President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday launched the construction of the Sh20 billion Thiba Dam in Kirinyaga County as he railed against the country’s fixation with politics, despite the campaign period being over.
Accompanied by his deputy William Ruto, the President accused opposition leaders of seeking to derail his agenda by always engaging in politics.
“I am only in power for five years. After that, they will run against Ruto. Let me finish my projects in peace,” he said at Rukenya in Gichugu Constituency.
The Head of State also accused the media of feeding the country with politics daily.
“I do not even watch TV nowadays because it is dominated by the so-called political analysts yet the campaign period is over. The analysts do not help us,” he added as Mr
Ruto asked political leaders to now focus their energy on development.
Water and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa was also at the ground breaking ceremony at the dam’s proposed site.
The project is expected to be completed in the next three years.
Once completed, rice production is projected to double from the current 80,000 to 160,000 tonnes a year.
The increase in yields is expected to be enabled by doubling the production seasons of rice and horticultural crops, as well as improving the production of rice and other crops by expanding the total cultivated area from 19,400 acres to about 41,810 acres in the project area.
Part of the dam’s funding will come from the Japanese Government, which has kept its initial pledge of Sh12 billion while the Kenyan Government will contribute Sh5 billion.
The project will be supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), which will oversee the construction of the dam.
During the event, the President received bags of rice and goats from Kirinyaga Senator Charles Kibiru as a gift from the county’s residents.
On Thursday, President Kenyatta said the dam was the first step in ensuring that Kenya becomes food-sufficient.
“Food security is a key agenda in our manifesto and this is a first step towards that. We do not want to be importing rice from foreign nations or seeking food aid every time there is drought. We need to work to become self-sufficient as a nation,” he said.
The Deputy President said the dam was the first of 57 others that the government has pledged to construct in the next five years as part of the Jubilee manifesto.
The project is also expected to create employment for local youth, with the President telling Mr Wamalwa to ensure that 1,000 youths from the area benefit directly from jobs at the site.
He added that part of the money allocated to the project must go to residents.
The Head of State further warned county governments against fighting the national government on development issues.
“We are not in competition so there should be no fighting between county and national governments. We serve the same goal of bettering lives of Kenyans so let us join hands and work towards that,” he said.
Infighting among leaders is one of the hindrances that the project has faced since former President Mwai Kibaki’s regime.
The President had been forced to weigh in on its future on several occasions and in the past even warned of campaigning against local leaders who stood in the way of the project.
Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru pledged to invite investors to set up hotels, an 18-hole golf course and an estate with efforts to promoting the dam as a landmark attraction site.
“We will be inviting interested investors to set up a golf course that will make the county a hub for golfers and an attraction site for local and international tourists,” she said.
The project had also been delayed by court battles at the expense of rice farmers who put their hopes on its actualisation to boost their farming.
The court wrangles emerged over compensations of hundreds of families who were displaced to pave way the for the dam’s construction and at some point, some were reported to have started moving back to the area, citing lack of compensation.
Some of the families, who had been identified for compensation, had earlier complained that the valuation of their parcels of land had not been done by the National Land Commission as required by law. They said a private firm was hired to carry out the valuation.
The 132 farmers also argued that the irrigation board only compensated landowners, living out their children and other vulnerable groups. Most of the affected families have already been compensated but 20 per cent are yet to be paid.
However, the government said it is addressing the matter.