The government has stopped the proposed construction of Sh. 100 billion Diaspora University in Taita-Taveta County, stating that the project is suspect and might defraud millions of shillings from Kenyans in diaspora.
During a charged meeting at Mto Mwagodi area in Mwatate on Wednesday, Mwatate Deputy County Commissioner, Kennedy Muriungi said all operations by the officials of the university remain suspended until further notice.
The administrator said the project was mired with controversy and had a lot of unanswered questions over the funding and implementation.
Muriungi said Kenyans in several states in USA were contributing a minimum share capital of one million shillings to support the project.
He warned that there was nothing to show on the ground even as mobilization for fund-raising by the University officials kicked off in earnest.
“All activities concerning this project in Mwatate area will stop. There are a lot of controversies that need to be resolved before it kicks off,” he said.
He wondered how a multi-billion shillings project can be up and running within five years yet it had not even started on the ground. The DCC noted that even the process of land acquisition by the University officials was flawed as there was no public participation.
He added that the contractual agreement between the Ndara B group ranch officials and the Diaspora University officials did not protect the public. “Those behind this project need to go back to the people and involve them all the way,” he said.
Governor Granton Samboja termed the whole project an elaborate con-game whose sponsors were merely after land noting the officials involved in the project had no regard for local leadership.
Samboja added that local officials were moving around from home to home intimidating poor farmers to sign agreements to give up their land parcels.
Samboja said such projects will not be allowed to displace the local residents who have lived in the land for years. “This project is not going to take place as long as I am the governor. The officials can take it to other counties,” said the governor.
He stated that the county wanted investors but would only deal with those who valued integrity. He warned that rogue investors will not intimidate him or his government into submission stating he had the people’s mandate to do what was right.
The governor further said that county government was the custodian of community land and no investor would be allowed to start projects without relevant approvals and participation of the residents.
Leaders present during the meeting included Members of County Assembly (MCAs) Ahmed Omar, Christopher Mwambingu, Harris Keke and Godwin Kilele. Others include Clarise Mnyambo, County Executive Member for Lands and Mwandawiro Mghanga, political advisor to Governor Samboja.
The suspension now puts in doubt the completion of the project which initiators had estimated would create over 20,000 jobs by 2022.
According to their plans, the university would have an ICT and biotechnology park. It would also have a medical facility and its own town which would be boosted by availability of land for investors to put up housing units.
Governor Samboja blasted Bishop Donald Mwawasi who vied for a senatorial position in 2017 stating he was not being straightforward over the matter.
Mwawasi is the brain behind the idea and has been pushing the local leaders to facilitate the process of adoption of regulations to jump start the project.
However, it emerged that a section of the residents in the region are supporting the project. The supporters argue that the project is being carried out on their land and they had given their consent.
An official who declined to be named said the issue of the university had been politicized,adding that most residents opposing it were drawn from villages far from the proposed site where the institution will be constructed.
“This project is very important but it has been too politicized. People are being incited to oppose it yet they have little information about it,” he said, adding that hundreds of residents of Mto Mwagodi supported the project.
However, Elijah Mwandoe, a member of Ndara B group ranch said the process should not have started, claiming that out of 1,297 members of the ranch, records shows only 37 members approved the project.
By Caroline Mghoi/ Wagema Mwangi