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‘Kijabe Dam’: Will the real fact-checkers please stand up?

On April 29, news websites and social media pages were awash with claims that ‘Kijabe Dam’ had burst, leading to dozens of deaths. The deaths were verified but the existence of the dam was not.

Both local and international media were falling over themselves, racing to be the first and fast with news of the tragedy, and it seems as if they all spoke to the same source – who cited a ‘Kijabe Dam’ – or they kept quoting each other. To make matters worse, the Deputy President, First Lady and even humanitarian organisations got caught up in the whirlwind of misinformation.

As events unfolded on Monday, headlines around the world were as follows:

“Over 42 people dead after Kijabe Dam burst its banks” – The Standard

“At least 10 people killed, families displaced after Old Kijabe Dam bursts

– Daily Nation

“Mai Mahiu: Death toll in Kijabe Dam tragedy hits 71, Governor Susan Kihika confirms” – Tuko News

“Death toll in Mai Mahiu’s Old Kijabe dam tragedy rises to 45, survivors treated at Naivasha Hospital” – Citizen TV

45 confirmed dead after Kijabe dam bursts its banks – Nairobi Law Monthly.

Burst dam in Kenya pushes flood death toll past 120 – Al Jazeera.

“Uprooted trees, damaged houses after Kenya Dam bursts” – Associated Press.

Dam collapse claims 40 lives in Kenya amid torrential rains” – MYNBC.

“Deadly dam collapse kills dozens in Kamuchiri village in Kenya, local police say” – Sky News.

Dozens dead after dam bursts amid torrential rain in Kenya – The Guardian.

Dozens dead after dam bursts amid torrential rain in Kenya – Times magazine.

Kenya floods: Dozens killed after dam bursts as weeks of heavy rain devastate the region” – CNN (The headline has since been updated to read “Dozens killed in Kenya as weeks of heavy rain devastate region”).

So, where did the claims of the ‘old Kijabe Dam’ come from? Some news outlets quoted police sources while others did not indicate where they had found this information.

Meanwhile, leaders were picking up this story and posting it on their social media platforms. Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said on X: “We share in the pain of families, friends and relatives who have lost loved ones in Maai Mahiu, Nakuru County, after the Old Kijabe Dam burst its banks, causing massive flooding. I visited the strip that was hit hard by the raging waters at Maai Mahiu.”

First Lady Rachel Ruto said on X: “Our hearts are heavy with sorrow over the Kijabe Dam incident. To all those who have lost loved ones, we extend our deepest condolences and stand with you in this time of profound grief. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragic event.”

World Vision said on X: “Mai Mahiu Dam Tragedy: As the heavy rains continued to pour down, the old Kijabe dam burst its banks on Monday 29th sweeping away a whole village, destroying property of unknown value. The catastrophic event, occurring at 2:00 am, has resulted in an undisclosed number of casualties in the Mai Mahiu ward of Naivasha Sub-County, Nakuru County. Rescue teams are tirelessly sifting through debris and mud in search of survivors. #WorldVision is actively assessing the situation on the ground and mobilising resources for an urgent response to aid the affected children and families.”

Amid these reports, a few citizens fact-checked the news organisations, revealing that, in fact, there is no ‘Kijabe Dam’.

Morris Kiruga, known for his longform investigative pieces on, said on X: “There’s no Kijabe dam, there’s never been one. There’s nowhere on that steep escarpment where it would be safe or even sensible to build a dam. What’s happening is artificial dams created by @KenyaRailways_ 19th century tunnels building up, and breaking.”

He added: “The Mai Mahiu disaster might happen again if @KenyaRailways_ doesn’t unclog at least two more of their tunnels in the Kijabe escarpment that have turned into artificial dams. This is old and decrepit infrastructure reminding us why EIA assessments are so important today.”

Erik Hersman, co-founder of Ushahidi – an open-source software application which utilises user-generated reports to collate and map data – said on X: “There is no Kijabe Dam. Never has been one. Media are repeating something, but it’s not the facts.”

It was not until Monday night that the Daily Nation published a fact-checked story with the headline – Revealed: Maai Mahiu tragedy was caused by man-made gulley.The raging waters that killed 46 people and left dozens others injured was caused by a man-made gulley in Kiambu that flowed down to Naivasha Sub-County, not from a dam, the Water Resources Management Authority (Warma) has said,” the story reads.

All it would have taken earlier in the day to verify the earlier claims of ‘an old Kijabe Dam’ was a phone call to Warma.

Yet the next morning, on Tuesday, Classic 105 Kenya had still not caught on. They said on X: “Hours after the dam in Old Kijabe burst its banks on Monday morning sweeping everything on its way, 45 bodies including 17 minors were recovered around the scene.”

In these times of misinformation and disinformation, where anyone (including the media) can fall prey to misinformation, disinformation and malinformation, accuracy and fact-checking is the only saviour, even when the source is reputable. Attention is the old currency, while trust is the new currency that determines whether a news medium builds and retains loyal audiences and even convinces them to pay for news behind a paywall.

Spread of misinformation can have far-reaching implications beyond breaking trust. It can even hinder the efforts of authorities and relief organisations to respond effectively to emergencies. Fact-checking is the backbone of responsible journalism and is crucial for maintaining the integrity and credibility of news organisations. It is aligned with ethical journalism practices, emphasising honesty, transparency, and accountability in reporting. It reinforces the ethical standards of the profession and helps distinguish reputable news organisations from unreliable sources.

Overall, fact-checking is essential for upholding the principles of journalism, promoting informed public discourse, and safeguarding the integrity of the media landscape. It is not just a best practice but a fundamental obligation for news organisations committed to serving the public interest.

Local and international media must uphold the principles of accuracy and fact-checking in their reporting to not only maintain public trust but also ensure responsible dissemination of information in society.

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