Kenya’s dream for man-made lake in Kitui on verge of reality

Thursday, May 16th, 2024 08:00 | By
Engineer Charles Muasya, Acting CEO of the National Irrigation Authority, exchanges contract documents with Michael Short, Managing Director of GBM Engineering Consortium, a UK company that won the tender to build the High Grand Falls Dam in Kitui and Tharaka Nithi Counties in September 2023.
Engineer Charles Muasya, Acting CEO of the National Irrigation Authority, exchanges contract documents with Michael Short, Managing Director of GBM Engineering Consortium, a UK company that won the tender to build the High Grand Falls Dam in Kitui and Tharaka Nithi Counties in September 2023. PHOTO/Print

Kenya’s dream of building one of Africa’s largest man-made lakes is inching closer to reality after a British construction firm which won the contract submitted its technical and financial proposals, ahead of project launch by President William Ruto.

 Plans to build the multi-billion-shilling High Grand Falls Dam in Kitui County – a flagship project conceived under President Mwai Kibaki’s tenure in 2009 - have been accelerated with the government currently evaluating the proposals to determine its cost.

 In September last year, GBM Engineering signed the Project Development Agreement (PDA) which required the contractor to update feasibility studies done earlier and other technical details of the project where the actual costs will be determined and negotiated before signing of the main contract.

 The deadline expired on March 8, this year, paving way for a team of engineers from the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) to begin evaluating the proposals by GBM Engineering Consortium, before financial negotiations with the National Treasury.

The High Grand Falls Dam is a privately initiated proposal under the Public Private Partnership, which will be built at the confluence of River Mutonga and River Tana, just after the Seven Folks cascade project, with the main reservoir covering an area of more than 165 square kilometres, in Kitui and Tharaka Nithi Counties.

 Thousands of households in the two counties are expected to be moved to create room for both the multipurpose dam and associated works including an estimated 400,000 acres of irrigation downstream in Kitui, Garissa and Tana River counties.

 In terms of its vast size (and the initial estimated cost at Sh425 billion), the reservoir will not only be Africa’s second largest fresh water dam after the Aswan High Dam in Egypt built along River Nile, but also the single biggest Kenyan government undertaking, costing more than the Standard Gauge Railway.

Status report

  The British contractor has proposed to design, fund, build, own and operate the dam project for 30 years to recover their costs, meaning the Kenyan government will not pay a penny in the Public Private Partnership arrangement.

 However, according to a status report by the National Irrigation Authority, the British firm submitted proposals on how it will implement the project at a reduced cost of Sh288 billion. “The evaluation of project development agreement reports is ongoing. Recommendations of this evaluation process will undergo further scrutiny by the Directorate of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) at the National Treasury before being submitted to Cabinet for approval” reads an update by the NIA.

According to Ephantus Kimotho, the Principal Secretary for State department for Irrigation, once completed the dam will provide water volume exceeding 5600 million cubic meters to irrigate 400,000 acres of land while generating up to 1,000 Megawatts of Hydropower.  “This is a multipurpose project which aims to achieve clean water supply, hydropower generation, flood control, irrigation development, eco-tourism, and aquaculture and improve livelihoods in the region and the country” said the PS.

According to the PDA agreement seen by the Nation, the contractor was required to conclude within six months, the ground mapping and updating all the technical and social data to determine how many households will be affected and the actual scope of works.

Steve Mburu, a Kenyan based in London who works for GBM Engineering as the Operations Director and Michael Short, the firm’s Managing Director signed on behalf of the contractor while Eng Charles Muasya, the acting Chief Executive Officer of National Irrigation Authority signed on behalf of the government.

 The signing ceremony was witnessed by the UK Trade envoy to Kenya Theo Clarke and top government officials including Abubakar Hassan Abubakar (Trade and Investments) at Maji House Nairobi.

Mburu said they were happy that the government had concluded a lengthy due diligence process on the viability of their proposal and that the consortium funding the project which includes UK government and investment were ready to hit the ground running.

Updated proposals

 “We mobilised sufficient technical and financial capacity and managed to deliver the updated proposals within the six months’ period stipulated in the PDA agreement, and this shows what we will be doing in the next five years” said the official.

 The dam project almost collapsed during former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s tenure due to tendering controversies and court disputes, but last year President William Ruto signed a UK-Kenya Strategic Partnership deal with Sunak to fast-track British investment projects.

 The two leaders who met in November last year, on the side-lines of the COP27 climate summit in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt, agreed to fast-track six green investment projects worth Sh500 billion in support of Kenya’s leadership on climate change, spanning green energy, agriculture and transport.

 The Ruto – Sunak deal effectively unlocked the five-year tendering dispute that had dogged the project during the second term of Kenyatta.

A statement by the British High Commission in Nairobi then, revealed that GBM Engineering, which had been frustrated under President Kenyatta and its tender cancelled, will now undertake the project.

“A multi-billion Public Private Partnership to deliver the High Grand Falls Dam, which will generate a gigawatt of renewable power and provide an area over twice the size of the Maasai Mara with drought-combating irrigation solutions’’ the statement read.

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