A rainforest in arid surroundings, by any standard, makes for panoramic scenery. And so is Chebulu conservancy in Kericho County.
But for area residents, this idyllic locality has been the cause of much pain and anguish over the last few years, courtesy of the county administration.
A quick background: In 2013, the Kericho County government set aside Sh86 million to spruce up the conservancy and boost tourism prospects in the region.
During the launch, Governor Paul Chepkwony promised to turn Kericho into the preferred tourist destination in the western circuit.
“We are setting up a conservancy that is going to be the first of its kind in the South Rift region,” he gushed.
The project would entail importing leopards, lions and other game into the park, setting up a Kipsigis cultural heritage centre and conserving indigenous trees.
All praise-worthy ideas, except that five years later, the multimillion shilling initiative, which roped in over 30 residents who “leased” their farms to the county but were never paid, has remained a pipe dream.
What there is to show for the millions spent is a rickety gate, several tiny offices, unfinished washrooms, a stalled watch tower, a dilapidated ladder and a bit of wire fence on one end of the neglected conservancy, all estimated to cost no more than Sh15 million.
While no wild animal was brought in as promised, the breathtaking site still boasts of a wide variety of birds, snakes and butterflies that are attracted by the blended canopy of indigenous trees and hilly terrain that is dotted with boulders.
Angry locals who gave up their farms to contribute to the proposed 100-acre conservancy said they were tired of waiting and demanded their land back.
“The governor asked us to give our lands for the project. He promised that once the conservancy operates, they would pay us a percentage of the revenue collected annually and that over 200 local youths would be employed as rangers, tour guides and other positions,” Mr Gideon Rotich said.
Mrs Lina Langat, who gave her five-acre farm in July 2014, said she was yet to receive a penny.
“It all sounded good to us, so we formed a group with a committee who handed over the registered parcels to officials from the governor’s office.
"They asked those who donated farms to hand over names of their children who are employable to the Kenya Wildlife Service. But we no longer see hope in all these,” Mrs Langat said.
With their farms lying idle and not fetching a penny from the county, locals say they have made untold losses from the botched project.
Mrs Langat, for instance, used to burn charcoal on her farm to educate her children but gave it up hoping to fetch better amounts through the conservancy.
Ms Lydya Cheptoo’s mother also regrets donating their seven-acre land on which the family used to farm millet, maize and keep dairy cows.
“We would harvest about 20 sacks of millet in a season worth about Sh100,000. But since we gave it to the county, we are unable to raise school fees for my siblings. They have had to attend public schools, which are free,” Ms Cheptoo said.
The villagers’ investment in a non-existent project has now turned into a guessing game as they await word from the county administration on the way forward.
The white elephant project, one of many in the county, is a public embarrassment that has raised concerns among area leaders.
Senator Aaron Cheruiyot held a meeting two weeks ago with ward representatives over, among other things, the slow pace of completion of projects in the county and low revenues.
Mr Cheruiyot, County Assembly Majority Leader Hezron Cheruiyot and Speaker Dominic Rono said they were compiling a list of projects that have stalled so as to evaluate the performance of county officers and hold them accountable.
Other mega projects that have stalled include Roret pineapple plant in which Sh7 million was paid to a local contractor and construction of a casualty wing at Kapkatet hospital, which consumed Sh10 million three years ago yet it has not been commissioned.
Others are Early Childhood Development Centres which are incomplete across the county, Sh10 million Chepcholio water project in Kipkelion, and several boreholes that were dug but have no water.