Road that has been an election pledge since 1979 almost complete

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A stretch of the Gatukuyu-Mataara road where it joins the Mau Mau road [Ndung'u Gachane, Standard]

Alongside Gatundu South and Thika town, Gatundu North was once part of the larger Gatundu Constituency represented in Parliament by first president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Between 1962 and 1979, the area missed the thrill of electoral campaigns since nobody was brave enough to take on the president.

But the 1979 General Election marked a turning point with a long-remembered campaign reputed to have been one of the most liquid by those days' standards.

Jomo had died in August 1978 and the race to succeed him was epic.

Tarmacking of Gatukuyu-Gituamba-Mataara road was one of the promises in the 1979 elections after the death of Kenyatta.

The main candidates included Jomo's nephew Ngengi Muigai, business tycoon Zackariah Gakunju and trade unionist and journalist Wanguhu Ng'ang'a. 

Mzee Nehemiah Ngumo, who was in his 30s then, recalls how tarmacking of the road was one of the grand promises by the candidates.

"It did not happen in the next five years or even by 1988 when Ngengi lost to Gakunju. It did not even happen in the next 20 years. And just as we were about to give up, the Jubilee government commissioned the project around 2015," he recounts.

Gakunju lost to Kamuiru Gitau in the 1992 elections. Contestants who were in the race alongside many new comers such as Kariuki Muiruri, businessman Nahason Gatarwa and former Dagoretti MP Clement Gachanja promised to have the road fixed during campaigns.

"Still, the road serving a rich agricultural hinterland and terminating at Mataara Tea Factory was not delivered in the next decade," recalls Mzee Ngumo.

Mataara Tea Factory was opened by Jomo in 1963 when he was still a prime minister. Being one of the two oldest small holder tea factory alongside Ragati in Nyeri, the convenient way to the factory has always been through Gatanga. The alternative route is through Kamwangi and Gakoe market.

Construction of the road started decades later with Jomo's son, Uhuru Kenyatta, as president.

"The pace of construction has been exceedingly slow and the earthworks makes manoeuvering the road in rainy weather a nightmare," said Gatarwa who will be taking another stab on the Gatundu North parliamentary race next year.

"Residents have been taken for a ride on this project for far too long, in the name of broken promises," Gatarwa said at a funeral recently.

According to residents, the 38-kilometre road has been dangled as campaign promise by politicians since the tenure of Ngengi Muigai as Gatundu MP between 1978 and 1988.

They further claim that it was used by Zakary Gakunju and Kamuiru Gitau to win elections in 1988 and 1992, before it was picked by Gatundu North MPs Kariuki Muiruri, Clement Waibara and Kigo Njenga. It eventually started under Kigo's term 2013-2017.

Current MP Wanjiku Kibe lists the project as among the ongoing in her constituency.

It is now showing signs of completion and the contractor has passed the crucial Gituamba market and levelled the whole stretch to Mataara market.

Only about 10 kilometres remain to be tarmacked.

The construction was commissioned by Deputy President William Ruto in February 2018 during his tour of the region and was to be completed by June last year.

“It is a pity that whenever elections are round the corner the road is on top of the list of every candidate but unfortunately once they assume the seat they forget,” said Kamau Muiruri, a Gatundu North resident.

Once tarmacked the road will link several villages and spur economic growth of the agricultural zone that has over 50,000 farmers who use the road to transport tea, coffee, milk, avocado, and maize among other crops to their homes and market.

[Additional reporting by Ndung'u Gachane]

 

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