State has no right to destroy community water projects

Thursday September 13 2018

Without water, millions of villagers in multiple counties cannot feed themselves. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Growing up as a curious little boy up in the mountains, I had fantastic views of stuff to puzzle over.

I could see distant mountains and dark forests, I could see the northern plains all the way to Egypt, or so it seemed, and at night I could see the occasional lights of distant cars.

My first intellectual puzzle was the concept of a storied building. The nearest town was almost 10 kilometres away and I had never been there.

I spent many hours staring at my mother’s favourite cupboard, which was mounted high on the wall, and I came to the conclusion that tall buildings were like that cupboard.

How people moved from one shelf to the next remained a very serious problem until I took my very first ride to town.



We lived in the shadow of the mountain and so, until just the other day, TV signals never got to us. There was the radio, some old books and the occasional newspaper.

We lived in a world without information; an information desert. My first book (probably written before the Big Bang; it was very old) was "King of the Undersea City" — about a boy and a submarine.

I don’t remember the plot but I loved it and read it for many years; it is the text with which I learnt to read.

Another thing that was missing from our lives was government. Besides a school, where the teachers had something to do with it, there was a sub-chief’s (as assistant chiefs were then known) camp at the shopping centre.

I often saw it because it was near the coffee factory which we frequented.


People sat on wooden benches in front of a timber house with iron sheets and accused each other before a severe man in uniform.

The chief’s office was in yet another shopping centre further away, which I had never been to. Nearby was the dispensary where I was born. All the other services were provided by the people.

While in central, Rift Valley and other parts of the country scouts were deployed to scour the villages for youth to be recruited into the forces and parastatals, we were on our own.

Many of the men had gone to make their fortune in Nairobi, the former White Highlands and other towns but, generally, if the community required anything, it came together and built it.

We lived off the land, forest, streams and mountains as we had done for hundreds of years. Of course, we couldn’t keep big herds anymore; our grazing lands had become farmlands for British settlers.

We couldn’t hunt in the forest, though some of our cattle were grazed there and we farmed off the shamba system.


The terrain did not allow for expansive farms. We had always bunched up into dense communities, separated from the next by precipitous gorges cut into the mountain slopes by rivers.

By the 1980s, farm sizes were quite small; today they are very small. Typically, the lion’s share of each plot would be under cash crop — tea or coffee or both — a small portion was set aside for growing food and the rest was the homestead, usually with some livestock.

For of the size of the plot, the land had to be worked intensely. If you relied on the two seasons of rain, you would never feed yourself.

So, since Independence, villages, or clusters of villages, would come together in water projects. Villagers would raise money for pipes and other materials, pay the government for God knows what, build the intakes and lay the pipes.

With the crash of the cash crop economy in the 1980s and 1990s, market gardening and dairy farming became the dominant economic activities and water one of the key factors of production.


Without water, millions of villagers in multiple counties cannot feed themselves, leave alone pay for the other services that the government does not provide.

To me, knocking down these water projects, put up with harambee money, looks like just another case of State gangsterism — where the government gives little to the people but destroys their development. The government isn’t always right.

Corrupt officials plundered the forests these communities had protected for ages and illegally settled folks in there.

All those settlers have since been removed. It will take only a little bit of encouragement for the communities to help to restore the natural resources destroyed by the mismanagement of the past two decades.

If you drive communities that have been self-reliant and independent into economic desperation by violent means, and especially where the law has not been broken, you will breed resistance and rebellion.

The government can’t license water abstraction, unilaterally cancel the licences and destroy the water systems and invite the owners to re-apply. It should identify the lawbreakers and take action on them and their water.

* * *

As a Nairobi resident, I am infuriated by the bullying of the Speaker of the Nairobi County Assembly, Ms Beatrice Elachi, by MCAs.

I don’t know the Speaker but I think she is doing the right thing by insisting on financial propriety in the running of the assembly.

It is a disgrace that neither the police, governor, political parties or civil society have strongly come to her rescue.

So far, only female politicians have stood with her. If you don’t stand with a public officer who is under attack for doing the right thing, what right do you have to expect good government?

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