High Grand Falls Dam project puts Tharaka community shrine at risk

Eng Charles Muasya, Acting CEO of the National Irrigation Authority, exchanges contract documents with Mr Michael Short, Managing Director of GBM Engineering Consortium, a UK company that won the tender to build the High Grand Falls Dam in Kitui and Tharaka Nithi Counties.

Photo credit: Kitavi Mutua | Nation Media Group

Every year, before the onset of the October-November-December rain season, elders from various communities in the country gather at Kibuka Fall on River Tana in Tharaka-Nithi County for the Kibuuka annual appeasement ritual.

Hundreds of elders from Tharaka, Maasai, Meru, Kikuyu and Ogiek communities gather at fall which they believe is a shrine and a home of legendary Tharaka healer Kibuuka “who also has the power to control nature”.

The elders sacrifice a goat and pray for forgiveness and blessings while facing Mt Kenya. They also carry with them various crop seeds, which they present for blessings before the planting season starts.

This year, the elders, led by Tharaka spiritual leader Kathuu Nkamba and Kikuyu community spiritual leader Mathenge Kaengeri conducted the ritual on Thursday last week. Also present were culture enthusiasts from several African countries including Tanzania, South Africa and Benin.

Currently, no one is allowed to cut a tree, fish, graze or even water livestock in the area.

Yet it is at this Kibuuka Fall area that the government plans to construct the Sh425 billion High Grand Falls Dam and the elders are worried that this will interfere with shrine, resulting in severe consequences such as lack of rainfall.

Last week, the government formally signed the first agreement with a British construction firm that has been awarded the dam tender. Documents seen by the Nation indicate work will start soon.

The dam is expected to not only swallow the shrine but also relocate thousands of residents in Tharaka-Nithi and Kitui counties from their ancestral lands .

Speaking during the ritual on Thursday, Society for Alternative Learning and Transformation President Simon Ndonco said the Tharaka community has a great attachment to Kibuuka Fall and the government should consider finding an alternative place to construct the dam.

Mr Ndonco said it is as a result of the prayers at Kibuuka that Tharaka community has remained in peace and has also witnessed great blessings, including the appointment of its son, Prof Kithure Kindiki, into the Cabinet.

According to a feasibility study conducted in 2012, six locations would be occupied by the dam and 4,500 households affected but the government is set to conduct another study and the number of people to be displaced is likely to increase due to growth in population.

Once complete the dam is expected to provide 5,600 million cubic metres of water to irrigate 400,000 hectares of land and be used use in generating 1,000 megawatts of electricity.