Solai--a disaster waiting to happen.

Author:Kabukuru, Wanjohi
Position:Around Africa: Kenya
 
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The Solai dam disaster in Kenya's Rift Valley, which left scores dead, seems to have finally spurred the government to take action against those whose negligence led to the tragedy. Could this be the start of a new wave against official impunity?

Is there a wind of change sweeping across Kenya's public service? Events in recent weeks give strong indications that it is no longer business as usual as the Kenyan government moves fast to tame what has largely been perceived as runaway corruption, official negligence and dereliction of duty within the corridors of the civil service.

In the last two months a series of high-ranking government officials and business leaders have been arraigned in court to face charges including corruption, theft of public resources and abuse of office.

Initially the move was seen as a public relations exercise to appease a restive public after the local press unearthed multiple malfeasance scandals in various ministries and state agencies. The unrelenting hounding by the media has kept the government in a tight corner, ensuring that the high-profile cases remain in the spotlight.

One such case that many didn't expect to see before the courts was that of the Patel Dam disaster, which took place in Solai in Nakuru county, 190km north of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

On the night of 9 May 2018, heavy rains weakened the dam's earthen walls, which eventually collapsed, leading to the death of 48 people and leaving a long trail of destruction downstream.

In the aftermath of the tragedy a public uproar saw the Kenya government instituting investigations on the ill-fated dam on the expansive 3,500-acre Patel Coffee Estate, which hosts a number of dams used to aid the farming of coffee, flowers and dairy livestock.

This move was unprecedented as decades-old complaints by residents of affected villages living downstream had gone unheeded, due in large measure to what is alleged to be the political connections of the owner of the Patel Coffee Estates.

"On 12 November 19801 raised a question in parliament, asking why the government had allowed the owner of the Patel farm to divert three rivers into a private dam for irrigation of coffee when thousands of people in the neighbourhood and near vicinity in Marigu, Bomet, Nyakinyua, Ndabibi and other farms had no water to drink or cook with," asked Koigi wa Wamwere, who was the area member of parliament three decades ago.

"Ngengi Muigai, who was then Assistant Minister for Water...

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