How death of Mumias Sugar killed the once vibrant Shibale

WESTERN |

Abandoned buildings in the once lively Shibale town.

Shibale town lies desolate off the Kakamega-Bungoma road, opposite the once vibrant Mumias Sugar Company.

More than half of the shops in the single street town are unoccupied. Missing roofs, doors and windows, peeling paint and an air of neglect meet the eye. 

The Shibale of yesteryear was vibrant, arguably one of the most famous towns in Western due to its bustle.

Former top Mumias Sugar Company managers and local politicians would frequent Shibale, then a small haven outside Mumias town.

In fact, former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa owns a home at the heart of the town.

Its present sorry state is a testament to one thing; that it drew its vibrancy from Mumias Sugar Company. The collapse of the sugar miller severed the vein that fed Shibale and the larger community in Mumias. 

“When Mumias Sugar Company was at its prime, it was almost impossible to get an empty rental house or business premises in Shibale town,” James Osoro Ombasa, who worked at the miller as a machine operator, said.

“Today, you can occupy any of the many empty buildings and nobody will ask you for rent”. 

“Things are so bad that today you can hardly find anyone in this town who uses gas for cooking. Many people have resorted to using firewood since they cannot even afford charcoal,” Ombasa said.

When we met him, Ombasa looked dejected. He had just come from a construction site where he and fellow labourers had disagreed with the site supervisor over the day’s pay. 

Alex Wasike worked for Mumias Sugar Company as a supervisor in the electrical engineering section. With nostalgia, he reflects on the good old days.

“When it was operational, Mumias Sugar was the best employer one could wish for. The company sponsored me on a trip to South Africa to study packaging machines” he said.

Marriages broke up

Wasike added: “Today, I am jobless and my world has been turned upside down. Many of my colleagues left this town after the company collapsed. Marriages broke up when the going got tough and quite a number of my colleagues died from depression.” 

“By the time the company closed its doors, it owed us 36 months’ salary areas,” Wasike said.  

“The infrastructural development of Shibale and other towns such as Shianda, Mwitoti and Mumias depended on proceeds of cane,” Stanley Echesa said.

An architect, Echesa says no new development has come up in the said towns for years.

“There are unoccupied buildings everywhere because there are no tenants. When Mumias collapsed, many people left to look for jobs and do businesses in other towns,” he said.  

“Schools in this area have been affected. Mumias Sugar sponsored many of them as part of its corporate social responsibility. Such schools can no longer put up new buildings for lack of funds. Following the collapse of the sugar miller, the network of roads in the sugar zone has collapsed. Mumias Sugar would upgrade the roads regularly to ensure its vehicles, motorcycles and tractors moved with ease.” 

Hardest hit

“Farmers are hardest hit, especially those who depended on loans from the Mumias Outgrowers Company (Moco) and savings society Mosacco. The collapse of the miller meant Moco and Mosacco could no longer do business. They had to fold up,” Samson Juma said. 

Needy students in this area have suffered due to the collapse of Mumias Sugar. Bright children from humble backgrounds used to get sponsorships. All that is lost. Government bursaries are inadequate.

“Mumias Sugar also sponsored youth activities that nurtured talent. Besides, every two weeks, cane cutters used to get their pay and that greatly contributed to growing our local economy. Money was always in circulation and business boomed,” Juma said. 

Today, goats enjoy a free run in the deserted buildings in Shibale. Nearby towns suffer low occupancy rates. Cows owned by people neighbouring Mumias Sugar Company graze on the company fields that were once endowed with healthy cane. 

Farmers and residents look back and hope the good old times could somehow come back. However, they understand that the possibility of that ever happening depends on the government making conscious efforts to revive the company. Some have even stopped planting sugar cane. Those who still do, supply the cane to middlemen who sell in markets outside the Mumias Sugar zone. 

“The president set up a task force some years back and we are hopeful something positive will come out of it soon, to alleviate our suffering,” said Wasike. 

achagema@standardmedia.co.ke 

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