The Original Sin On Lake Shakababo


Lake Shakababo is considered to be the largest oxbow lake in the entire East African region, but that glory is dead…maybe for good because the human activities that surrounded the Tana Delta region has contributed to its demise.

For those who are not aware of an oxbow lake, these are lake formed after a meandering river changes it course to find a shorter route after a period of erosion and deposition of sands on a meandering river. Oxbow lakes are known to harbor wide varieties of aquatic animals. According to fishbase organization, Tana Delta contains around 44 different species of fishes and majority are found on these oxbow lakes.


The Shakababo, which is a shallow lake has been used both for cultivation and fishing. During the flood seasons, the lake is filled with water from Kisichi brook and also through Kitengela channels. It was estimated that in the year 1991, 150 tonnes of fishes were harvested on the lake alone. But sadly, all these days are gone. There is no assurance when the glorious Shakababo will return back to normal.

Since 1991, the Tana river has changed it course four times (Karanja, 2006) making the water level drop periodically. The worse was on August 2008 when the residents living in the lower delta region wake up to see the river has changed its course at Matomba village.

This was the beginning of the end of the original river runway. As time passed, the impact was deeply felt. Most mango trees found on the river bed dried up, indigenous trees such as the ‘matapa’ dried out not forgetting others such as the ‘mikoma’, ‘mimbunu’, ‘mikuju’ etc all these were part of the the heritage culture that the people living in the lower tana delta lived with.

The worse experience was in 2017 when the river completely dried out affecting also the levels of the underground water. This left the Shakababo lake bare with nothing, not even the grass. All in all we have had some CBO popping up to ‘try’ to salvage the situation. The notorious CBO that has been with us for a while is the Shakababo Conservancy Association. The CBO has been around singing songs to us while they benefit themselves from white elephant projects on the lake. Up to now there has never been any tangible evidence to prove to the people that they have changed the ugly face of Shakababo lake. The lake which was an economical asset has now turned into a deadland.


I term it as a deadland because apart from now losing the capabilities of fishing, the land cannot sustain cultivation because there is no enough rain. Farmers last managed to partly harvest maize in 2015. The last time there was a major harvest was 6-7 years ago. The Old Shakababo is gone.

So why is this happening? Why is Shakababo dead? The blame is on human activities. One reason why the region is having less rainfall compared to previous years is because of cutting down of trees. Indigenous trees have faced the wrath of the axe with no mercy. The more trees cut, the less rainfall we receive (Thanks to the current regime to declare deforestation illegal)

Another major problem that has made the Shakababo dead are the investors. Investors who flocked the Delta region in the name of elevating poverty are the major cause of killing the lake.

A case study has revealed that the Bedford Biofuels company, and the TARDA-Mumias Sugar had largely contributed in the deterioration of water levels in the Tana Delta Wetland regions, including the Shakababo lake.

Location of ranches for use on large scale

The Canadian company which was to plant the Jatropha plants was given a 45 years lease of 160,000 hectares of land covering the 6 ranches. 40% of the land was to be used for the plantation of the plant. Among the people who foresaw the birth of the failed project was Kenneth Pakia (Chairman of the Kitengela ranch which was to be used to plant the Jatropha) and Joel Ruhu (senior vice president of human resource with Bedford Biofuel) including others.

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The project was approved by NEMA but there were several assessment impact that were ignored such as the amount of rainfall this plant requires to sustain itself throughout the year. The company claimed that the plant can thrive in dry conditions and requires less water as it is drought resistant but it was later discovered that the plant requires around 1000-1500mm of rainfall to have optimal growth. In Garsen, the annual rainfall is less than 650mm. This automatically puts the project under questions. Among the solutions by the company on how to get the 350mm water shortage was through tapping run-off rain water, flood plain sites that were close to the river and borehole water (it was impossible to use borehole since water is saline)

The project was restricted to 90 ha for a pilot project at Kitengela ranch. As a result, all the waterways that channeled water to the Shakababo lake were completely sealed of to date. Thanks God the evil project never saw the dawn of the day as NEMA and Ministry of Energy kicked the company out of the country. On June 13, 2013 Bedford Biofuel filed for bankruptcy.

The ball now is to the ranch stakeholders, we need all the water ways returned to the natural route. We know you subjected the entire Tana Delta population at risk because of your selfish motives. For once try to solve this issue once and for all.

The second project which is TARDA-MUMIAS I won’t endulge it further because there are lot of theories on what led to the diversion of Matomba brook. Some claim there was a conflict between two farmers, others claim it was an act of sorcery while other believe it’s a punishment from God. To me I believe the Mumias and Co, had a hand on it.


The Mumias Sugar Company (MSC) and TARDA proposed a venture on 20,000 ha of land to plant irrigated sugarcane on the Delta (RIP 2013). On 11th June 2008, NEMA approved the project. On August the same year, the river diverted on Matomba. Before, only 20% of the river water used to pass through the Matomba brook to feed the floodplains, but after confirmation of the project all these changed all over sudden.

Matomba brook was the proposed channel to be used for irrigating the sugarcane plantation

Get this, the irrigation on the sugar plantation was planned to use the Matomba channel as the main drainage system. The amount of water that was required by the project was 28 cubic meters/second. The main river at Garsen on 5 months Feb-March and Aug-October had an average of around 74 cubic meters/second of water meaning the irrigation would use 30% more water than required leaving less water to be used by other various activities on the Delta regions. Considering the planning to use the Matomba channel was already in place yet it was before the main river channel changed it course.

The chart from Water Resource Management Authority (WRMA) indicating the water flow per cubic meters/second at Garsen. The sugarcane was to use only 28 cubic meters/second. The above chart exceed the requirements by NEMA by over 30% on some months.

Also when the Matomba brook was being constructed in first quarter of 2009, the locals were being intimidated by AP not to roam around the scene since they were guarding the project. Also the Kenya Wetland Forum was questioning the way the brook was being constructed to its original course, instead of removing silt, they were building a trench.

A few days later after the ‘repairing of the Matomba brook’ more water flocked to the TARDA-MUMIAS project, just like it was planned…


  1. This is sad, I grew up seeing lake shakababo. Leave alone fish we would enjoy the scene of hippos in the evening. This is all history now beauty gone, the land is totally dead. It remains a myth to future generations. So this is what happened!

  2. This is so sad. While at Tarasaa High School those days this lake used to be our saviour in days when there was no water on the tap. It used to supply water to Kongolola and Mwanapfokomo. With its death, the other two have also died. Thank you for this research. I hope it will be acted upon. If the Matomba brook issue is solved, I believe it will solve the whole situation

  3. Let there be installed gate valves at matomba. Again, Lake Shakababo is now risen due to depositions caused naturally plus series of human activities. The Shakababo must be dug to a depth of say, 5m. The alluvial soil will mix well with the sand soil round the lake to support agricultural activities. The water in the lake will support life and tourism. This, I propose as a major project for Garsen South Ward.

  4. The Matomba brook was closed properly but due to local pressure from KANU politicians, the brook was opened by a bulldozer as the sun was setting one evening and from then henceforth its channel became the main river course way.

  5. thanks for the research its my wish that those brook of matomba be managed well closed so that life can be managed again in the vast of lake shakababo

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