Mandera Governor Ali Roba has broken his long silence on the controversy surrounding airport construction projects in the county, saying "selfish" individuals have frustrated his ambition for the people.
Mandera conceived the idea of having an international airport in 2013 but the project, alongside the construction of airstrips, has suffered unending opposition almost at every stage.
Mr Roba’s proposal for an airstrip in Karo, Mandera East, was dragged to a Nairobi High Court on Wednesday, residents saying it could cause clashes among clans and that it was not a priority.
Speaking on Friday, Governor Roba blamed the turbulence on "greedy and selfish" businessmen and "clan politics".
“We were interested in building a standard airport in Mandera to save locals impending emergencies at the current airstrip but some individuals have frustrated this,” he said.
He alleged that powerful individuals, whom he did not name, incited locals against his ambition and exaggerated the size of land needed for the project whose cost is a well-guarded secret.
“They are talking of a huge chunk of land when we only need a piece that id two kilometres wide and six kilometres long ... nothing more,” he said.
In his statement, Mr Roba maintained that Mandera needed an airstrip and that considering his experience as a pilot, air safety at the current airstrip was not guaranteed.
The airstrip in Mandera town is located in the military camp.
“The types of aircrafts that operate at Mandera airstrip are not certified to operate from short gravel runways and the risk is high,” he said.
He emphasised that as a leader, he will not sit back and watch as his electorate suffer under circumstances that can be avoided.
The project was launched at Libehia in Mandera East but flopped under unclear circumstances, with at least Sh300million for a feasibility study going up in smoke.
The project was then moved to Wargadud in Mandera South but infighting among locals scuttled the plan.
Mr Roba sought to clarify that the initial project that was rejected at Libehia, and which ended up in Wargadud, was by the national government, not his administration.
“After the community in Wargadud agreed to host it, some businessmen stalled it,” he said. "These three businessmen ended up in court fighting for contract and after a year and a half, the national government diverted that cash to other projects."
The governor further said that it was only in Libehia that the project was rejected by the local Murule community, which claimed the Garre clan intended to grab its grazing land.
He called on the local community to shun falsehood and support development in Mandera.
Through lawyer Mohamed Edow, the local community in Karo said the area marked for the site was a water catchment zone their livestock relied on.
They also said Mandera and the Kenya Airports Authority did not consult them, that the project would affect the lives of at least 140,000 Karo residents and that there were more pressing issues, such as poor healthcare and the scarcity of water.
In addition, Libehia MCA Farah Abdinoor earlier sought to know the budgetary allocation for the project, the source of the money, exact site measurements and when and where public participation was done.
Deputy Governor Mohamed Arai said he could not remember the budgetary allocation for the Karo project.
Justice Weldon Korir directed the matter be determined at the Garissa High Court, not at the Milimani High Court.
The airport project is also suffering opposition in Mandera West, where the result was a conflict between Speaker Mohamed Khalif and County Secretary Abdinoor Maalim.
Mr Maalim accused the Speaker of inciting locals against the project, an allegation Mr Khalif denied.
The governor has only been successful with an airstrip in Mandera South (Elwak), his backyard since 2013.
The Elwak airstrip was moved out of town and the initial site converted into a market that gobbled up Sh360 million in phase one of construction.