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Photo does not show collapsing pillar on a Kenyan highway

IN SHORT: Show Africans a photo of damaged infrastructure and they’re likely to blame it on incompetent government. But that’s not the case with a photo of a damaged concrete pier – it shows the aftermath of an earthquake in Japan, and wasn’t taken in either Kenya, South Africa or Uganda.

A photo doing the rounds on Facebook in Kenya shows a concrete pillar supporting an elevated highway that appears to be collapsing.

It was posted with the claim that it shows a highway in Kenya constructed during former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s regime. Kenyatta was in power from 2013 to 2022.

“This is what Uhuru did through engineer Raila Odinga through some illegal contracts,” the caption reads.

Odinga is the leader of the Azimio la Umoja coalition. Public records show he studied engineering in school.

Once bitter political rivals, Kenyatta and Odinga reconciled in March 2018 in a deal popularly referred to as the “handshake”. Odinga even got the support of Kenyatta during the 9 August 2022 election, though he lost to incumbent president William Ruto.

The post appears to refer to the Nairobi expressway, a 27-kilometre-long elevated highway that begins in the Mlolongo neighbourhood in Machakos county to the east of Nairobi. It was among the construction projects that took place after the Kenyatta-Odinga handshake.

But does this photo show a collapsing pillar in Kenya? We checked.


Post-earthquake photo from Japan 

We were immediately suspicious, as Africa Check debunked a claim using the same photo very recently. The photo also went viral in South Africa and Bangladesh but it shows the crumbling support of a bridge in Japan almost two decades earlier than claimed. 

The photo originally appeared in a 2005 report published by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute,  an organisation dedicated to reducing earthquake risk, showing the effects of an earthquake that hit the Niigata prefecture in Japan in late October 2004. 

According to the report, the photo shows the “Damaged piers of Joetsu Shinkansen Wanazu Bridge” in the town of Kawaguchi. The report reads: “Piers supporting the Wanazu Bridge over the Uono River suffered a flexural failure due to a reinforcement discontinuity.”

The photo of the damaged concrete pier was taken in 2004, but the Nairobi expressway was only launched in 2022. The pier is unconnected to anywhere in Africa.

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