To residents of Mwingi, the death of 32 people at Enziu River crossing is a stark reminder of years of neglect and failures by leaders to address their suffering.
Whenever it rains, travelling from Mwingi town to Nuu market has always been a nightmare for the locals and reaching their destination safely has never been a guarantee.
They can either spend a cold night on the road once they find Enziu and several other seasonal rivers flooded, or worse still drown if attempts to make a crossing go wrong like it happened last Saturday.
Since independence, the story has been the same: people perishing at Enziu River crossing which has become a death trap.
“During the rainy season, the first precaution people get in schools, churches and even public gatherings is that ‘don’t attempt to cross a flooded river’, because the risk of drowning is too high,” says Elijah Kitema, Nguni Location chief.
Last Saturday's tragedy was the latest in a string of losses the local community has suffered amid pleas to both county and national governments to construct an overhead bridge.
Engineers estimate that building a 100-metre long overhead bridge would cost about Sh600 million.
A plan to erect the bridge was abandoned midway in 2018, leaving a death trap locals have to deal with every rainy season.
The project was initiated by former Mwingi Central MP Joe Mutambu but was abandoned soon after he lost elections to Gideon Mulyungi.
Every year, a delegation of top government engineers visits the Enziu Bridge with promises to complete it and ease transport along the Nuu–Nguni route.
Public Works Principal Secretary Paul Maringa, for instance, was the latest high-ranking government official to tour the bridge recently promising action
As a short-term measure, Prof Maringa said, the government would first improve the drift which was almost swept by water last year and which caused Saturday’s bus tragedy.
“A drift will first be constructed for residents to use as the government continues with the tendering process for the main bridge which stretches up to 100 metres,” Prof Maringa said.
Neither Prof Maringa nor his boss, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, visited the scene of the weekend tragedy.
The 35-kilometer Nguni – Nuu road is under the Kenya Rural Roads Authority (Kerra)— a national government agency under the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure.
“The existing surface bridge which was done by Kerra was so shoddily constructed such that it has crumbled with huge cracks that cause the bus accident, yet a contractor was paid public funds” said a bitter Mr Christopher Musili, one of the choir members of Mwingi Catholic Church who survived the tragedy.
The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), a state corporation whose mission is to keep Kenyan roads safe, has also done little or nothing to address the lurking death at Enziu.
But locals are equally unhappy with the local leaders, including the county government of Kitui.
Enziu has been represented in Parliament by top leaders from Ukambani— including former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and former powerful Provincial Commissioner-turned politician David Musila.
Both Mr Musyoka and Mr Musila served the area for a combined 33 years.
Before joining politics, the current MP Gideon Mulyungi, served as the Secretary for Public Works— the docket responsible for roads and bridges in the country, and was at one time the Chairman of Architectural Association of Kenya.
On Sunday, the Kitui leaders, including Governor Charity Ngilu, trooped to the scene, united in shame, as they watched bodies of drowning victims being pulled out of the mangled wreck of the school bus.
“We don’t care who is responsible for constructing that killer bridge. We are tired of losing our relatives every rainy season and this bus tragedy should be a wakeup call to the government,” said Mr Muthami Mutua, who lost nine relatives in the disaster.
Mrs Ngilu and Bishop Joseph Mwongela of Kitui Catholic Diocese yesterday demanded a permanent solution to the perennial drowning at the bridge.
The governor said she would follow up with the national government to ensure that the bridge project is done afresh and to the required standards.
“I understand there’s fresh tendering but we hope the contract will not be given to another shoddy contractor,” Mrs Ngilu said, adding losing such lives should never happen again.