Blame games between Kwale leaders and the national government over compensation for land owners has delayed a Sh20 billion dam project in the county, leaving residents in limbo.
The leaders want locals paid before they relocate to pave the way for construction of the Mwache Dam, while the Ministry of Water and Irrigation says they are spreading propaganda.
The World Bank-funded project in Kasemeni ward, Kinango sub-county was supposed to be a game-changer in Mombasa and Kwale counties, ensuring adequate water supply in an area beset by water shortage for decades.
But almost six years after the financing agreement was signed, things have barely moved as compensation disputes between local leaders and the government take centre stage.
The seven-year project under the Kenya Water Security programme is expected to provide 138 million cubic metres of water for domestic, irrigation and livestock use in Kwale and supply water for domestic use to Mombasa.
Last year, officials from the Coast Development Authority, which is in charge of the construction, said that works would begin in March this year. The dam is expected to harness floodwaters from the River Mwache.
But in an interview with the Nation, Kinango MP Benjamin Tayari said residents were yet to be compensated and work has not begun. The compensation offered by the National Lands Commission was too little, he said.
The project required 1,600 acres of land and will displace about 4,250 residents, whose assets and livelihoods may be affected, as well as their access to natural or economic resources as a result of activities under the dam project.
“We have sat and discussed with other leaders and said that we will not accept the residents to be paid less money yet after the construction, they will still be poor while the water is supplied in Mombasa County,” he said
He said he was disappointed that some residents have been offered money even though negotiations are underway on how residents will benefit.
Compensation varies, he said, as some locals are supposed to get Sh400,000 and others Sh500,000 per acre of land. But the leaders want residents to bag at least Sh1,000,000 per acre.
“Being the host community, it is important that they get enough compensation so that they improve their lives as one of the impacts the project will have on the community,” he said
This comes as the national government through Water CS Sicily Kariuki has urged politicians to stop spreading propaganda about the dam project and refrain from inciting locals.
Speaking in Kinango recently when she launched the Makamini Dam, another multibillion-shilling water project in Kwale, Ms Kariuki warned politicians against inciting locals.
“Sometimes we put a lot of politics in the land issues just because we have seen that this will be a big project. However, we are pushing this and every time we talk to leaders including the governor we should not mislead the community, telling them that we can change it and increase that market rate,” she stated.
In December last year, Kwale Woman Representative Zuleikha Hassan led residents of Fulungani in demonstrating over poor compensation.
The over 1,000 families in 25 villages said they were offered about Sh300,000 per acre and Sh10 per cassava plant, but they wanted to be paid at least Sh100 per plant.
But Ms Kariuki said the compensation was a scientific process whose figure cannot be changed once complete.
But she said some residents had been paid and had started relocating.
Other dam projects in Kwale are the recently launched Sh1.2 billion Makamini Dam and the Sh300 million Pemba dam that is in its final stages of completion and will benefit over 20,000 households. Both dams are in Kinango sub-county, where water shortages are acute.
Ms Kariuki said that to solve the water problem in the Coast region, the government had set aside Sh40 billion for 66 projects, which at various stages of development.
She added that plans were underway to set up other projects to improve water access for locals, especially in Mombasa and neighboring counties.