indication that maize farming is serious business here.

Speeding across the undulating flatland one comes across scores of lithe, mostly male, runners tackling the 38 kilometres between Iten and Eldoret, a morning ritual for runners who hope to one day break world marathon records. They are joined by a band of European athletes who are persuaded that by running alongside the amateur athletes, they will perhaps crack the secret to the Kenyans’ success in long-distance races.

The county’s biggest town is the world-famous Iten, renowned for producing elite athletes and world-class marathoners.

From Iten to Kapsowar is a distance of 46 kilometres, and the higher you climb the cooler it gets. Many of the matatus here are Probox saloon vehicles and although people are not packed inside them like sardines, the cars are driven at terrific speeds by chatty, confident drivers. Nine kilometres from Cheptongei, the road starts winding upwards as you approach Kapsowar trading centre.

At Kapsowar, the boda boda (motorcycle taxi) rider Kahura hires to take him to the bottom of the valley, where the Arror dam was meant to be built, says that few outsiders have shown interest in going down into the area. The dam was to be built in Marakwet West constituency between Hossen and Kipsaiya, two facing ridges that share a border on the valley floor. The rider says that KVDA officials had come here to persuade the people to agree to the proposal to build the dam. According to a report in the Business Daily newspaper, the officials had promised that locals would be compensated with up to five times as much land as they would give up for the two dams. KSh6 billion was promised as compensation to the more than 900 families that would be affected, although to date that too is yet to materialize.

“No dam was built,” says Salome Chebet, a local resident. “It was a huge con from our leaders. The only thing they put up was a container office, which served as a liaison office.” It has since been carted away. “With hindsight, it’s a good thing the dam was never built,” she says. “We no longer desire it because it was all a political con game from people who we elected and who claim to represent our interests.” Chebet says KVDA officials and elected representatives, including Marakwet West Member of Parliament William Kisang, Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and Governor Alex Tunoi Tolgos, had frequented Kapsowar to sell the imaginary dam to the people. In parliament in 2016, the then Senate Majority Leader, Murkomen had declared that, “under the Arror and Kimwarer Projects, it is expected that over 10,000 acres of land in Kerio valley will be irrigated. Through the project, there will be generation of 80 megawatts of hydropower as an enabler to manufacturing, provision of clean water for 80,000 households and livestock; and support to the Arror and Kimwarer rivers catchments’ conservation initiatives”.

The boda boda rider agrees with Chebet. “It is true. For a while, there was a flurry of activities at Kapsowar. The KVDA officials accompanied by these politicians would descend here hoping to convince the people of the viability of the said dam. But these were thugs, ready to fill their pockets.”

Indeed, the KVDA held several barazas where they extolled the virtues of the dam; how it would generate electricity, how the local people living up the valley—that has rich soils for growing fruits such as avocadoes, mangoes and pawpaw—would benefit. Strangely, some of the people Kahura spoke to had not heard about the compensation arrangements. “There is one thing they never addressed, even when pressed to do so: the compensation issue. How would they compensate the people? How much money were we talking about here? Where was the land where they would relocate the people as the dam was ostensibly being built? How suitable and viable was it in comparison to our land?” says the rider.

“You can imagine our consternation when we learnt that some of the money meant for the dam went into buying beddings and towels for a hotel,” says an angry Chebet. She is referring to a February 2019 claim by the Director of Criminal Investigations, George Kinoti, that a company had been awarded a tender to supply “towels worth Sh20 million, while another delivered tiles and carpets”. According to his investigators, over a hundred companies were awarded tenders to supply items that had little to do with the actual dam construction, including food and wine worth KSh17 million, bedsheets and airline tickets worth Ksh1.5 million. The scale of the pay-outs to individuals and companies for the supply of goods and services for the fictitious construction is astounding, amounting to KSh21 billion according to reporting by Citizen TV.

“All these were white lies,” observes Arap Cherop who has lived in Kaptoiyoi since 1983. Residents of Kaptoiyoi village, which is situated on the floor of the valley between Hossen and Kipsaiya, would have been the most affected because they would all have had to be relocated. “But where were we being relocated to?” he asks.

“The KVDA officials, sometimes led by their boss David Kimaiyo, on several occasions came here to apparently give us the benefits of the coming dam, which according to them, included irrigation and water for domestic use, but we also asked them questions and they couldn’t answer many of them,” he says.

According to residents, no compensation was ever paid, despite the disruptions to planting seasons between 2018 and 2020. Those Kahura spoke to said that after news of the scandal broke, the barazas that the KVDA used to hold all dwindled away.

Over a hundred companies were awarded tenders to supply items that had little to do with the actual dam construction.

Asked about the prospects for justice, the rider replies, “You’ve seen and heard for yourself. Money was eaten by our leaders, helped by the dubious Italians. But that’s the nature of our politics—very ethicized. It is our leaders who have short-changed their own people, but you know what? We can’t be counted on to expose them. It would be akin to exposing our dirty linen in public, so we’ll suffer in silence and when the elections come in 2022, we’ll be swept in a wave of euphoria, be reminded that we’re all Kalenjin and that one of our sons will be gunning for the ultimate seat. Can we surely afford to embarrass him at that critical juncture, everything else notwithstanding?”

The following day Kahura visited the site of the proposed Kimwarer dam, another phantom project, now cancelled, without anything to show for it on the ground. According to the Kenyan prosecutors, the dam was never approved by the Treasury. In 2019, CMC signed a bankruptcy agreement with the Court of Ravenna, the city on the Romagna coastline where CMC is headquartered. The bankruptcy agreement is a repayment plan that aims to avoid the closure of the company and save the jobs of its 5,454 employees. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down CMC’s activities and consequently, the company’s income for the past two years has been lower than expected. According to its 2020 balance sheet, CMC went into arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce claiming damages of US$124 million from the KVDA, which was later replaced by the Kenyan State. “The arbitration is in the initial phase and the presumed verdict will be in either the last trimester of 2022 or the first trimester of 2023”, the balance sheet reads. According to a note shared with journalists from the CMC press office back in 2019, between 28th December 2017 and 9th November 2018 the KVDA made two advance payments for Arror and Kimwarer totalling over US$66 million.

Kimwarer is located in Keiyo South constituency, 60 kilometres from Eldoret town on the Eldama Ravine Road. Unlike the Eldoret-Iten Road, the Eldama Ravine Road is in dire need of repair. The gaping potholes and washed away sections of the road meant the trip took twice as long as the journey from Eldoret to Kapsowar, which is 84 kilometres. The road takes you to HZ centre, a trading centre named after the late “Total Man” and powerful politician Nicholas Biwott’s construction company, HZ Construction and Engineering Company Limited. If the dam had been built, it would have swallowed up the unassuming little centre.

KVDA made two advance payments for Arror and Kimwarer totalling over US$66 million.

As opposed to Kapsaiya area, Kimwarer is less settled, so fewer people would have been displaced. Still, it is a semi-forested area, full of vegetation and lush greenery. It holds the community grazing area, where the local people leave their cattle to graze freely for weeks on end.

The initial descent into the valley is not as steep as when heading to the site of the Arror dam and it is possible to drive part of the way through the wet tropical-like vegetation, leaving the car to cut through the dense vegetation accentuated by tall indigenous trees. The two guides accompanying Kahura from HZ centre tell him they grew up grazing cattle in the area and know the geography of Kimwarer like the backs of their hands.

Once on the valley floor, gazing up towards HZ centre and towards the Eldama Ravine Road, the guides say that had the dam been built, the entire area would have been shorn off vegetation and anybody living there would have had to leave. “But as it is, the only evidence that anything had happened here is drilling,” says one of them. Only the gaping holes remain. Other large pits had been dug for soil testing though nothing was ever heard of the results. Many are now covered by vegetation or filled by the local people to avoid their cows falling into them.

Silas Kiplagat from Tulwobei village, the homesteads nearest to the site of the proposed dam, says the people are no longer interested in it, “because as you’ve seen for yourself, this was one huge scam. Our politicians all took us for a ride. It was all so absurd. The former MP, Jackson Kiptanui, Senator Murkomen and Governor Tolgos all came here to persuade us to support the project.”

KVDA officials, “who we were told would be in charge of the project,” had visited. “They held a meeting at the HZ centre social hall and enumerated the advantages of the dam when finished,” says Kiplagat. Other government officials whom Kiplagat says showed up were National Land Commission officials who also met the locals at the social hall and told them they were seeking their participation, insofar as the dam’s project was concerned.

“Then all visits stopped suddenly,” says Vincent Kiprop, also from Tulwobei village, “and the ensuing scandal startled the people. How is it that your own leaders can conspire to rip you off?” Kiprop asks. The residents are very angry with their leaders. “But hey, what are our options?” he shrugs.

“The former MP, Jackson Kiptanui, Senator Murkomen and Governor Tolgos all came here to persuade us to support the project.”

Kahura returns to Iten town where he meets with Kiptarus Kipkoros, a local journalist who is well acquainted with the dams’ saga. “The ‘dams project’ was meant to finance the 2022 election campaigns in the north Rift Valley region and especially in Elgeyo Marakwet,” says Kipkoros. He blames the media for the misinformation and confusion surrounding the two dams. “KVDA MD David Kimosop would hire a special helicopter to ferry journalists from Nairobi to the supposed dam sites. But you and I know their intention was not to establish whether the sites existed, report on the scandal or even investigate the story — not as long as the brown envelopes were aplenty.”

Kipkoros alleges that Kimosop would take the journalists on an aerial tour of Elgeyo Marakwet County, circle the areas around the two dams then return to Eldoret for a sumptuous meal before sending them back to Wilson Airport each with a brown envelope in hand. “Therefore, the politicians [read the MP, Senator and Governor] and the journalists helped conceal the true extent of the mega-dams scandal.” Journalists became part of the people who helped siphon the state’s money, says Kipkoros.

Before the scandal broke, weekends in Elgeyo Marakwet County were awash with choppers flying into the area. “Here in Iten they would drop at St Patrick Iten School grounds, at the market field, or anywhere where there is a landing field,” says Kipkoros. “Afterwards, the whizzing of the choppers in the air over the weekends suddenly ceased. It is very painful to watch elected leaders robbing their own people,” says the journalist. “The politicians used the money for self-aggrandisement,” he says, adding that

The journalist claims that the politicians and top KVDA officials used the cash to fund extravagant lifestyles, which astonished the people of the small, poor county of Elgeyo Marakwet. “The politicians inundated the county with choppers loaded with money every weekend, dishing it out to their supporters and at hurriedly set-up fundraisers.”

Before the scandal broke, weekends in Elgeyo Marakwet County were awash with choppers flying into the area.

Longrock Engineering Limited was named as one of the companies that allegedly received part of the money for the dams. The company was allegedly paid KSh6.2 million to supply furniture and provide transport services. “Now, Longrock is a corruption of the name Kaplongorok, a family name that hails from Kipsait in Kapsowar,” said Kipkoros. According to an investigation published by Africa Uncensored, there are five companies with “Longrock” in their names that were suppliers for the construction of the dams, all of whose directors or shareholders are directly linked to the KVDA and more specifically to board member Dinah Chelanga. “You can see for yourself the extent to which the money was distributed to friends, loyal supporters and relatives,” says Kipkoros.

The journalist says the politicians and the KVDA officials bought their girlfriends and wives brand new Toyota sedans and SUVS. “Some even acquired new wives on account of that money.”

However, even the journalist sees little prospect for real justice and accountability in the ongoing prosecutions over the scams. “The war on corruption will not be won by engaging in politics of deceit and subterfuge,” he says. What Uhuru is doing is not fighting corruption, but fighting [Deputy President William] Ruto and that’s why the people will just be angry for a while but quickly revert to type — that is ethnic politics.”

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